The tentative deal between actors and the film and TV producers group struck Wednesday night after 118 days still needs to be ratified next week by SAG-AFTRA union membership, which consists of 160,000 actors worldwide and 3,000 in Georgia. Although details have not been released, local actors said they are encouraged by what they’ve seen and heard so far and the contract is expected to pass.
“I’m feeling super excited and super hopeful,” said Meredith Parks, an actress who moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles last year and has credits on shows such as the CW’s “Legacies” and Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful.” “I’m also just relieved. I was in traffic driving in North Carolina when I got the news. I was trying to check my phone and not drive off the road!”
Miller said prep work for any given project, which involves opening a temporary office, hiring crew and finding film locations, can take at least a month before production officially even begins. And the holiday season adds another obstacle to starting any earlier than January, he added. Shows and films that suspended production earlier this year will be able to get back into gear quicker.
Almost all scripted production, save for a few independent movies, shut down in mid July. Georgia’s film and TV industry has largely subsisted since then with reality programming such as TLC’s “7 Little Johnstons,” Bravo’s “Married to Medicine” and Netflix’s “American Barbecue Showdown.”
Thousands of Georgians have had to scramble to find other work. J. Wells Jr., an Atlanta actor and stunt performer who appeared in both “Black Panther” movies, has been paying the bills via a marketing gig for a nonprofit and teaching martial arts. Parks was able to snag a Home Depot commercial, acting work covered by a different union contract.
Eric Anthony Leong, a Lilburn prop fabricator who is adept at making swords and other weapons, has had props sitting in storage units for months with no ability to generate any income from them. “I’m still collecting unemployment,” Leong said. “I’m on food stamps, for crying out loud. I keep my props on idle, but that idling time has been way too long.”
Georgia is now the third largest producer of TV and film content in the United States behind only New York and California thanks to a generous film tax credit passed in 2008. TV and film producers spent $4.1 billion last fiscal year in the state. A year ago, there were about a 47 active productions in the state, 28 of them scripted movies or TV shows. Currently, based on the Georgia film office tally, there are 22 productions, 17 of them reality shows.
There is now a massive backlog of productions ready to move forward that should fill up area studios for the next year, similar to what happened in 2020 when the pandemic closed studios for more than three months. Producers, however, are not spending as freely as they did three years ago since shareholders are now demanding that streaming services stop hemorrhaging money.
Over the summer into the fall, SAG-AFTRA demanded concessions from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMTPP), who negotiate as a group and represent major distributors of TV and film such as Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Lionsgate.
David Zaslav, who heads Warner Bros. Discovery and negotiated directly with SAG-AFTRA in recent weeks, told investors during an earnings call Wednesday that the deal “met virtually all of the union’s goals.”
In a statement, the AMPTP touted the tentative agreement as “a new paradigm. It gives SAG-AFTRA the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last 40 years; a brand new residual for streaming programs; extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence; and sizable contract increases on items across the board.”
SAG-AFTRA, in a brief statement, said the new deal is worth more than $1 billion and features a “streaming participation bonus” and a higher minimum wage.
Fran Drescher, the actress and SAG-AFTRA president, told CNN Thursday she expects the two sides to get back to work without animus.
“You can never take these things personally,” Drescher said. “As Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ It never has and it never will. And the demands were made and met... What we said ignited a workers movement around the word. It rang like a clear bell tone. And it landed in the ears of the AMPTP. They heard it and they met the moment.”
This contract comes six weeks after the writers ended their 148-day strike with improved pay raises and benefits and AI protections. By then, production had slowed markedly as producers anticipated the actors strike.
Some TV series scheduled to shoot in metro Atlanta but were delayed due to the strikes include the final seasons of popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” and “Cobra Kai,” Starz drama “P-Valley” and ABC crime procedural “Will Trent.” The second season of a Hulu drama “Reasonable Doubt” is expected to start up soon. And Clint Eastwood’s film “Juror #2″ starring Nicholas Hoult and Toni Collette will resume filming in Savannah, while Peacock’s “Hysteria!” TV series featuring Julie Bowen is set to return in Covington.
Metro Atlanta has seen a spate of new studios open as well since the beginning of the year: Athena Studios in Athens, Electric Owl Studios near the Indian Creek MARTA station in Atlanta and Assembly Studios in Doraville. Two more are set to open in the coming weeks: BlueStar Studios in Forest Park and Lionsgate Studios in Douglasville. Other studios have been in expansion mode including Cinelease Studios in Covington, Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta and Trilith Studios in Fayetteville.
Currently, Georgia has more studio square footage than New York and could eventually surpass California.
“Georgia was ready when production resumed after the work stoppage from a global pandemic,” said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film Office in a statement. “We are again ready as production moves forward.”
Joel Harber, who runs Athena Studios, said he began receiving calls from production companies as soon as the deal was announced Wednesday evening. He spent last week in Los Angeles courting potential clients.
“It will be a mad scramble to lock up space,” Harber said. “What I heard from just about everyone is that Georgia stands to be one of the biggest winners on the other side of these labor disputes. We’re in the top three of every discussion.”