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SAG-AFTRA’s Crabtree-Ireland slams ‘vast drain on resources’ of studio exec pay

SERIESFEST: Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director and chief negotiator for US actors union SAG-AFTRA, has said that exec compensation at the top US studios is a “vast drain on resources” and should not be overlooked in the context of the headwinds facing the industry today.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland

While acknowledging that some in-demand actors and other talent command large salaries, he argued that focusing too heavily on that fact is playing into the hands of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios in labour negotiations.

“There are various creatives involved with TV projects who require a certain amount of compensation and have the leverage to get it, and that can have an impact. But whenever we make that point, we have to make the point that there is an immense drain on the system that comes out of studio and streamer executives,” he told delegates here at SeriesFest in Denver.

“There’s nothing these companies would like better than for us to focus the attention on the creative talent… and ignore the vast drain on resources that are coming at the executive level at these companies.”

His comments come on the heels of pay disclosures for top execs at multiple studios including Warner Bros Discovery, Netflix, Roku and Disney.

Those disclosures have rankled US writers as they strike over issues including pay, the use of mini rooms, residual structures and the potential challenges posed by artificial intelligence (AI).

SAG-AFTRA’s own deal with the AMPTP expires on June 30 – the same day as the directors’ guild’s contract ends – and it will begin negotiating on June 7. The proximity of the negotiations creates several additionally disruptive scenarios, including one in which all unions and guilds strike and the entire industry closes down while negotiating continues.

Crabtree-Ireland said US actors are facing similar issues to writers, and that he understands the WGA’s “justified anger” that its attempts to bargain with the AMPTP have “not been reciprocated.”

“I can assure everyone that we feel just as strongly as the writers do about making sure this industry is fair to the people who actually make it work and who bring the crucial element of creativity that underpins everything,” said Crabtree-Ireland, who was picketing alongside the writers last week and plans to do so when he returns to LA.

“We’re there in solidarity with them. They are fighting a good fight. I really hope the industry hears that message and the companies decide to come back to the table and make a meaningful effort to find common ground with the writers’ guild.”

He also argued that industry consolidation, including the Warner Bros Discovery merger, has contributed to several of the biggest issues being felt across the breadth of the US screen industry today.

“The fact that Warner Bros Discovery decided to engage in this merger with massive leverage and a huge debt load, has by all accounts been driving a lot of their decision-making on the creative side… We don’t accept that creative talent [has to] bear the brunt of that corporate decision,” he said.

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