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Strike Interim Agreements Stir Debate at Fall Festivals

During an Aug. 31 news conference at the Venice Film Festival, Adam Driver threw his support behind SAG’s interim agreement efforts. “Every time people from SAG go and support a movie that has agreed to these terms, the interim agreement, just make it more obvious that these [producers who sign interim agreements] are willing to support the people that they collaborate with and the others are not,” said the actor, who was in Italy to promote the Neon-distributed Ferrari, which was granted an agreement. 

Since they had been presented as a part of the SAG-AFTRA strike, interim agreements have caused much consternation and confusion, especially heading into the fall festivals. 

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The agreements have been presented by the union as a time-tested strike tactic, used in previous work stoppages as a way to keep non-AMPTP projects, namely independent features, up and running — while also keeping union members employed and showing the studios that the entertainment business can continue without them. But, laments the head of one talent agency about perceived lost strike momentum, “when these were introduced, a little pressure was let out of the valve.”

For their part, performers have had varied responses to the agreements. Viola Davis dropped out of the MRC-produced G20 after it was granted an agreement, saying in a statement, “I love this movie, but I do not feel that it would be appropriate for this production to move forward during the strike.” Ahead of TIFF, Amanda Seyfried said she would not attend the premiere of Atom Egoyan’s TIFF drama Seven Veils, which has an interim agreement, writing on social media that it “doesn’t feel right to head to the fest in light of the strike.” 

“Some people on my team advised me against it,” admitted Jessica Chastain during a Venice press conference for her latest feature Memory.

SAG and its chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, have been on a recent campaign to assuage concerns about interim agreements, releasing statements prompting members to attend fall festivals for projects that have signed them (“That was a big turning point,” says one publicist) and participating in a live Instagram session on the subject. Crabtree-Ireland is on the ground in Toronto for a conversation about the topic. 

Still, there were concerns entering TIFF that signing these interim agreements — made up of terms SAG presented July 12 to the AMPTP that were rejected — could affect a title’s chance for acquisition, especially by streamers. These terms include metrics for streaming residuals that have caused massive pushback from the AMPTP.   

Producers who have signed interim agreements are doing so with the knowledge that when a contract is eventually reached between the union and the AMPTP, the terms of that contract will supersede the terms of the interim agreement.  

Crabtree Ireland explains that a streamer could pick up an interim agreement project out of a fall festival, and not release the project until after a contract is reached. He adds, “If the streamer’s acquisition budgets are being used up on buying projects produced under our interim agreement with our members and union crews, instead of being used to acquire content from outside the United States done non-union, then that is also a net benefit to our strike effort.” 

“It’s a competitive market and the view is no buyer will be willing to let go of a great film when the opportunity presents itself,” says Film Constellation’s Fabien Westerhoff. 

Of course, all of this worry over interim agreements only applies if you can get one, and that has proved difficult. Insiders have complained about the opaqueness of the process and the bottleneck that seems to have been created as applications for agreements were rushed ahead of the fall festivals. Interim agreements were being granted up until the day before TIFF started.  

“It’s a fair question,” said Crabtree-Ireland of the slow pace at which interim agreements have been handed out. He notes that over 1200 applications for interim agreements have been submitted and that scaling the vetting process to meet that demand has proven difficult: “On one level, what I would just say is on one level it’s the impact of our own success.”  

For some filmmakers behind TIFF sales titles, the mark of a successful interim agreement is if they help get the project sold, and this remains to be seen as the market is just getting going. Still, others see the interim agreements as a proof-of-concept for the terms that SAG is fighting for.

“Whoever buys this movie will have to take the agreement on board, obviously. I, as one of the producers, would never approve of anything different, no way. We will do things right, all the way,” Viggo Mortensen, a member of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, told THR ahead of TIFF. Mortensen is at the fest with his latest directorial effort The Dead Don’t Hurt, which is available for pick-up. “If they [distributors] don’t, we’ll have to look for someone else. That’s the way it goes.”

Alex Ritman and Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.

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