NEW YORK CITY & LOS ANGELES: Actors’ Equity Association and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have announced that the two unions, which had spent months at odds over recorded theatre contracts, have reached an agreement on the coverage of live theatre “that is recorded or streamed for exhibition for a remote audience.” The tentative agreement was reached on Nov. 14 and was then unanimously approved by the SAG-AFTRA National Board and Actors’ Equity Association National Council on Nov. 19. The full eight-page agreement is available online.
In the press release, both unions applauded the collaborative process that led to a solution “that serves the best interests of both of their membership,” a result that felt a long way off only a month ago. The agreement, released amid hopeful news of a COVID-19 vaccine in the near future, establishes parameters for the duration of what is being called the “pandemic period,” ending on Dec. 31, 2021. Should it be necessary, the two unions will meet again no later than Oct. 1, 2021 to determine if that deadline should be extended.
The established parameters assert that during this special period Equity will cover the work of theatres that is recorded or produced for a digital platform, which includes both productions recorded to live only online, replacing what should have been a live season production, as well as online streams of performances captured in front of reduced-capacity live audiences. The work covered by Equity can include live readings, staged readings, live theatre, and “other performances in the general nature of theatre.”
Other stipulations for what Equity will cover include that digital productions involve only “minor editing”; that the performances be similar to programming the theatre would typically offer its subscribers and ticket holders; and that the digital platform is one that can only be accessed by ticketholders or subscribers, and not “on paid streaming services that regularly offer access to recorded programming.” The agreement also establishes that these digital productions can only remain online for a maximum of three months (or the length of the contracted run, if less than three months), and that the total digital audience cannot exceed 200 percent of the physical theatre’s seats for the run. There’s a special carve-out for theatres with less than 350 seats, whose total digital audience cannot exceed 300 percent of its seating capacity for the run.
The agreement spells out the film-vs.-theatre distinction more clearly: Productions covered by Equity cannot be “substantially edited,” include using visual effects “or other elements that could not be replicated in a live manner,” or be shot out of sequence. While even these requirements may seem to leave a few gray areas, the point is that work that feels more like a television show or movie should be covered by SAG-AFTRA.
A major sticking point going into this agreement seemed to be that SAG-AFTRA wanted some acknowledgement that any production made for streaming or viewing on a screen was still their domain, while Equity argued that theatres, regardless of the distribution platform, should be covered under their contracts. This agreement seems to address both of those issues, with a provision stating that “both parties agree that work done for recorded or broadcast/livestreamed media, including the transmission of a live theatre performance outside the theatre itself, ordinarily falls within SAG-AFTRA’s exclusive jurisdiction.” That “ordinarily” is key—i.e., outside this defined pandemic period, Equity has conceded that theatre on screen is SAG-AFTRA’s domain. But Equity doesn’t walk away empty-handed: It will retain provisions that allow for limited recording and/or transmission, such as archival recordings and recordings for promotional, educational, or reference purposes.
The document also acknowledges that Equity has filed grievances on behalf of members seeking compensation and work weeks in regards to pre-agreement productions, and Equity is now able to proceed with resolving those claims as long as the resolution doesn’t conflict with the rest of this agreement. A dispute resolution process, should any issues arise over the next year, is also laid out in the agreement.
To read the full agreement, both unions have posted the agreements on their respective websites.
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