Enjoying the Golden Age of film and TV franchises? Legislation rapidly moving in Sacramento could bring it all to a crashing halt.
Film, television, and streaming have never given us so much content to love. In 2021 alone, nearly 950 films entered production and 560 original scripted series were released to US audiences – an all-time high. Many were created here in California.
But those projects are only possible when complex production schedules involving hundreds – or at times even thousands – of people can be synced up to the talent’s availability. If producers can’t solve that scheduling Rubik’s Cube, audiences will lose out on captivating and continuous stories, putting California’s creative economy (which supports nearly 570,000 jobs each year) at risk.
And that’s exactly what a proposal being rushed through the legislature, AB 437 by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, would do. By virtually banning the exclusive employment agreements used today as the foundation of film, television and streaming productions, this bill would jeopardize countless productions in this state. And while it is being sold as a “pro-artist” labor reform, in practice AB 437 would tie the hands of performers and studios as they work to negotiate creative deals that move exciting new projects forward.
Exclusivity for performers provide the certainty agreements necessary for producers to finance, insure, plan for and complete major feature film, television and streaming projects, particularly those involving long-term story arcs. They assure writers and showrunners that characters developed in one season can be brought back for subsequent storylines. When fans, talent and crew all clamor for a second or third season, the tailored exclusivity customary agreements for lead actors allow everyone working on or watching a production to benefit from a continued run. In other words, they provide the foundation on which large scale and long-term productions are built – laying down the economic bedrock for everyone from screenwriters to stagehands.
Today, exclusivity agreements are meticulously negotiated, and producers pay handsomely for them – not just for top talent but for supporting actors and character roles. And while the term “exclusivity” suggests actors can’t take on other projects, that’s not the case. Under the carefully constructed and hard-fought exclusivity deals used in today’s productions, actors can take on a great deal of additional work and are not held off the market. Actors working on a streaming show, for example, can still appear in feature films, commercials, live theater, voice-over work, animation projects and even make guest appearances on other shows.
Banning these agreements would ripple through the industry, putting the livelihoods of thousands of creative professionals at risk (including those with good-paying, high-quality union jobs supported by productions) whose earnings depend upon the certainty provided by these agreements. Without assurances that talent will be available, producers will not risk investing in and creating characters or storylines that span several seasons. Many series might not go beyond a first season. Additionally, under AB 437, there is no amount of compensation that a producer could pay, and a performer could accept, in exchange for exclusive services. This proposal would needlessly tie the hands of actors and performers and prevent them from negotiating deals that serve their own interests while putting thousands of jobs and California’s cultural and creative leadership at risk.
The studios are being a good partner. In fact, through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), they are negotiating right now on this issue, almost a year before the current collective bargaining agreement expires. This bill is a totally unnecessary invasion of negotiations and bargaining between performers and studios, including the agreements the bill would override.
Two earlier versions of this legislation have already failed to advance through California’s Assembly over the past two years. Now bill sponsors are seeking to take another swing in the Senate, but three strikes surely should bring this bad idea to an end for good. It simply puts too much at risk.
Film, television and streaming boost California’s economy, providing thousands of high-skill, high-wage jobs across the state, and cementing our cultural and creative leadership worldwide.
The California Senate should reject this effort to erode the foundations of that great success.
Charles Rivkin is Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association.