Fran Drescher examines the highly publicized Scarlett Johansson case against Disney (DIS).
The recently appointed actress, producer, and president of SAG-AFTRA has joined Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit to discuss Fair Representative salaries amid the broadcast boom and how she has handled her decisions as union president after she first took on the role in September 2021.
“It was an interesting time — it was and still is,” Drescher said, revealing that her biggest challenge was trying to unite a dysfunctional union as the industry struggled to weather the headwinds facing pandemics.
One of those big hurdles, in addition to implementing strict health and safety measures, stemmed from the decision by many studios to release box office blockbusters on streaming services.
It was Warner Bros. (WBD) is the first to adopt the hybrid release trend at the end of 2020, announcing that all of its 2021 films will have a daily release and date on HBO Max, as well as a cinematic release. The studio kept that promise throughout 2021 with titles like “Dune” and “The Matrix: Resurrections” receiving hybrid therapy.
Disney quickly followed through on its competition strategy with the much-anticipated Marvel movie “Black Widow,” which was released at Disney+ on July 9, 2021 — the same day in theaters.
The decision caused Scarlett Johansson to sue the company for the communication breach. According to Johansson’s team, her potential earnings were “largely” related to box office performance, with Marvel promising the movie star that the movie would only get theatrical release.
The Wall Street Journal estimated that Johansson lost more than $50 million due to switching from an exclusive theatrical release. Disney settled with the actress two months later for $40 million.
Although the studios have since returned to box office exclusives with abridged theatrical windows, Johansson’s lawsuit has created a critical ripple effect throughout Hollywood.
“Regarding Scarlett Johansson, I was negotiating a movie deal shortly thereafter and would have approached the negotiations very differently if the movie went straight to broadcast,” Drescher said, revealing that her film eventually ended up skipping a theatrical release. Instead, it debuted on Amazon Prime Video (AMZN).
As a result of her negotiations, which were influenced by Johansson, Drescher said she had recently received a “big check” for her work on the film.
“We were the underdogs in this equation.”
Since that time, SAG-AFTRA—which represents nearly 160,000 actors, broadcasters, recording artists and other media professionals worldwide—has worked alongside broadcast giants to renegotiate contracts in order to account for a changing media landscape.
“We just had a very successful negotiation with Netflix (NFLX),” Drescher noted. The contract, which included major changes in favor of background performers, coordinators and dubbing, gives actors more freedom and flexibility to pick up jobs on other platforms.
Drescher explained that when talks first began, the union proposed incremental adjustments to an existing contract – an approach with which the actress strongly disagreed.
“I have seen a convergence of opportunity that probably won’t come for very long,” she said, adding that the talks must be fostered with great vigor and conviction; Otherwise, the union “will forever pursue a different kind of contract that is always beyond our ability.”
The consortium struck a similar deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The agreement outlined major improvements to the “exclusivity” rules, which previously prevented regular television series from accepting new jobs during the downtime.
He is the representative of the journeyman, the middle class, who is always under pressure …Fran Drescher, President of SAG-AFTRA
“We were very lucky that they heard us,” Drescher said. “They understood that we were the underdogs in this equation.”
“The fact of the matter is that when an entire industry changes, and the rules of the game change on behalf of the employer, the changes have to pass on to employees as well. You can’t have it both ways,” she continued.
Drescher confirmed that the SAG-AFTRA negotiations focus heavily on the “skilled actor” as A-list stars such as Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson often make their own deals.
She emphasized that “it’s always the skilled actor, the middle class, who’s under pressure. That’s really why unions exist – to protect and defend their rights.”
‘The gift that keeps on giving’
Outside of SAG-AFTRA, Drescher — best known for her role as Fran Fine on the popular CBS sitcom “The Nanny” — continues to work as an actress and producer.
When asked about a possible “nanny” reboot, the 65-year-old said it would be a game to re-enact her beloved character on the big screen.
“She’s on the talking stage — I definitely will. We’ll see what happens,” Drescher said, adding that a Broadway musical based on the sitcom is currently in development.
“[‘The Nanny’] It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she smiled, referring to the show’s new life on HBO Max, which has given rise to a new generation of ‘Nanny’ fans. So, I am very grateful. “
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