MPA chief Charles Rivkin rejects California AB 437

Enjoying the golden age of film and television franchises? Legislation in Sacramento, moving fast, could bring everything to an abrupt 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 screenplay series were released to US audiences – an all-time high. Many were created here in California.

But these projects are only possible when complex production schedules involving hundreds – sometimes even thousands – of people can be synchronized with talent availability. If producers can’t solve this Rubik’s Cube planning, audiences will miss out on compelling and continuous stories, putting California’s creative economy (which supports nearly 570,000 jobs each year) at risk.

And that is exactly what a proposal rushed through the legislature, AB 437 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, would do. With a de facto ban on the single employment contracts used today as the basis for film, television and streaming productions, this bill would endanger countless productions in this federal state. And while it’s being sold as an “artist-friendly” labor reform, in practice AB 437 would tie the hands of artists and studios as they work to negotiate creative deals that will fuel exciting new projects.

Cast member exclusivity agreements provide producers with the security needed to fund, insure, plan and complete large-scale feature film, television and streaming projects, particularly those with long-term storylines. They assure writers and showrunners that characters developed in one season can be brought back for subsequent storylines. When fans, talent, and crew are all clamoring for a second or third season, the custom-tailored exclusivity deals common to lead cast allow everyone working on or watching a production to benefit from a sequel. In other words, they provide the foundation upon which large-scale, long-term productions are built – and lay the economic foundation for everyone from screenwriters to stagehands.

These days, exclusivity deals are meticulously negotiated, and producers pay handsomely for them—not just for top talent, but supporting actors and character roles as well. And while the term “exclusivity” suggests actors can’t take on other projects, that’s not the case. Under the carefully constructed and highly competitive exclusive contracts used in today’s productions, actors can take on a lot of extra work and aren’t kept out of the market. Actors working on a streaming show, for example, may continue to appear in feature films, commercials, live theater, voice-over work, animation projects, and even have guest appearances on other shows.

A ban on these agreements would ripple through the industry and threaten the livelihoods of thousands of creative professionals (including those in well-paying, high-value union jobs supported by productions) whose incomes depend on the certainty offered by these agreements. Without assurances that talent will be available, producers will not risk investing in and creating characters or storylines that span multiple seasons. Many series may not get past a first season. Additionally, under AB 437 there is no compensation that a producer could pay in exchange for exclusive services that a performer could accept. This proposal would unnecessarily tie the hands of actors and performers, preventing them from negotiating deals that serve their own best interests while jeopardizing thousands of jobs and California’s cultural and creative leadership.

The studios are a good partner. In fact, they are negotiating exclusively on this issue through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) right now, almost a year before the current contract expires. This bill is a completely unnecessary interference in negotiations and haggling between performers and studios, including the agreements that the bill would override.

Two previous versions of this legislation have already failed by the California Convention in the past two years. Now the sponsors of bills are trying to make another hit in the Senate, but three strikes should surely put an end to this bad idea once and for all. It’s just too much of a risk.

Film, television and streaming fuel California’s economy, provide thousands of high-quality, high-paying jobs across the state, and solidify our cultural and creative leadership worldwide.

The California Senate should reject this attempt to undermine the foundations of this great success.

Charles Rivkin is Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association. MPA chief Charles Rivkin rejects California AB 437

Charles Jones

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