Top Hollywood executive Donna Langley addressed the ongoing SAG-AFTRA negotiations on Wednesday night, saying that the studio side will spend “as much time as it takes” in the bargaining room until the parties can reach a resolution.
Declining to speak in specifics at a scheduled appearance at Bloomberg’s Screentime event, the NBCUniversal Studio Group chairman & chief content officer nevertheless said, “I think the best way I could say it is that we’ve been spending time with the actors, and we want to spend as much time as it takes until we can reach a resolution and get the industry back on its feet and back to work as been our goals since day one.” The executive was interviewed by Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw in Los Angeles.
As for the potential that the SAG-AFTRA strike could linger and impact her studio’s summer film slate, Langley said, “I’m not relishing the thought of a summer season without a volume of films. If I learned anything during COVID, it was the lack of volume [that] really does impact the moviegoing cadence. And we were just seeing recovery from that in 2023 again in the summer with that 5 percent down. And if we lose that, that’s going to have a really lasting, meaningful, not good impact on our industry.”
Earlier that day, the executive had attended the latest round of negotiations for a new three-year SAG-AFTRA contract that could bring an end to the union’s ongoing strike, which has now lasted nearly three months. She was joined in the talks on the studio side by Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Disney CEO Bob Iger.
During her Screentime appearance, Langley also answered a question about why it took so long for the Writers Guild of America negotiations to conclude with a deal (Langley, Sarandos, Zaslav and Iger were present for the final days of negotiations). “The experience in the room with the writers was a difficult one because we had to deal with issues like AI and minimum staffing and things that had up until this point in unprecedented,” she said. “I can’t speak to why it took the time that it took. It just took the time that it took.”
On Oct. 2 SAG-AFTRA and negotiators for the AMPTP resumed their negotiations for the first time since the performers’ union went on strike. The two parties have been bargaining on and off ever since, with studios leaders — Sarandos, Zaslav, Iger and Langley — once again present in discussions. Their presence has raised hopes that the parties may soon be able to reach a deal and end the actors’ strike, which has essentially resulted in a domestic moratorium on union production except in cases where the union has offered an interim agreement.
Still, there are many issues for both sides to work through. With these negotiations, SAG-AFTRA has put forward a bold proposal for casts from successful streaming projects to receive a cut of platforms’ subscription revenues. Before they went back into the bargaining room in early October, the two sides had also not yet come to terms on AI regulations, minimum rate increases and a host of other issues.
Starting July 14, the SAG-AFTRA strike has hobbled the industry for months. A simultaneous Writers Guild of America strike that lasted for 148 days concluded on Sept. 27, but the majority of major physical production has yet to return without union actors. Employment in entertainment has declined by 45,000 jobs since the WGA strike began in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Oct. 6.
In July, Langley was promoted to chairman of NBCUniversal studio group & chief content officer as the mega-media conglomerate struggles to adapt to a new world order where a seasoned executive with an established creative vision is needed to oversee all content for film, streaming and TV. Langley previously served as chair of Universal Filmed Entertainment after running Universal Pictures. She’s widely credited for winning over top filmmakers and talent, as well aligning herself with key production partners including animation powerhouse Illumination Entertainment and Blumhouse.
This year, Universal and Illumination’s The Super Mario Brothers grossed a huge $1.35 billion dollars at the worldwide box office, proving that families are finally willing to return to theaters after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Universal is also home of Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster adult drama. The three-hour film has defied all odds in earning $939.3 million globally to become the top-grossing biographical drama of all time. (Langley wooed Nolan into the fold after the filmmaker split up with Wanner Bros.) So far this year, Super Mario Bros. and Oppenheimer are the No. 2 and No. 3 top-grossing films of 2023 so far behind Warners’ Barbie ($1.43 billion).
Langley had little time to celebrate her promotion in July due to the writer’s strike and subsequent SAG-AFTRA strike.