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The Vancouver Film Studios in Vancouver, on July 15.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Film unions in British Columbia have agreed to extend their contracts with studios by a year until March, 2025, securing a 5-per-cent wage hike while American writers and actors continue to strike for greater job protections, including around artificial intelligence.

Local directors, actors, technical workers, drivers and more film workers had until last Friday to vote on the offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, which represents major studios ranging from Paramount to Apple, and the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Producers Association.

The wage hike was in line with a precedent set earlier this year between studios and the Directors Guild of America. The Union of British Columbia Performers, or UBCP, called the offer it approved the largest single-year pay increase in the history of its collective agreement.

But by extending the contract, the unions had to agree not to change any other terms in their agreements with studios, which included giving up the chance to secure new safeguards around AI services.

Some union members worried that, as a result, B.C. could become a low-cost haven for studios to use AI-generated background actors as the fast-developing services mature. The loss of human background actors would cascade through the whole film industry, reducing the need for assistant directors, hair and makeup artists, costume designers, and caterers, among other professions.

The studios’ contract extension to B.C. film unions was suddenly offered in late June amid a massive wave of labour unrest in the United States. Film and TV writers belonging to the Writers Guild of America are in their third month of striking. They were joined earlier this month by actors from the SAG-AFTRA union.

“We are being victimized by a very greedy entity,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said the day her union moved to strike. “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.”

Dozens of Canadian actors, including Elliot Page, Tatiana Maslany, Martin Short, Patrick Adams and Devon Sawa, signed a letter this month asking their colleagues in the UBCP to vote against the contract extension.

The letter called the offer a “flagrant attempt by the AMPTP to offer us less than we deserve” that undercuts negotiations with the WGA and the SAG-AFTRA.

“We will not be used as a bargaining chip,” the letter adds.

In a statement Monday, the executive board of the Directors Guild of Canada’s B.C. branch wrote that it had agreed to the extension and that “our goal, as always, is creating a stable production environment.”

It continued: “We stand in solidarity with the WGA and SAG AFTRA and we look forward to their negotiations ending in a fair result for both unions. Once those negotiations conclude, we expect that the stable labour environment will encourage productions to land here in B.C.”

The Directors Guild of Canada also announced this month that it would launch a working group to assess AI’s impacts on its members’ work, including “gauging any potential risk to creative rights or narrative sovereignty.”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees local 891 said in an e-mail Monday that its members had voted 78.5 per cent in favour of the contract extension.

“We continue to stand in solidarity with our US kin as they fight for a fair and equitable contract,” the IATSE executive board said in a statement. “We hope that the parties can get back to the table and work together to resolve the outstanding issues.”

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