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Fran Drescher: Scarlett Johansson ‘completely’ influenced film contract negotiations

Fran Drescher is weighing in on Scarlett Johansson's highly publicized lawsuit against Disney (DIS).

The actress, producer and recently appointed SAG-AFTRA president joined Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit to discuss fair actor pay amid the streaming boom and how she's approached her decisions as union president after first stepping into the role in September 2021.

"It is an interesting time — it was and remained so," Drescher said, revealing that her biggest challenge was trying to unite a dysfunctional union as the industry struggled to overcome pandemic-facing headwinds.

One of those top hurdles, in addition to the implementation of strict health and safety procedures, stemmed from various studios' decision to release box office-intended films onto streaming services.

Warner Bros. (WBD) was the first to adopt the hybrid release trend at the end of 2020, announcing that all of its 2021 films will have a day-and-date release on HBO Max, in addition to a cinematic rollout. The studio kept that promise throughout 2021 with top titles like "Dune" and "The Matrix: Resurrections" receiving the hybrid treatment.

Disney soon followed its competitor's strategy with Marvel's highly anticipated "Black Widow" prequel released on Disney+ on July 9, 2021 — the same day as theaters.

The decision caused Scarlett Johansson to sue the company over breach of contact. According to Johansson's team, her earnings potential was "largely" tied to box office performance, with Marvel promising the movie star that the film would receive a theatrical-only release.

The Wall Street Journal estimated that Johansson lost out on over $50 million due to the shift away from an exclusively theatrical release. Disney settled with the actress two months later for a reported $40 million.

US actress Scarlett Johansson poses on the red carpet upon arrival at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 2, 2020.
US actress Scarlett Johansson poses on the red carpet upon arrival at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 2, 2020.

Although studios have since reverted back to box office exclusives with shortened theatrical windows, Johansson's lawsuit created a momentous ripple effect throughout Hollywood.

"With regards to Scarlett Johansson, I was shortly thereafter negotiating a movie deal and we handled the negotiations completely different in the event that the movie would go straight to streaming," Drescher said, revealing that her movie ultimately did end up skipping a theatrical release and, instead, debuted on Amazon Prime Video (AMZN).

As a result of her negotiations, influenced by Johansson, Drescher said she recently received a "big chunky check" for her work in the film.

'We were the underdogs in this equation'

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher speaks during the SAG-AFTRA and NFL Players Association Celebrity brunch to launch the new
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher speaks during the SAG-AFTRA and NFL Players Association Celebrity brunch to launch the new "Actors & Athletes: Unions for Democracy" campaign in Beverly Hills, California, on July 17, 2022.

Since that time, SAG-AFTRA — which represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, recording artists, and other media professionals around the world — has worked hand-in-hand with streaming giants to re-negotiate contracts in order to account for the shifting media landscape.

"We just had a very successful negotiation with Netflix (NFLX)," Drescher noted. The contract, which included significant changes benefiting background performers, stunt coordinators and dubbing performers, allows actors more freedom and flexibility to pick up jobs on other platforms.

Drescher explained that, when talks first began, the union had suggested making incremental alterations to an existing contract — an approach that the actress passionately disagreed with.

"I saw a convergence of opportunities that would probably not come along for a very long time," she said, adding that talks needed to be leveraged with a great deal of strength and conviction; otherwise, the union would "forever be chasing after a different kind of a contract that's always just outside of our grasp."

The union struck a similar deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The agreement outlined major improvements to "exclusivity" rules, which had previously prevented television series regulars on accepting new jobs while on hiatus.

It's the journeyman actor, the middle class, that's always getting squeezed...Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA President

"We were very lucky that they heard us. They understood that we were the underdogs in this equation," Drescher said.

"The truth of the matter is that when an entire industry changes, and the rules of the game change on behalf of the employer, changes are going to have to trickle down to the employees as well. You can't have it both ways," she continued.

Drescher emphasized that SAG-AFTRA's negotiations largely focus on "the journeyman actor" as A-list stars like Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson often make their own deals.

"It's the journeyman actor, the middle class, that's always getting squeezed. That's really why unions exist — to protect and defend their rights," she stressed.

'The gift that keeps on giving'

Outside of SAG-AFTRA, Drescher — known for her role as Fran Fine in the popular CBS sitcom "The Nanny" — continues to work as an actress and producer.

When asked about a potential "Nanny" film reboot, the 65-year-old said she'd be game to reprise her beloved character on the big screen.

"It's in the talking stage — I would definitely be in. We'll see what happens," Drescher teased, adding that a Broadway musical based on the sitcom is currently in development.

"['The Nanny'] is the gift that keeps on giving," she beamed, crediting the show's new life on HBO Max, which has led to a new generation of "Nanny" fans. "For that, I'm very grateful."

Alexandra is a Senior Media and Entertainment Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 and email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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