Look at all the faces on this page. Sure, they’re familiar now. But you might want to commit them to memory anyway. Because if the pre-strike tension currently roiling Tinseltown isn’t resolved soon, these A-listers might soon be taking a long break.
Thanks to rancorous ongoing negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the Writers Guild of America — whose contract expires on Oct. 31 — the entertainment industry is in a state of high anxiety. Last week, the possibility that film and TV writers could strike by Nov. 1 grew when the WGA asked its members to vote to approve a work stoppage. Things didn’t get that far in 2001 — the last time Hollywood came to the brink of a strike — since the WGA and Screen Actors Guild both signed last-minute deals after tough negotiations. But most insiders think a strike is inevitable, whether it happens next month or by June 2008, when contracts for SAG and the Directors Guild of America run out. If all three groups band together and walk out next summer, it will put thousands in L.A. who depend on the entertainment biz for their living — 236,000 in the film industry alone — out of work. And it would mean production on all movies and TV series would come to a grinding halt. (Hey, reading is fun!) Here’s everything you need to know about the potential pop culture disaster.
What’s Hollywood doing to prepare?
Working like crazy — while they still can. Studios are stockpiling scripts and rushing projects into production so they’ll still have new movies to premiere during a strike. A list of more than 300 ”pre-strike” films is in circulation at talent agencies, and it includes the recently announced Justice League, the Angelina Jolie vehicle Atlas Shrugged, and new installments in the Narnia and Harry Potter franchises. All would need to finish shooting by June 30. ”I just don’t believe that all the movies on that list are going to get made,” says producer John Goldwyn (I’m Not There). ”We’re not living in a universe where there’s this huge demand for a lot of movies.” Still, frantic agents are using that uncertainty to make primo deals for A-list clients who are trying to complete as many films as possible by next summer.
The networks are also scurrying to order new scripted series so they won’t have to fill airwaves with reality and game shows. NBC recently greenlit The Philanthropist, a drama about a billionaire Robin Hood; ABC grabbed the Heroes-like drama Section 8; CBS said yes to Jerry Bruckheimer’s take on the British miniseries Eleventh Hour; and Fox ordered 13 episodes of Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy’s office drama Queen Bee. Murphy says he’s rushing to get the pilot ready to shoot Dec. 3: ”It’s very stressful because you want to do your best work. [But] sometimes expediency translates to energy.” Of course, if the writers walk in November, it could delay fast-tracked TV projects, as well as upcoming films like Transformers 2 (set to bow on June 26, 2009) since there would be no one on hand to finish the scripts. And new episodes of current shows would peter out after shooting all completed scripts. Says Shield creator Shawn Ryan, who’s also a negotiating committee member of the WGA, ”People would see their favorite shows in repeats very, very quickly.”
Are the two sides any closer to a resolution?
Nope. The WGA and AMPTP have negotiated fruitlessly since July 16. While the groups parted amicably in 2004 (they meet every three years), new conflicts — like the writers’ demands for better residual payments for content such as webisodes and mobisodes — are making things tougher now. Says one network exec, ”The [writers] are beating the war drums very loudly — much more than last time.” The AMPTP wants to hold off on updating a payment system for new media until a 30-month study on its profitability is done. ”Everyone says, ‘Why couldn’t you just do a six-month study?”’ says Barbara Brogliatti, an AMPTP spokesperson. ”[But] you gotta try stuff for a couple of seasons.” The WGA rejects that reasoning. Says Ryan, ”We can’t sit by and take it.”
If there’s a strike, how will all those A-listers survive?
Hollywood types only like to take time off when they know they’re coming back to a job. During vacation, says Goldwyn, ”people [are] on yachts on telephones. They do business, they gossip, they negotiate.” And given that guild members are a loyal bunch, there wouldn’t be much to talk about. Many actors could be tempted to hit Broadway. Others could join Murphy, who says he’s already planning to take a ”monthlong cooking class.” A strike is still just a possibility, but for now, seeking out a new hobby might not be such a bad idea. — Additional reporting by Lynette Rice and Tanner Stransky