12/8/07

Force majeure territory in WGA strike

It was an e-mail that popped into my mailbox a few days ago. It was from a friend of mine, a talent agent. Considering how few non-press-release e-mails I get these days, I pounced on it, especially when I saw the subject -- Re: Strike. "I'm getting bored with it. Can you make it stop?" the e-mail read.

It has been a roller coaster of emotions for everybody in Hollywood this fall. The anxiety in the weeks leading to the writers strike turned into desperation when the eleventh-hour negotiations between the guild and the studios fell through and the walkout began. Then the nervous euphoria of the first days, marked by big rallies and small victories for the strikers like the shutdown of a couple of location shoots, turned into anguish when the work stoppage entered its second week with no talks in sight. That soon was replaced by cautious optimism when the two sides went back to the table. Now, it's mostly boredom, especially on the conglomerates' side.

"I'm as bored as I can be," one studio executive said. Development execs went from a dozen back-to-back meetings a day to a couple at best. Network and studio staffers' days are filled with catching up, reading, screening and office cleaning.

At some places, there also is brainstorming for the future. For example, 20th Century Fox TV employees are being asked to come up with ideas aimed at reinventing the business. ABC Studios is holding seminars to educate employees about other areas of the business. And while the development season is in limbo, some agencies already are working on staffing strategies for whenever the season resumes.

For literary agents and writers, the boredom has been mixed with a great degree of stress and anxiety.

Five weeks into the strike, TV writers are in force majeure territory. Some of them might be losing their overall deals at this moment, but because all pacts have been suspended, they won't know that until after the end of the strike. Talk about a joy kill!

And there is the daily uncertainty about what exactly is going on at the secret talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Every piece of news from first-, second- or fifth-hand sources is devoured; every word in the two sides' carefully crafted end-of-day statements is dissected; everyone is trying to dismiss pessimistic forecasts and focus on the only good news these days: that the two parties are still talking.

All that high anxiety is leading to increased intake of Ambien and Lunesta and probably more frequent visits to psychiatrists. So expect a lot of movie and TV pitches about therapy and depression next year, right after the big screen is hit by the onslaught of bad movies expected as a result of hastily greenlighted projects whose scripts needed more work.

Many of them will have pretty good actors in them, too. With film production gradually grinding to a halt, even small, low-budget indies that normally barely register on most actors' and agents' radars are now able to attract higher-profile thesps.

With all the drumbeat around, I'm still holding out hope that if the studios and the writers sit tight for a few more days, they might be nearing a point of no return.

With the holidays so close, it will be hard for either side to break off talks and take off for their vacation homes. Nobody wants to be the Grinch who stole Christmas for the thousands of crew members who are out of jobs for the holidays and without hope for the future.

Let's not forget -- 'tis the season for miracles. The first night of Hanukkah produced one: The two sides started real talks and began making progress.

Now it's Christmas' turn.

So I took that "Make it stop" e-mail and forwarded it to Santa.

(hollywoodreporter.com)

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