Film production plummets in de facto lockout

by Paul William Tenny

Richard Verrier wrote an interesting story for the LA Times about studio film production slowing down due to plans set in motion almost a year ago. The studios didn't want to have their 2009 big ticket features halting production this month because they feared a strike by the Screen Actors Guild. Funny thing happened though, SAG didn't strike. There are only a couple of films still shooting even though all that acting talent is just standing around, ready, willing, and waiting for some work.

There simply isn't any studio that wants to make movies anymore.
According to Verrier, the next Transformers movie Revenge of the Fallen is the only thing being shot in LA these days. Ironically that production was hampered when star Shia LeBeouf decided to get behind the wheel while drunk and ended up in a car wreck that severely injured his hand, and may have cost him one or more fingers. The laughable LAPD found a way to blame anyone but the drunk celeb for the accident, but that's another gripe for another day. With basically every available film actor standing around waiting for something to shoot due to a de facto studio lockout, the one film that had all its players ended up eating a delay because its star actor was born without a brain.

Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is one of the few other films in production, a flick which was scheduled to begin shooting last year but was pushed back several months by the writers strike. I don't remember the specific circumstances there, but it was something along the lines of the script being written but not polished, or someone not wanting to enter production without having writers available for rewrites during shooting. Unlike with Angels and Demons, Michael Bay reportedly scabbed and worked on the Transformers 2 script himself during the strike.

It seems to me that the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) knew they could easily goad the writers into striking quickly and effortlessly, and perhaps wanted an impasse more than even the most militant of writers did. With 20 years of successful bullying to their credit, would would have blamed them for not wanting to bargain when the competition eventually just folds?

Unfortunately for the overpaid "moguls", they were wrong then and yet are still running an identical campaign against the actors. This time is different though, because SAG is far more powerful than the WGA was and apparently has far greater patience. Actors have been working without a contract for over two months now, and even though film production has been slowed significantly purely by the choice of studio execs, the fall television production season is in full swing and the world hasn't come to an end.

I can't tell you when this will be resolved or who will come out on top, but I can say with absolute certainty that what SAG is demanding now is reasonable and would correct some serious errors in the DGA and WGA contracts that neither of those unions were able to address, although the DGA didn't really even try and doesn't care either way. Anything SAG gains that the other unions don't have will have to be given to those unions as well, tossing aside the seriously flawed concept of "pattern bargaining."

From the studio perspective, they only want to make the worst deal they possibly can and then go to everyone else holding out their hands and say "if we give you more than we just gave that guy, then we'll have to go back and give him more, and then what's to stop the third guy in line for demanding even more?" You know that sounds pretty reasonable from the AMPTP's perspective, but it should be irrelevant to the unions -- it's simply not their problem. Their goal should be to get the best deal possible which means building on top of everything that has come before, and the unions ultimately have that kind of power if they're willing to use it. It's simple supply and demand economics here -- the studios want to buy what the unions are selling (talent.) If the talent isn't happy, the talent walks and the studios don't have a business anymore.

The collateral damage inherent to taking that that kind of stand is significant and should be considered carefully, but I think it's unquestionable that when it comes down to a contest of will power, the guy who is hungry (the studios) is going to cave and cough up his money to the other guy selling the Big Mac and fries (the unions.) If the AMPTP honestly believes a strike will go the distance, then they've already lost.

But man, I really don't want to see another fall TV season cut in half again even if that's what it takes to bully a bully.
in Film


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