Writers strive to finish scripts. Rival late-night show hosts and producers call group meetings to discuss contingency plans. Union officials and screenwriters gather in conference rooms Design picket signs with slogans like “The future of writing is at stake!”
With the looming strike in Hollywood, there has been a frantic sprint across the entertainment world ahead of the possible retirement of 11,500 TV and film writers as soon as next week.
The possibility of one Strike of TV and film writers – they will, won’t they, how could they? – has been the top topic of conversation in the industry for weeks. And in the last few days there has been a remarkable change: people no longer wondered whether a strike would take place, but talked about the duration. how long was the last one (100 days in 2007/2008.) How long was the longest day? (153 days in 1988.)
“It’s the first topic that comes up in every meeting, every phone call, and everyone claims to have their own inside source on how long a strike will last and whether the directors and actors are also going to step down, which is really a disaster would be.” said Laura Lewis, the founder of Rebelle Mediaa production and financing company behind shows like “tell me lies” on Hulu and independent films like “Mr. Malcolm’s list.”
Unions representing screenwriters have negotiated a new deal with Hollywood’s biggest studios to replace the deal that expires on Monday. The directors’ and actors’ contracts expire on June 30th.
“I support the authors,” Ms. Lewis said. “It’s a challenge though. Just as we are beginning to recover from the pandemic, there could be a strike.”
In recent weeks, television writers have struggled to meet deadlines that studios have pushed forward. Fearing that they might be without an income for months, some TV writers try to push through new projects — to get “started,” Hollywood slang for a signed writer’s contract that usually entails an upfront payment.
A prominent talent agent, who like some others in this article spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said there was a “insane rush” to close deals ahead of next week. Some writers began removing their personal belongings from studio offices in anticipation of a strike.
Likewise, studio executives began calling producers last week to tell them to act as if a strike was safe and to ensure any final tweaks are incorporated into the scripts, allowing production on some series to continue even then can be done when there are no writers on set. Executives delayed production of other series until the fall because they realized the scripts weren’t quite ready.
The president of a production company said this week she was “freaking out” because a television project was in danger of falling apart because the star was only available for a limited time and the script wasn’t ready yet.
The writers’ room for hit ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary is slated to meet on Monday — the day the contract expires.
“I plan on going back to work when we’re supposed to go back to work,” said Brittani Nichols, the show’s producer and writer. “And if that doesn’t happen, I’ll work on the picket line.”
Should there be a strike, which could start as early as Tuesday, late-night shows, including those hosted by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, are likely to go dark. As they have, late-night anchors and their top producers have called conference calls to discuss a coordinated response in the event of a strike during the pandemic.
During the 2007 strike, late-night shows went dark for two months before gradually returning in early 2008, though writers still stood on picket lines. Jimmy Kimmel paid his employees out of pocket during the strike and later explained that he had to return to the air because his life savings had been depleted almost wiped out.
Mr. Kimmel and other hosts like Conan O’Brien bravely attempted to put shows together without their writers or their standard monologues. Jay Leno on the other hand wrote his own “Tonight Show” monologueswhich angered the writers’ unions.
Although there is a lot of uncertainty in television circles, there are also parts of Hollywood where everything is business as usual.
Streaming service executives appeared to be exhibiting what a senior William Morris Endeavor agent called a “terrifying, eerie sense of calm,” perhaps because they were betting that any strike would be short-lived. Most streaming services have been under pressure to cut costs — even the financially strong Amazon Studios 100 people laid off on Thursday – and a strike is a quick way to achieve that: Spending would fall as production slows.
“This could result in streaming profitability well above expectations,” Rich Greenfield, founder of research firm LightShed Partners, wrote to investors this month.
There is little concern at several film studios, in part because a strike would have little impact on the release schedule until next spring. (The film business is almost a year in advance.) One film agent said everyone around her is preparing Cannes Film Festival, which begins May 16 and includes premieres for films such as Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon. Many film executives were also busy this week with CinemaCon, a convention for theater operators in Las Vegas.
“The writing process generally takes about 18 months to two years for movies to hit our theaters, so you wouldn’t see an impact for quite a while,” said John Fithian, the outgoing executive director of the National Association of Theater Owners. “For projects that the studios put into production, a lot is already written – or in the computer.”
At The Walt Disney Company, the largest provider of unionized TV drama and comedy (890 episodes for the 2021-22 season), more immediate concerns took center stage. Disney began distributing thousands of pink slips as part of a campaign on Monday Independent plan to cut 7,000 jobs worldwide by the end of June. The company made headlines again on Wednesday when it sued Gov. Ron DeSantis from Florida.
In previous union strikes, TV stations ordered more reality programs outside the purview of the writers’ unions. The longtime “cops” were deployed during the 1988 strike, while the 2007-08 strike helped kick-start shows like The Celebrity Apprentice and The Biggest Loser.
Paul Neinstein, co-CEO of Project production company The production company was not known for producing unscripted television shows.
“Suddenly everyone has a reality show,” he said. “And that feels very strike-related to me.”