Hollywood braces for 'perfect storm'

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Doug Krizner: The entertainment biz is facing a perfect storm — one that could create a major work stoppage over the next year. The industry's contract with its writers expires in October. And next June, contracts for actors and directors run out. This has Hollywood in hyper-drive.

You see, movie studios and TV production companies are rushing to get projects into production. They're stockpiling films and shows in case an industry-wide strikes shuts down Hollywood. Stu Levine is assistant managing editor at Variety.

Stu Levine:Well, the big issue right now, I think — especially for the writers — is that they really felt they got worked over really badly in their last deal on rights as far as DVD, Internet... At the time of that negotiation, the producers were saying "Well, we don't know what these technologies are going to produce — so how can we pay you for something we don't know is going to happen in the future?"

Well, what's happened is, these shows are now not just broadcasting on television and in theaters, they're broadcasting on iPods and cell phones and on DVDs. And the writers are getting very minimal payment for these services. And they want their just due.

Krizner: So the upshot is, the film industry is getting as much product into the pipeline as possible right now... kind of to avoid a problem with product should a strike occur a year from now?

Levine:Right. Film studios right now are really stockpiling scripts. They're putting, kind of, a green light for everything they think is do-able, with big stars to kind of get big profits right away — which is actually bad for business, because the best scripts and the best movies usually take time to be nuanced and be done a couple of times to make it right.

Krizner: What's at stake for the television industry in all this?

Levine: TV will be in bad shape if this happens, only because scripted shows will have to be rushed. If the strike happens in June, when new shows have been announced, then new shows can't go into production. So there will be a glut of reality shows because supposedly they're not written... Of course they are, and the product will just be awful.

Krizner: Who's most at risk right now?

Levine: I think everybody's concerned. I think the actors are concerned because they won't be able to get jobs, writers will be out of work, the studio heads will be super-concerned because they won't be able to put product out there. They can't turn profits, yet they still have to pay hundreds and hundreds and thousands of employees.

There will certainly be no winners in this situation. The thing that scares me is, I think the unions — the WGA, the directors, the writers and SAG — will be much more militant this time. I think some people felt the studios kind of took advantage of them last time. And I don't see anybody rolling over this time.

Krizner: He's Stu Levine, Assistant Managing Editor at Variety.

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