Commercial production at off-lot locations in Los Angeles has dwindled to about half its usual level as the strike by union actors against advertisers enters its seventh week.
Figures released by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which issues off-lot permits for shooting in most of Los Angeles County, showed a 47% decline during the first eight days of June following a 23% decline in May. Total production during that period totaled only 83 days, compared with 158 in the same period of 1999.
Commercials producers admit they are avoiding shooting in locales that can be picketed by members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Actors. About 55% of SAG’s 98,000 members are in the Hollywood branch and union activists have been hitting up to half a dozen shoots, ad agencies and casting offices daily.
“There’s no doubt that traditional location shooting in Los Angeles is down because agencies and commercial producers go elsewhere,” said Steve Caplan of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. “It doesn’t mean that L.A. shooting has dried but that it’s going to places that can’t be picketed.”
That means paying more to shoot on studio lots or to travel out of town although producers claim they come out ahead due to lower costs of non-union talent and production costs outside Los Angeles. “We may be down 15% overall although it’s real hard to tell,” Caplan said. “Activity is still fairly strong and no one is pushing the panic button.”
But SAG officials said the activity on commercials is far lower than producers admit. In Los Angeles, for example, they point out that the EIDC figures are not totally reliable since producers are filing for permits at multiple sites in order to lessen the possibility of being hit by picketers.
With the strike now at 43 days, the stakes have increased. SAG and AFTRA are losing as much as $2 million a day from commercials, although they claim members are working under some of the 1,400 interim agreements signed with advertisers. EIDC chief Cody Cluff has estimated Los Angeles County is losing $1 million a day to the impact of the strike.
The EIDC figures also show a recent surge in musicvideos to 121 shooting days during the first eight days of June compared with 41 in the same period of 1999. SAG officials claim the increase means producers are attempting to avoid pickets by using the video permits for commercial shoots.
“We have never said we wanted to shut down commercial shooting in Los Angeles,” a union official said. “But they’re having to go to higher-cost locations and they can’t use the sound from locations where we’ve picketed. We’re just trying to hurt them where it hurts — in the pocketbook.”
The two sides, which last held formal negotiations on April 14, are scheduled to meet Tuesday in New York for exploratory talks about re-starting the bargaining process. Federal mediators set up the meetings two weeks ago with both sides stressing publicly that they have not altered their last positions.
Actors are insisting that they must receive residuals rather than a flat fee for ads airing on cable, along with jurisdiction over the Internet and creation of an industry-funded monitoring system. Advertisers are demanding that actors retreat on the current “pay per play” system of residuals for ads on network TV for a flat-fee system.
The unions have scheduled a news conference for Tuesday at SAG national headquarters in Hollywood to show support for their negotiators. They also plan to picket toymaker Mattel at its El Segundo headquarters Wednesday over its failure to sign an interim deal.
On Saturday, the unions employed the strategy of targeting a retailer for the first time by distributing leaflets at Galpin Ford in Van Nuys, one of the nation’s largest auto dealerships. They also staged a march Sunday on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
Advertisers, repped by the Assn. of National Advertisers and the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, insist they are “unanimous” in their commitment to modernize the commercial contract. They also insist that no major agency or advertiser has signed an interim agreement with the unions despite the SAG/AFTRA claim that more than 1,400 such deals have been made.
“Despite some inconvenience, no advertiser or agency has been unable to complete high quality commercial production during the strike,” negotiators for the advertisers said recently.