Drop-off starts April 1, one vet sez

While Hollywood insiders continue to debate the possibilities of a strike, reality suddenly caught up with them this past week:

The strike started. Symbolically, that is, without picket signs, rallies or speeches, but with a clear sense of the plug being pulled.

Every studio by now has started virtually every movie it intends to squeeze in before a possible strike. And agents have called off their fervid effort to make some quick sales.

“My phone calls from agents have gone from 100 a day to zero,” says one studio production chief. “The silence is daunting.”

The already narrow window for starting pre-strike production on new films will be locked shut due to the growing fear of the worst-case scenario — that the Screen Actors Guild will strike when its contract expires June 30. With a typical 75-day shooting schedule plus a few weeks for re-shoots, producers are starting to run out of time.

“April 1 is when you’ll see a sharp drop-off,” one studio vet notes. “The absolute final date for starting a major feature would be around April 15. The only starts after that will be for indie films.”

Producers will then face the growing headache of schedule overlaps of A-list stars, many of whom have lined up multiple pre-strike projects. That means delays on one shoot will lead to serious problems on other productions.

“I would imagine crews will be shooting as much coverage as possible early on,” one agent predicts.

Additionally, writers will no longer be available for rewrites after May 2 if the Writers Guild of America strikes, as is widely feared.

Producers are not only running out of time, they’re running out of space. “All the soundstages are booked now, whether you’re in Los Angeles or Vancouver,” one casting director points out.

SAG could open the window to producers when it holds its national plenary at the end of this month. It has not yet weighed in on whether it will make interim deals, under which producers would be granted a strike exemption for agreeing to shoot under terms of either SAG’s final offer or the new contract.

Several indies have already said they would likely sign such deals.

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