Many have contingency plans
With the heaviest strike clouds looming over Los Angeles, film biz vets in New York are finding some surprising silver linings.Companies that are acquisitions-driven, like Lot 47, say strikes by the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild won’t affect them at all, while established shingles like Sony Pictures Classics, Killer Films, GreeneStreet and Shooting Gallery have more than a few contingency plans. Shooting Gallery hopes to stay afloat through its commercial division, docs, theater and new media. Killer and GreeneStreet are optimistic about interim agreements that would enable them to work through strikes. And since neither company depends solely on studio financing for its pics, both hope for sustained per-project support from private investors and foreign financiers. John Sloss, prexy of the newly formed Cinetic Media, expects that the guilds will grant waivers to companies that can prove they have no connection to the studios. If such interim agreements don’t pan out, however, strikes might force companies like Miramax, Artisan, Lions Gate and USA Films — which over the past few years have shied away from the risky acquisitions game — to become much more active buyers. The shift could begin as early as next month at the Cannes Film Festival. Certainly Sony Pictures Classics — a bigger force on the scene since its Oscar and box office success with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — will be in the hunt for finished product. Established documetarians such as Marc Levin, who have made forays into the feature world, are poised to jump back into docs and reality programming, while writers and actors living in or near New York are fast rediscovering their roots in the theater. While the strikes will have a huge impact on the Los Angeles economy, the New York economy is more diversified and will not be hit as hard. In fact, Gothamites these days are far more fearful of what is happening on Wall Street than on Wilshire Boulevard or in Burbank. However, East Coasters note that the nation’s formerly roaring economy had contributed as to the growth of independent filmmaking in recent years as the digitalization of cameras and editing. Small companies that service the New York film biz are especially vulnerable and on edge. “In the economic climate we have now,” says one exec at a boutique management firm that reps writers and actors, “it’s hard to believe this is really going to happen.” Foremost on the minds of independent film companies is the idea of interim agreements. Yet no one is quite sure who will be able to sign them, when and how long after the strikes they will take effect, what they will stipulate and whether the local crafts guilds will support them. As a sign of just how politically charged the interim and strike issues are, Miramax, USA Films and Good Machine declined comment for this story, perhaps because two of their parent companies are in guild negotiations. Unlike most of their Gotham competitors, both Miramax and USA Films are linked to studios: Miramax is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co. while USA is 44% owned by Vivendi Universal. Good Machine recently struck a first-look deal with Miramax. Another issue creating much uncertainty is shooting pics overseas. “Technically, there are ways you can get around it,” says producer Bob Balaban, who moved the Robert Altman ensemble pic “Gosford Park” to a pre-strike start date. “But among guild members, if you did you’d probably be frowned upon. I think SAG is requesting that its members not work anywhere.” Some established members of the independent film community hope that possible strikes will enable new voices to emerge. But skeptics counter that strikes, compounded with a faltering economy, will crush the indie scene in New York, particularly smaller agencies and production companies that can’t afford a six-month work stoppage. “I don’t want it to happen,” says Killer Films partner Christine Vachon. “There’s no upside. We’re a production company. That’s what we do. I want to keep working.”
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