IF FOLKS AROUND TOWN LOOK a bit frazzled these days, it’s not because of the flu. There’s a new ailment gripping Hollywood — call it pre-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTS. In short, strike jitters.Everyone I run into is either working too hard or pretending to work too hard. I have friends who are embarrassed that they’re not doing at least two jobs. Major stars who don’t need the money are starting new movies before they’ve even finished their old ones. Two unlikely PTS role models are John Wells and Joe Roth. Wells has three TV shows to run, scripts to write and a union to oversee, the Writers Guild. When I ran into him the other day, he told me he didn’t even have time to rewrite the bedtime stories he tells his kid. I think it’s pathetic that a guy making over $30 million a year has to tell the same bedtime story over and over. As for Roth, he’s not content running his new company, Revolution, which will make 12 movies over the next 24 months, so he’s also directing a Julia Roberts movie. How compulsive can you get? Given the prevalence of PTS, Hollywood is holding its breath as recalcitrant writers finally sit down for serious talks with the studios starting Jan. 22. The guilds representing actors and writers have shied away from early talks because they want raises, not rollbacks. Indeed, the mere mention of the word “rollback” brings on a PTS rash. The studios insist they want writers to get a fair deal, but say their initial demands would cost them $2.4 billion over three years. The writers claim this is three times what they figure they’d cost. Their negotiators have such a bad case of PTS that they won’t even leave their offices — the studio executives will have to come to the guild offices for the talks. “I pray these talks prove fruitful,” fretted one studio chief, who also admits to a case of PTS. He’s worked so hard jumpstarting his pre-strike slate he’ll take a long vacation even if no strike materializes. Besides, he wants to avoid viewing the dailies on all the films he’s rushed into production. THE SHEER UNCERTAINTY OF THE situation is exacerbating the outbreak of PTS. No one knows whether to sell his old house and leave town or buy a more expensive one. Should one steel oneself for poverty or wealth? It’s tough enough to prepare for a strike, but how do you prep for a hiatus? Given the production rush, a lengthy shutdown seems inevitable even if a strike never happens. The networks have surely stashed away enough scripts and reality formats. The studios will have used up their production budgets. What’s everyone going to do with their spare time? There are a number of other secret insecurities causing the PTS outbreak. Having put so many movies into production without the customary fusillade of story notes and demands for rewrites, what happens if these movies turn out to be better than those that endured development hell? The other day I ran into a director friend who was moving quickly from one film to the next, letting his editor supervise post-production. What if his editor does a better job than he? Given this high level of stress, no one is going to make it through the year without taking some serious R&R. Perhaps the major companies should therefore take a leaf from the new U.S. president and bring in some designated substitutes for the last half of the year. Dubya filled his cabinet with retreads from earlier Republican regimes, so why shouldn’t the studios also turn back the clock? Ned Tanen and Frank Yablans could step in to run the studios. Grant Tinker and Herb Schlosser could return to the networks. The first team, meanwhile, would have time to overcome their PTS. After all, there’s nothing that terrible about pre-traumatic stress syndrome. Unless it turns into post-traumatic stress syndrome. That means strike, folks, and if that happens Hollywood may never be the same.
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