Actors, films could flourish outside lockout

Although strike anxiety is clouding Hollywood’s outlook, the New York film business views the labor mess as a potential silver lining.

Ongoing guild angst and a protracted work stoppage could wind up being a counterintuitive boon to many indie companies, say prominent players. It may curtail the increasing production output of studio arms such as Focus, Fox Searchlight, Paramount Vantage and Sony Pictures Classics. Not surprisingly, execs at those companies are feeling the most stressed.

One reason others are more sanguine is the belief that guild waivers could be obtained that would allow for shooting to continue, depending on such factors as where the shoot occurs and whether a guild signatory is onboard to distribute.

More than that, there are competitive advantages in a strike scenario to being independent and, by definition, dedicated to working the fringes to discover new voices.

“I predict by the spring that a lot of bankable actors will become available, names who really drive foreign sales and allow independently financed films to flourish,” said Andrew Hurwitz, a veteran sales rep and partner at Gotham law firm Schreck, Rose & Dapello. “There are going to be a lot of those films mobilizing when studios are not in a place to move ahead.”

Andrew Herwitz of the Film Sales Co., a longtime Miramax exec who now reps indie pics, was doubtful that a strike would last long enough to affect things like the festival markets.

While the market for finished films has been wobbly in recent years, the presence of new buyers like Overture and Summit has propped up prices. “There is no shortage of completed films,” he said. “While a strike is awful for morale and for the business as a whole, the impact for a lot of us is minimal, at least at this point.”

Picturehouse topper Bob Berney said the 40% of his business that acquisitions currently comprises could grow in a strike environment. “But then the worry is that you just go into markets and stock up and people will be buying stuff that they don’t really want.”

That is certainly the outlook of Gothamites heading to Santa Monica for AFM, but even more of a looming presence is Sundance. The mere mention of the word in combination with the strike is what elicits shudders from otherwise hardened New Yorkers.

“Sundance without a strike would be crazy,” said Tom Quinn, senior VP at Magnolia Pictures. “But if there is a strike you could definitely see a frenzied marketplace with a lot of pre-buys or just people willing to spend outrageous sums for movies that might not be any good. Because if you can’t fill your slate with enough production titles, you’ve got to go out and get finished films.”

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