Potential work stoppage fuels spike in acquisitions

For the time being, the threat of a guild strike is mostly a boon for indie producers, as distributors stockpile projects to offset a potential work stoppage.

“Any production entity that can commit quickly has a real advantage these days,” notes QED Intl. topper Bill Block. “The studios are like bears stocking up for hibernation. And right now, there are plenty of fish in the stream.”

Bob Yari, head of Yari Film Group, agrees that the concerns about actors striking next summer (SAG’s contract runs out June 30) are fueling the spike in production activity for the indies.

“It’s clearly a bit of an opportunity for independents,” Yari notes. “But it’s a bit hard to predict what kind of effects there are really going to be if we get to the point of an actual strike.”

Chris McGurk, who heads year-old Overture as it aims to become a full-service studio, notes the current push to move forward on projects is so heated that it’s complicating casting decisions.

“There’s a lot of activity and a lot of buzz, particularly on the agency side,” he adds. “In our case, we have six movies going on right now, but we’re not letting the possibility of a strike impact our decisions in any way. If you do that, you can’t help but lower your standards, and that only leads to exacerbating your risks.”

Though some producers have pondered the idea of going overseas to shoot next summer to avoid a strike, that’s a tricky scenario. The Screen Actors Guild has an ironclad ban on their members working for nonsignatory producers if the project is aimed at the U.S. marketplace.

If an actor chose to defy SAG, the thesp could face fines and even expulsion from the guild. SAG can’t bar actors from working on guild productions even if they’ve resigned from SAG, but it can publicly embarrass those who engage in strikebreaking work, such as Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods when they shot non-union ads during the 2000 commercials strike.

Execs contend that circumventing SAG would be a desperate measure.

“SAG’s big threat is closing down English-speaking production, and long-term players aren’t going to want to cross a guild picket line,” Block says.

For now, the strike threat is a boost to indie producers of all stripes. “What you’re seeing now is that the average Joe Blow producer who’d get one of three projects made is now getting one of two projects made,” says Norman B. Starr, senior VP of City National Bank’s Entertainment Division.

But as the labor situation becomes more unsettled, Block believes, the uncertainty’s going to scare away newbies.

“The landscape’s already set for the Hyde Parks and Lakeshores of the world,” he notes. “You won’t see many new entrants.”

Lakeshore prexy David Dinerstein believes everyone in Hollywood is adjusting quickly to the notion that there may be a strike next year. “It’s clearly something that you have to prepare for, but I want to stress that we are really hoping that both sides can work out a deal,” he says.

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