Midnight on Nov. 1 marks the entertainment industry’s zero hour, the moment when the Writers Guild contract expires, and scribes, studios and the rest of Hollywood are in limbo.
But no one can tell you with any kind of certainty what exactly will happen then.
All of the saber rattling, lack of progress at the negotiating table and studio scrambling is convincing enough that there will be a strike on that date — which was not viewed as a very real possibility until a few weeks ago.
But that is just one outcome, as several other scenarios, equally unpredictable, have been floating around recently.
The writers strike on Nov. 1 (or thereabouts)
Simply put, writing would stop.
Features headed for the starting gate would have to rely on directors and producers to revise scripts — but since so many pics have been greenlit, it’s possible a few of the lower-cost projects may get shelved if they don’t contain pay-or-play provisions for actors.
Damage could be heavy in the TV arena. Though execs have insisted they’ve always been ready for an early strike, shows that haven’t been bringing in high ratings could be forced to halt production before being able to fill the initial order of 13 episodes — precluding international revenues.
Those who do write would face public approbation. The WGA recently drafted strike rules for its members, even threatening sanctions against those who work in feature animation and new-media platforms. That’s a particularly aggressive stance, since both areas aren’t yet covered by the guild.
Count on the WGA to launch an active campaign once it strikes. WGA West exec director David Young is a veteran of organizing hotel and garment workers, so the guild probably will hold plenty of pickets, rallies and demonstrations — all aimed at embarrassing studios, networks and producers.
Not striking early would also be humbling to the WGA leaders, now that they’ve managed to convince the town they will pull the plug soon. “It would be an admission that they really don’t have enough clout to scare the companies into giving them a better deal,” one producer notes.
Expect the DGA negotiations to begin right away should the writers strike in early November. One rumor circulating recently is that the directors won’t start negotiations until the AMPTP pulls its proposal to revamp residuals off the table. That’s a particularly hard-line position for the DGA.
Companies lock out the writers on Nov. 1 (or thereabouts)
It sounds harsh. Studios and networks would no longer employ writers. They invoke “force majeure” clauses to dump poorly performing producers with term deals and even clean out executive suites.
The idea has gained some traction in recent weeks, even if it is a tactic that has not been employed in Hollywood in recent memory.
This scenario is rated a longshot, since it would be a potential PR nightmare.
“You are almost playing into the WGA’s hands by allowing them to paint you as being interested in nothing but the bottom line,” one agent notes.
It would be especially trying for the more moderate among the companies.
“That’s a very high price to pay for the benefits of getting rid of people that you don’t like,” one observer notes. Studio execs often say they’d like to produce fewer titles anyway, and this would certainly be a way to achieve that.
The WGA and AMPTP
settle on Halloween.
This scenario’s rated a longshot, too. The venomous rhetoric has taken a toll; voices of moderation don’t seem to be making any kind of impression on leaders.
Still, the WGA and AMPTP eventually will have to make a deal. “Right now, they’re acting as if they’re negotiating a divorce, even though they have a pre-nup,” one producer notes.
One development that could spur a settlement would be if the WGA’s strike authorization vote isn’t a particularly impressive figure when it’s revealed on Oct. 19. Should the “yes” vote be less than 75%, it would indicate guild members — even unemployed ones — are having second thoughts about the hardline path taken by their leaders.
Perhaps it’s only wishful thinking, but speculation has emerged that there may be a white knight out on the horizon that both sides could agree on.
“There’s so much hostility at this point that the only way you can resolve it is by getting someone who’s an elder statesman and respected by both sides to mediate,” one leading agent mused.
Names that have been tossed around include former Warner Bros. chief Bob Daly, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The thinking goes that Daly has got the temperament for the task; the Governator has the flair for the grand gesture; and Villaraigosa’s record as a union supporter, who at the same time has the motivation to keep Hollywood humming, may make him the most palatable candidate.
Writers keep working under an expired contract.
Hollywood wouldn’t feel much different in November and December than it has over the past few months: In other words, lots of anxiety.
Writers would be allowed to continue to work under the terms and conditions of the expired contact, but there would still be the possibility of a Screen Actors Guild strike when its contract expires on June 30. In fact, there’s a school of thought that the WGA can actually create more damage by waiting until the spring — once the networks have approved pilots for new shows. And a spring strike would be designed to give SAG more leverage at the bargaining table if it hasn’t made a deal.
Studios would still be scrambling to get projects into production by March, but one agent predicted the frenzy of feature writing would slow down — since no one would be completely certain that the WGA wouldn’t suddenly pull the strike trigger. Studios already have frozen hiring on script polishes and punch-ups.
Three years ago, the WGA opted to work under an expired contract for more than five months — essentially passing the ball to the DGA to work out a deal with companies, and then incorporating those gains into its new contract.
This time, the presumption had been that the WGA would wait until the DGA and SAG made their deals before returning to the bargaining table. But writers fired their executive director, John McLean, for following that course two years ago.
If there’s no fall strike, the TV side would get a reprieve from having to revamp its winter schedule and begin replacing series with reality, sports and news.
Says the agent, “Until there’s some real clarity on what’s going to happen, it’s going to be a mess.”