Warner sets layoffs due to strike

Studio to let go unspecified number this month

The pinkslips just keep coming — even though film production remains robust.

Faced with the death of scripted TV production and ongoing uncertainty over the WGA strike, showbiz continues to trim jobs.

Still, it’s not all gloom and doom, thanks to studio stockpiling of features as a hedge against a possible SAG strike this summer, much as occurred during the early months of 2001. Offlot feature production in Los Angeles has jumped 52% during the strike vs. the year-ago period, with a total of 152 permits during the first nine weeks of the work stoppage.

But the depressing strike-related news continued Tuesday with a quartet of downbeat developments:

  • Warner Bros. has notified the more than 1,000 employees in its studios facilities operations that an unspecified number of layoffs will be announced later this month. “It now appears that the WGA’s strike will continue for the foreseeable future, and we must begin to scale back our operations due to the decline in production activity,” WB said in the notice.

  • Anschutz Film Group shingles Walden Media and Bristol Bay shuttered the majority of their creative departments and laid off much of the physical production staff as well. Exec veep of production Alex Schwartz was among those let go. Walden will retain the key players on its “Narnia” team.

  • The Innovative Agency is one of the first agencies to make strike-related cuts. Over the past several weeks, the percentery quietly laid off seven employees from its staff of 65 in its Los Angeles offices.

  • Scripted TV production in Los Angeles is down to a single show, ABC’s “October Road.” A total of 62 skeins have been shuttered due to the strike, with a direct economic impact of $160 million per week.

The developments have come with the WGA strike in its third month and no new talks scheduled. More job losses are expected if the strike continues into February and March.

The Warners layoffs were disclosed in a letter sent by senior VP Joann Black, who said the cutbacks would be effective on Jan. 18 and that the decisions would probably be announced next week.

“We anticipate these cutbacks will be temporary, and that many employees will be called back to work once the strike concludes,” she added. “We regret that we must take these actions; please know that we have delayed as long as we can. We appreciate the focus and teamwork you’ve all shown during this difficult time.”

The studio’s required to issue such a notice under provisions of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which applies when a business with 100 or more full-time employees is laying off at least 50 people.

In response to an inquiry by Daily Variety, Warner issued this statement: “These WARN notices were sent because, in certain circumstances, federal and California law can require employers to give notice of staffing changes. Due to the ongoing WGA work stoppage, some studio divisions will have to lay off employees. We regret the impact this will have on our employees, and we hope to bring them back to work once the WGA strike ends.”

Reps for Disney, Sony, DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox said Tuesday that they have no film-related layoffs in the works.

A Paramount rep said the studio’s repurposing shuttered TV series facilities for commercial and feature film use in an effort to stave off layoffs, but the Melrose studio is unsure if the effort will prevent the need for staff reductions.

In local TV production, 45 of the 46 one-hour dramas that would have been in active production have been shuttered while another six were already on hiatus, according to permitting agency Film L.A. A total of 15 half-hour sitcoms are also dark, while two others were set to be on hiatus.

Film L.A. estimates that every TV drama episode scheduled but not produced means a loss of $3 million in direct production spending, based on an average of 200 people directly employed in production. The loss of each half-hour sitcom segment equates to $1.5 million in production spending, based on 88 employees.

“The actual economic impact is significantly higher due to the ripple effects,” Film L.A. topper Steve McDonald said.