How the Government Shutdown Could Impact Hollywood

Ajit Pai FCC
Jacquelyn Martin/AP/REX/Shutters

WASHINGTON — So far, the most visible signs of the ongoing government shutdown have been in images of overflowing trash cans at national parks and the closure of key D.C. locations like the National Zoo.

On Thursday, the media industry will start to feel the impact as the FCC plans to suspend most operations by the middle of the day.

That will halt the agency’s review of major mergers, like the proposed Sprint and T-Mobile transaction. Nexstar Media Group’s proposed merger with Tribune Media, announced last month, also could face delay, although the companies have yet to file paperwork. The FCC website will still be available for many types of electronic filing, but the agency has outlined plans to push back deadlines for proceedings. Other FCC functions, like consumer complaints and license reviews, will also be halted.

The FCC said about 83% of its workforce will be furloughed, and about 245 employees will be retained. They include approximately 200 employees who are tied to spectrum auction activities, and not paid through government appropriations. Others will be kept on duty to work on services deemed necessary to protect life and property. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the three commissioners will also continue to work, as they are paid out of funds separate from the annual appropriation.

The shutdown started on Dec. 21, but the FCC operated on existing funds through the New Year.

As it has dragged into this week, there’s been increasing concern that the impasse will last for weeks, as President Trump continues to demand funding for a border wall and Democrats refuse to give him those votes. The last major shutdown, in 2013, went on for 17 days, and forced the closure of much of the FCC’s operations. It also disrupted some film production shooting on federal properties, including national parks.

A spokesman for the park service said they were not aware of any specific productions impacted this time around, but they have stopped issuing permits.

Some producers have started to revise their plans for location shoots given the uncertainty.

Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, which issues permits for the greater Los Angeles region, said four productions that had planned to shoot in the Angeles National Forest are instead looking for alternatives. He said planned shoots were not imminent, so it was not as disruptive as if it were a project already in production.

FilmLA also works with the FAA on permitting for drone shooting, but that is not impacted by the shutdown, he said.

Also halted are the activities of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, potentially delaying the issuance of grants to arts organizations, filmmakers, authors, and other groups.

The shutdown will not impact the swearing in of a new Congress on Thursday, with Nancy Pelosi expected to win election to the House speakership. Lawmakers are paid under a different piece of legislation that is not at issue in the current showdown between Trump and the Democrats.

On Wednesday, after Trump and congressional leaders met at the White House, there was little indication that a deal was imminent.