There is in Hollywood a great relief now that the nearly 10 months long threatened or potential strike by the Screen Actors Guild is seemingly coming to an end with ballots going out to the rank and file later in May.
Most people expect the tentative agreement between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to be ratified by the members, despite their still being dissension in the ranks. I wish I could say there is a great feeling of joy in the industry about the expected acceptance of the labor deal, but I would be lying if I did. The fact is the toll of this month's long semi-strike, coupled with the 100 day long writer's strike, as well as the Director's Guild and AFTRA negotiations in 2008, has impacted and hurt not only our wallets and purses but our hearts as well. Hollywood has survived all this and will bounce back. Indeed, it never did stop, as movies continued to be made and television continued to kick out programs. But everyone in Hollywood can tell you that things are not the same now as they were before this year and a half of negotiations, strikes and almost strikes. You throw in the larger economic recession and it is not surprising that so many independent film companies, companies that don't have the deep financial pockets that being owned by international conglomerates can afford, have not been able to hold up.
Los Angeles has taken an incredible hit from all this. Already run-away production, movies and television shows being shot in other states and countries, was a factor of the local economic scene. But in the last year or so, L.A. has seemed almost like any other city. It is hard to remember how common it was to drive around L.A. and see the once familiar big white production trailers parked on the side of the road, motorcycle cops standing by, and a scene on the sidewalk of lights, cameras and people as a production, independent or studio, tried to get off a shot or waited in between takes. We are now almost like tourists when we drive along, gawking in amazement when we see a production going on. And most of the time, what we see are productions that are considerably smaller in size than they once were.
Regardless of the ending of the SAG strike that wasn't, I really do fear that the damage to independent filmmakers, crews and even actors, the bulk of whom are not celebrities, is going to take a very long time to recover from. Which would be the biggest irony for SAG and its actors, wouldn't it? After all this posturing for the last 10 to 11 months, ending up in essentially the same place as before, and in the end, actors could suffer the most. After all, fewer productions means fewer acting gigs, and/or more competition for the few that are working. And Economics 101 also then means salaries have to drop due to the increased competition for fewer jobs. A strange, strange outcome. I am not surprised at the internal fighting SAG experienced over this entire mess. Don't get me wrong, I don't put all the blame on SAG, as I think as producers, we do have to be as fair as possible to those whose work we benefit from. But on this one, it looks like AMPTP stuck to its guns and it was SAG that couldn't find its footing and drew this out beyond a point of being beneficial to anybody.
Hollywood is going to get back to normal. But I hope no one in the business, from New York to Los Angeles, thinks that normalcy is going to be the order of the day for the rest of this year. Production schedules and details and investor financing do not just turn back on at the snap of a finger. They take time to warm up. When it does get back to normal, I know there will be a few companies that are no longer in the game, a few that will look very different, like the expected merger of certain mega talent agencies, and there will be some actors and crew members, usually the ones the average fan has never heard of, who will be somewhere else doing something entirely non-Hollywood related because they couldn't hold out during this crazy time.
Does this matter to the average movie goer who only knows they want to go see a good movie? I think it might not intellectually or emotionally, but it will in terms of what they see. Because to get the output of Hollywood, a great movie requires the energies all the people it takes to get a movie made -- from every crew member to the producers, financiers and the actors -- and the feeling that we are working together, in conjunction, to create something. For a little while at least that sense of team and the free flow of energy and ideas that is so important to creativity, is not going to operate at maximum. And that has to have an effect, and already has, on the output of choices at the theater.
But we are a resilient industry and we will keep bringing stories of the human condition, the ups and downs, to the screen. It is just a bit ironic that so much of these ups and downs have played out between those of us who make these stories into entertainment for others.