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Potential strike already affecting film business

As the clock ticks ever closer to the June 30 end of the Screen Actors Guild's contract, the industry is nervously contemplating the possibility of yet another strike -- even as it admits that, at least in terms of film production, a de facto strike already exists.
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

As the clock ticks ever closer to the June 30 end of the Screen Actors Guild's contract, the industry is nervously contemplating the possibility of yet another strike — even as it admits that, at least in terms of film production, a de facto strike already exists.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), in what could be characterized as its lack-of-progress report issued Thursday, argued that a de facto strike "limiting the green-lighting of features and disrupting pilot production" already has begun. As one talent attorney observed: "No one is doing anything that finishes after June 30, (and) nobody's starting anything now. There is the impact of a strike already."

The threat of a stoppage has had an impact on production schedules at the major studios, which pushed a slew of projects into production back in April in order to complete filming by June 30.

DreamWorks is wrapping both John Hamburg's "I Love You, Man" and Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" this week, while Paramount is aiming to finish principal photography during in the next two weeks on its untitled Wayans Bros. comedy, "G.I. Joe" and Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Warners is finishing up shooting on Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant," its Seth Rogen-starring "Observe and Report" and the action pic "Ninja Assassin." Universal is racing the clock on "Land of the Lost," starring Will Ferrell. Disney's "Race to Witch Mountain," "When in Rome" and "High School Musical 3" are on track to be finished by month's end. And Columbia/MGM's latest Bond adventure "Quantum of Silence" is set to wrap next week.

United Artists is squeezing in the additional footage it's shooting on the Tom Cruise starrer "Valkyrie" before the witching hour strikes.

Contingency plansAt the same time, a number of movies aiming for key 2009 release dates decided to risk potential disruption by moving forward anyway.

Columbia's "Angels and Demons," the follow-up to "The Da Vinci Code," already was forced to postpone production once when writer Akiva Goldsman could not turn in a script polish during the writers' strike. With a release date moved from December 19 to May 15, 2009, the film began shooting this month, with Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard on location in Rome. Crossing its fingers, Columbia is calculating that if a strike does force a shutdown, production can resume in time to make the spring release date.

Other big-budget productions have contingency plans in place.

DreamWorks/Paramount's "Transformers" sequel is before the cameras in Pennsylvania, with shooting eventually set to move to New Mexico. In the event of a strike, director Michael Bay figures he can shut down principal photography and focus on visual effects and second unit work. Halcyon's "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins," which is shooting exteriors in New Mexico before moving to soundstages in July, plans a similar strategy if its actors become unavailable.

In the case of Screen Gems' "Mardi Gras," which is shooting in New Orleans, the schedule has been arranged so that the final eight days of shooting, set for July, are all interiors and can be completed later in Los Angeles if a strike closes down the Louisiana shoot.

Several projects are set to begin filming in July but could be postponed.

At Warners, Clint Eastwood's "Gran Turino" is revving its engines for a proposed mid-July start in hopes that it will be ready for release by year's end. Disney's video-game adaptation "Prince of Persia" and Columbia's disaster pic "2012" are moving forward with casting as they ready to shoot next month.

Wait and seeOther projects are awaiting a resolution before moving forward.

MGM has held off green-lighting its remake of "Fame" and "The Thomas Crown Affair 2," even though the Lion, trying to stage a comeback, hopes to begin rolling out new material by the end of 2009.

On the indie front, any strike would have less impact because SAG says it has already signed guaranteed completion agreements on more than 300 independently produced films that would allow actors on those productions to keep working during a strike.

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Among the more prominent projects are Oliver Stone's "W," the QED-financed pic shooting in Louisiana, with Josh Brolin playing George W. Bush; the Catherine Zeta Jones-toplined "The Rebound"; the Lindsay Lohan-starring "Labor Pains"; the Nicolas Cage remake "Bad Lieutenant"; and Nia Vardalos' "I Hate Valentine's Day."

A number of indie producers said they were able to land a higher cut of talent because of their ability to guarantee that actors will collect a paycheck this summer regardless of what happens at the bargaining table.

Newer stand-alone companies such as Overture and Summit largely will bypass the effects of the strike as well because of lighter production schedules or completion guarantees. While Summit has no films set to shoot in July, the sci-fi tale "Pandorum," which Overture will distribute in North America, is set to go before the cameras with financing from Germany's Constantin.

Overture and Paramount Vantage also are behind Michael Moore's sequel to "Fahrenheit 9/11." The movie is in production and is expected to continue shooting through the summer, but documentaries by and large won't be affected by any SAG labor action.

'Perfect storm'Anxiety can be felt throughout the post-production community, still hurting from the disruptions of the three-month writers' strike that ended in mid-February.

"We believe this will be worse than the WGA strike," said Stephen Buchsbaum, CEO of the Post Group. "During the WGA strike, we were doing projects that didn't involve the WGA -- some independent films, game shows and reality shows. Those all have SAG hosts, and unless there is a side deal struck, we believe this impact will be catastrophic.

"The post industry still has not recovered from the writers' strike," he continued. "The industry has not come back, partly because TV season as we know it is still in limbo."

Unease also is growing in the visual effects community.

"I'm hearing about and seeing people being laid off or told, 'Hurry up and wait,"' Visual Effects Society executive director Eric Roth said. "It seems like there is already a strike."

This situation is further aggravated by the lurching global economy, weak dollar and increasing amount of visual effects work heading to less expensive destinations.

"It's a recipe for the perfect storm at the worst possible time," Roth said.