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Write a Happy Ending

Los Angeles lost more than $200 million in last year's strike by screen actors against the advertising industry, The last thing the region needs this year is another strike in Hollywood.

March 11, 2001

The prospect of writers' and actors' strikes in Hollywood this spring and summer blows hot and cold. At one moment, the studios are battening down for a siege. The next moment, both sides are vowing to negotiate in good faith until the last possible moment, saying a walkout is far from ordained. The at-least-temporary collapse of the Writers Guild of America contract negotiations with the major studios last week pushed the outlook to the gloomy side, but there is plenty of time to reach a resolution.

A strike by the Writers' Guild would increase the likelihood of a walkout by the screen actors, whose contract expires July 1. All this would shut down movie and television production in the town best known for it.

Los Angeles lost more than $200 million in last year's strike by screen actors against the advertising industry. The last thing the region needs this year is another strike in Hollywood. If the two sides in the WGA talks can't get back to the table and make progress, they should agree on a federal mediator to get them off the dime before their May 1 deadline.

The entertainment industry pumps $31 billion into the Los Angeles economy each year and is the fifth-ranking industry in terms of employment, according to local economist Jack Kyser. The industry directly employs 255,000 people, with another 212,000 people in related service industries: catering, truck rentals, wardrobe rentals and the like. Together, that accounts for about 10.4% of all employed people in Los Angeles County. The third level of impact is the places where all of these people spend their money: restaurants, grocery stores, mortgage holders, hardware stores.

The two sides in the WGA talks made progress on "creative rights" but remain far apart on money issues, mainly residuals for reruns and sales of recordings. Similar issues will be sticking points for the Screen Actors Guild. In the eyes of the public, however, need is not the driving force in Hollywood negotiations. Neither side is likely to generate much public sympathy, no matter how logical their arguments.

Production of feature films cannot shift to other countries as easily as advertising production to avoid a strike, mostly because big studio movies can't go forward without their name-brand stars. The same would hold for most TV series. Runaway production already costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year. Strikes would certainly be no help in preventing more runaways.

The major studios have been working furiously to get productions finished before the June 30 SAG contract deadline. Few new projects will go into production as the deadlines approach. Come midnight June 30, here's hoping that it's champagne being passed around, not picket signs.

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