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Tumbleweeds in Tinseltown

OK, Hollywood's not quite a ghost town right now, but it's pretty tough to spot a player.

September 14, 2004|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

If the cliche about Hollywood is that this is a town that never rests, with agents spinning through multiple breakfasts and executives BlackBerrying through screenings, the reality is the movie industry knows how to extend, extend and extend its downtime. Although Labor Day officially brought the summer to close, many are still sputtering into start mode. An air of lassitude has infected the corridors of power, as the perfect storm of the Toronto Film Festival and the upcoming Jewish holidays justifies continuing summer hours just a little bit longer.

Consider the Grill on the Alley, usually the epicenter of lunchtime networking. "Today people could get very nice booths who wouldn't normally get them," noted Jeff Cleveland, the manager of the Grill.

On Friday, it was all lunch, little power. Only a few famous faces -- News Corp. President Peter Chernin, media personality Larry King -- dotted moguls' row, the booths that line the wall of the entrance. The rest of the restaurant, usually jampacked with rising players, was filled with regular Beverly Hills civilians dining on Cobb salad.

"I'm usually up and about kissing and hugging and all that," sniffed one well-known producer, looking around. "This is very C- and D-list."

"Every year, it feels like we work less and less," one agent observed, with a laugh.

"The joke is that after Labor Day, it's only two months to Christmas break," added ICM agent Nicole Clemens, who was toiling in her office.

"Hollywood is such a stressful environment, people look for excuses to take a breather, even if it's not their vacation," said one executive. "I know when [my boss] is on vacation, it's a different time. It's not my vacation, but it feels a bit like that."

"It will roar back next week," producer Howard Rosenman said. "Right now, they're on vacation negotiating to get on one of those private jets that belong to [David] Geffen and [Terry] Semel."

Perennial factors are at play during the September slowdown. The summer movie season is over, and the fall's Oscar onslaught has not quite begun. Many agents flock to the Toronto Film Festival, which runs this week -- most to hold the hand of high-profile clients, and a few to scout potential clients. ICM and UTA were both sending close to a dozen to the festival, while the William Morris Agency, with fingers in some 40 movies, was sending close to two dozen.

Back in Hollywood, while it's not heart-stoppingly slow, several potential buyers aren't spending development money. Miramax, for instance, totters toward an unknown future, while Chairman Harvey Weinstein wrangles with corporate parent Disney over the terms of his employment.

A number of agents and producers said at least two other studios have run through their development money for the year, although Disney's fiscal year starts again Oct. 1.

"We've spent a lot of it, but we haven't spent all of it," noted one top studio executive who has his hands on the purse strings, and who actually manages movies instead of just deals. "I find it slow but I'm here. It's not so slow that I can't be here."

Of course, there are a few who insist the phone's ringing off the hook, and others who are talking on the phone, just not from L.A.

"People very rarely really take a vacation," producer John Goldwyn said. "They just go to another location and talk on the cellphone whether it's a boat in the Mediterranean, or Nantucket. It's just a function of where you're doing it, not whether you're doing it."

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