After picketing for a week, Writers Guild of America members had reason to look forward to Saturday night: A free "American Gangster" screening at the WGA's theater, followed by what promised to be a lively conversation with the film's Oscar-winning screenwriter, Steven Zaillian.
But rather than hear from Zaillian at the film's conclusion, the more than 400 WGA members were told that he was skipping the Beverly Hills question-and-answer segment because of the strike. "It was a personal decision, a personal choice," said Zaillian from the picket lines in front of 20th Century Fox on Monday.
While the labor dispute with movie studios and television networks already has disrupted TV schedules, it is starting to affect a less public -- but nonetheless critical -- part of the Hollywood economy: Academy Awards campaigning.
About this time every year, the major studios, their art film divisions and independent distributors send their filmmakers in every possible direction to drum up award attention. While the holy grail is an Oscar nomination and win, praise from even the most obscure organizations -- the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, anyone? -- is coveted. That's because awards almost always increase a film's box office receipts and DVD sales.
But the WGA strike has forced award strategists to rewrite their campaign plans, despite a ruling from guild lawyers saying award screenings and conversations are permissible as long as writers don't cross picket lines.
A planned screening last Wednesday for Fox Searchlight's black comedy "Juno" on the Fox lot was canceled because Diablo Cody, the film's white-hot screenwriter, wouldn't cross the picket lines. The "Juno" screening and question-and-answer session for Creative Screenwriting magazine will be rescheduled for a future date away from the Fox lot, Fox Searchlight said Monday.
Paramount Vantage, the distributor of Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," moved two weekend screenings -- for voters in the Directors Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts -- from the Paramount lot to the ArcLight multiplex.
Studios looking for off-campus screening rooms will struggle to find available ones. Most were booked long ago for the normal barrage of award season screenings, and the WGA strike is making finding any available room next to impossible.
Charles Aidikoff, the owner of the Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills, said his 53-seat theater has been almost fully booked until year's end since September. He said that he has only a handful of dates in December open for daytime screenings.
"This happened all before the strike," Aidikoff said.
Erika Zucker, an associate legal counsel for the WGA, sent publicists an e-mail last week outlining the guild's position on award screenings and question-and-answer sessions.
"It is a violation of Strike Rules to cross a WGA picket line or to enter the premises of a struck company, so members should not participate in publicity held on studio lots," Zucker said in her e-mail. "Members have to decide for themselves the extent to which they want to cooperate with a struck company in doing promotion during a strike. Prior to participating in press events or interviews or screening Q&A's, members should contact the Guild Communications Department to discuss how their participation in such events can support the Guild and the strike."
Zaillian, who picketed Fox last week, said he was not trying to punish Universal, the producer and distributor of the critically lauded "American Gangster." And Zaillian, who won the Academy Award for adapting "Schindler's List," said he had "no problem with anyone doing these things for films that were made before the strike."
Rather, the screenwriter said, he felt uncomfortable going from the picket lines to a promotional screening. "It just felt a little bit too close to self-promotion to me," Zaillian said. "After a week on the picket lines, and with the sacrifices that everyone is making, it made me feel a little queasy."
Times staff writer Gina Piccalo contributed to this article.