So, there were award shows last weekend, in the run-up to Oscar, and you, dear reader, already know this. You know, for example, that Everything Everywhere All at Once won everything that it could win that weekend — from the editors, the writers, the ostensibly Indie folks, et al — cementing its status as this year’s Best Picture frontrunner. Former challengers, like The Fabelmans and The Banshees of Inisherin, appear to have fallen by the wayside. The only remaining variable left is BAFTA winner All Quiet on the Western Front, which wasn’t eligible for most of these precursor awards, and whether — after it wins Best International Film at the Dolby — it will, a la Parasite, manage to win Best Picture, too.
After which, no matter which way it goes, it seems we will be hunkering down not just for more late-season rain, but a likely writers’ strike, as well.
How likely? Well, that was a recurring cocktail hour subject of conversation at most of those same kudos gatherings.
We were at a couple of them, starting with our Saturday afternoon spent at the Independent Spirit Awards. It was another good afternoon for EEAAO, Michelle Yeoh, and Daniels, as well as The Bear, on the TV side. Host Hisan Minhaj noted that the Indie Spirits themselves — “broadcast” this year on YouTube — had been, in a sense, de-platformed: IFC — the actual cable channel for independent film — didn’t renew its contract to run the show. “We don’t have a distributor!” Minhaj said, likening the predicament to those of many finished indie projects.
But a few beats later, he turned to “the medium people actually watch — television!” which gets us back to streaming — perhaps the “cruxiest” matter in the upcoming Guild negotiations.
Though the first question that Ayo Edebiri fielded back in the press tent after winning Best Supporting Performance in a New Scripted Series for her turn as Sydney in The Bear — found, of course, on both FX and Hulu — was what her favorite independent movie theater was. To which she answered Cambridge’s Brattle — where two films that were lauded at the ASC Awards, The Woman King and the documentary All That Breathes, are now playing as this is being written.
The exchange served as a reminder about the need for “content” to fill those screens, large and small, and whether streaming platforms and studios, already awash in content, will be in as big a hurry to settle any putative strike that comes. They won’t have hard release dates to worry about like legacy studios that need to fill theater seats, already have large libraries, and can source material from non/lightly unionized jurisdictions from across the globe.
Meanwhile, across town at the CAS Awards, fellow BTLers were picking up buzz of their own on a different aspect of tension between digital and film (almost more “conceptually,” or philosophically, than even in terms of specific media), namely that theaters will be moving to OLED video walls — like a public-facing “volume” of the kind that are increasingly used on sets in lieu of physical locations, or post-production FX work. All of which means, according to the rep from the union local who was prognosticating, that eventually projectionists will be replaced with algorithms that make all the lighting and exhibition adjustments, perhaps leaving one or two workers to monitor the in-theater “A.I.”
The next evening, at the ASC Awards, the pre-strike buzz was more palpable. One CEO of a venerable Hollywood gear brand asked what we’d been hearing about a potential strike, to which we responded, one felt increasingly likely. They sighed, nodded, and said they’d also been planning accordingly.
Later, after we’d headed in for the supping and awarding part of the evening (at the Beverly Hilton, where the ASC found itself for the first time in 20 years, as one imagines its usual Hollywood/Highland locale was already being prepped for the Oscars), one agent for DPs, PDs, and other crafts folk said they’d been keeping their “ear to the ground,” only to hear a “mournful drumbeat that a strike is likelier than not.”
The actual ASC awards also provided some optimistic glimpses into potential futures, too, starting with Board of Governors honoree Viola Davis, there for the aforementioned Woman King (and her entire body of work). “I usually don’t like applause all that much,” she said, “but what the hell… it means I’ve had an interesting life.” She recounted the journey of “this chocolate girl from Central Falls, [Rhode Island],” one that led her “at 57, here with all you beautiful people,” feeling “the most vulnerable emotion of all… gratitude.”
The evening was in fact suffused with gratitude, including that for other achievement awards such as Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, BSC (quoting Martin Scorsese by saying we’re still finding out “what cinema is”), Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC, introduced by his Bardo director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, (who said he was glad to have “discovered a long lost brother this late in life”), and Fred Murphy, ASC, for his long track record in television. It would take another column to do it all justice, but you can read the rundown here — a listing that does the evening only partial justice, particularly since it ended with Mandy Walker, ASC ACS, breaking a particular glass ceiling by becoming the first female DP ever to win in the feature film category for her splendid, vivid work in Elvis.
“This,” she said, “is for all the women who will win the award after me.”
It was, indeed, a good note of optimism on which to end the evening, though optimism, in general, has been variable in the days since. One grip of our acquaintance was already seeing shooting schedules, wraps, etc. — and subsequent searches for last-minute work — conform to an anticipated shutdown, as a search for projects with already-banked scripts, work in commercials, reality projects, and other “backup plans” commences.
On the other hand, during a Zoom workshop with a writer who’s been staffed on a couple of blue chip streaming series already, while they assume a vote for a strike authorization is inevitable, they don’t necessarily think an actual strike is, especially because, the reasoning went, creatives don’t want the streamers to figure out how to proceed without them, or at least to operate under an overlong delusion that they can (on which note, check out Charlie Kaufman‘s impassioned speech from this past weekend’s WGA awards!)
Our Zoom room writer placed a lot of faith in upcoming negotiations between scribes and producers, which will get underway in earnest as soon as Oscar wraps up the town’s winter rituals.
A spring and summer of our discontent ahead, perhaps. Or maybe, with ASC president Stephen Lighthill referring to their awards ceremony as celebrating “magicians and magic,” some of that ambient magic may yet spill over into our brewing, starker reality.
We’ll know soon enough. The envelope, please…
Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”