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Jack Valenti on the possibility of a writers strike


The impending strike by writers against Hollywood producers this summer looks to be another well-contained “catastrophe,” prophecies to the contrary notwithstanding. For months now, hardly a day has gone by without a story somewhere on the allegedly impending apocalypse. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America paints a dire scenario: “A strike would cause such economic devastation, it would make the movie industry a vast wasteland.”

Entertainment is now America’s biggest export, and any disruption in the flow of product could mean that – a thought to make the blood run cold – people might go to fewer movies? But will the strike have that effect?
Contingency Plans

For months producers have been “stockpiling” scripts [Los Angeles Times] so they’ll have projects to work on when the strike happens. So you can bet that scripts for the sure things – “Bridget Jones II” and “Police Academy 46” are already in the can. And there’s no shortage of unmade scripts lying around that could be tackled after the obvious projects are exhausted.

According to the Writers Guild, its member writers work only about half the time. In all of 1999, only 51 percent of Guild writers sold a project [Boston Globe]. That, says the Guild, is one reason why the residuals issue is so huge.

But another way of looking at it – from the movie-goer’s perspective – is that if half of the writers don’t work in a given year anyway, will it make much of a difference if the other half is gone too?

So, yes, your clues were the gags about “Bridget Jones” and “Police Academy.” The late Mr. Valenti is not suddenly speakling to us from beyond grave, where, after years as an LBJ political apparatchik, and more years as one of the inventors of the “violence okay/bare breasts a no-no” ratings system that still provides such a telling window into the American psyche, he goes to his rest, but rather, from 2001, where he was quoted in an article about that strike, which you can still read at the ArtsJournal website.

The article then goes on to prognosticate thusly:

So – following Valenti’s apocalyptic warnings – who stands to be most hurt if the strike actually happens?

* Not the writers – a good idea during the strike is likely still a good idea after. It takes so long to actually make a
project that a six-month interruption won’t impact the average writer much.
* Not producers, who will keep churning out product (maybe even at lower cost with non-union hires).
* And not audiences, who are likely to continue slurping up whatever Hollywood throws at them.

The only sure loser is the institution of Hollywood itself. With every Hollywood labor imbroglio and cost increase, more business is lost to states and countries panting to lure away a glamorous industry.

But the article isn’t completely a case of “deja vu” all over again — it also states that with the “strong dollar,” productions might start relocating to foreign countries if the strike really happens.

Well, a buck ain’t what it used to be. But a lot of the pre-strike jitters still are.

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