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Union Roundup: “I think there’ll be one”


“The general public should understand that film ‘accounting’ and conventional accounting are two very different things.”

Now there’s a line that could come from a number of sources – especially in the writing camp, as the pre-negotiation rhetoric heats up between producers/owners and writers (some of whom are occasionally producers – and occasionally “owners,” in the Hollywood sense, themselves).

Talks begin this summer, and positions are hardening in advance, all of which could be read as the usual “psyche out” stuff and posturing that always happens ahead of such talks. Variety has been filled with quotes from writers saying “it’s different this time” (compared to, at least, 2001, where a deal was reached at the last minute).

Peter Bart took to columnizing on the occasion of receiving his own WGA ballot asking for a yay or nay vote on the Guild’s “pattern of demands.” (As opposed to any “actual” demands, which haven’t explicitly been made yet).

Bart goes to theorize that writers, as a whole, are in a combative mood, tired of being kept out of the high-bucks profit participation other above-the-liners get. He notes that “’Patric Verrone, the erudite president of the Writers Guild, is preparing to run for a second two-year term and he’s already been vastly more confrontational than his recent predecessors. Mindful of the town’s listlessness, Verrone feels this is the time to forge unity among writers and to increase the Guild’s muscle by organizing scribes working in sectors like reality programming, animation and cable.’”

It’s a good column, in terms of current Hollywood’s pre-strike pulse-taking, and manages a deft trick: Declaring the town is simultaneously listless, and girding for battle, all at once, which may in fact describe the passive/aggressiveness that has been a hallmark of Hollywood’s “personal (and personnel) interactions” since the days studios kept silent film stars like Wallace Reid shot up with morphine so they could keep working through injuries and exhaustion.

Or maybe that’s outright aggressiveness.

In any case, another salient quote regarding the strike is “I think there’ll be one.” Now, that is anecdotal and unscientific and any other caveat you want to think of, but it comes from an old friend of mine who works steadily as a production manager on largeish studio shoots, and so is always “on set,” taking the pulse of the town, just like Mr. Bart. Though with a somewhat different methodology.

will there or won't there?

Friend X’s sense – names withheld to protect the currently working – is that the strike is creating its own air of inevitability; everyone is operating under the assumption that things will be shut down shortly, for at least awhile.

Kind of like Hollywood collectively using “The Secret” in reverse. Watch out for those laws of attraction when you expect the worst!

But while the talk may not be brimming with hope, we really won’t know until later this summer, when we get a sense, through officially unofficial leaks-during-negotiations, etc., of whether producers are willing to yield up slices of pie for technologies yet unknown. Or sort of known.

“One of Verrone’s rallying cries is to gain appropriate participation for writers creating work for the Web, mobile phones and other digital platforms of the future,” Bart observes, then adds “because the future is already upon us,” which it isn’t quite.

Not in the tons-of-new-revenue sense, since even the Web isn’t producing lots of new lucre for the work of guild members (note: this should not be confused with “cross-promoting,” or “smart targeted advertising,” as we might call it, which hypes film and TV offerings all the time), and anyway “Transformers” is still going to look pretty crappy on a cell phone. But eventually it won’t. It will still be tiny, but you’ll be bored at a snowed-in airport, willing to be extorted for whatever the download/streaming fee will be, then, at last, that revenue model will finally produce discernible revenue.

Since after all no one is reading books anymore.

Nor, according to the opening quote, is anyone reading accounting books, at least accurately, anymore either. If they ever did.

But those mots justes weren’t uttered here in L.A., but rather in Louisiana. They were posted on the Times-Picayune blog, in relation to a story about LIFT – the Louisiana-based production company BTL wrote up in the aftermath of Katrina; they’d hastily relocated to Shreveport, to stay in the business of funding Bayou state-based productions and finding crews for them, and lately, through their own film production companies, financing material as well. To cap it all off, LIFT was to build a sound stage/film school facility in New Orleans itself, and used tax credits from the state to get the ball rolling.

But six months after groundbreaking, nothing is being built, the FBI is raiding the Shreveport offices for computers and other files, all of which came after LIFT threatened to move its Warhol-y named “Film Factory” to another state, and the state hastily granted the tax credits, which, by the way, can in turn be sold for about 80 per cent of their value, to other investors.

As Times-Picayune writer Robert Travis Scott notes in his article, “No charges have been filed against anyone in the federal case, but the events in the past week have deeply impacted the reputation of the state’s budding film industry, dubbed Hollywood South by local promoters. Since the state launched its generous film tax credits program in 2002, Louisiana has become the third-most-popular state for production of movies, TV shows and videos, behind California and New York.”

Another popular locale – Canada – is also having to make due with generous tax credits, as one of its own selling points – the “loonie”/dollar ratio – is about to be lost: The Canadian dollar is expected to reach full parity with the U.S. buck sometime this summer, barring unforeseen circumstances.

And here’s an interesting quote from an article on how the Canadian economy – including the B.C. film biz –might be affected, written by Yvonne Zacharias, for the Vancouver Sun: “Until now, Vancouver has enjoyed the status of being the third-largest film production centre in North America, following Los Angeles and New York.”

Everyone, it seems, is vying for third place. Though that may not amount to much if the strike comes to fulfill everyone’s increasingly stark predictions.

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Brad Allan

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