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Union Roundup: “Maximum damage” coming?

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Union Roundup
By
Mark London Williams

And so we “wait… and wait… and wait,” much like refugees in “Casablanca” – the film, that is – looking for exit visas. That is, we wait for the “is you or is you ain’t” moment – to move from film references to blues lyrics now – in regards to the upcoming strike.

Is You or Is You Ain't?

Auguries, as they say in the oracle business, are everywhere. Michael Cieply, writing in a late September NY Times article headlined “Movie Writers Eye Early Walkout,” notes that “over the last few days, negotiators for the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East, whose contract with entertainment companies expires on Oct. 31, have been taking a hard look at the almost 150 feature films that are candidates for production by early next year.”

The reason being, he continues, to figure out “whether writers, in the event no deal is reached, can inflict maximum damage on their bargaining opponents by striking immediately rather than continuing to work and letting the studios add those films to their strike stockpile.”

Erik Davis, writing on the fannish, AOL-owned “Cinematical” site, noted that an early walkout – ahead of next year’s SAG/DGA duoply of contract expiration – would not only derail anticipated projects like “Justice League” over at Warner Bros. – for which no finished script exists – but that such derailment would be the entire point: “It’s a smart move by the WGA; I mean, why strike in June when studios have already managed to stockpile enough canned beans to last a year or two? Strike now while they’re still rushing to secure casts, and budgets and rewrites. Strike now when they need you the most. Personally, I’d be very surprised if Justice League of America actually makes it into production by early next year. Even if the writer’s don’t strike next month, casting has been one helluva uphill climb.”

Justice League?

That last note, on the casting – who best to don Wonder Woman’s Amazonian spandex, etc.? – falls out of the purview of this column, of course, so we will stick with auguries, with another coming the very afternoon this column is being written, as the WGA sent out an email to its members asking for strike authorization ahead of its return to negotiations with the AMPTP.
So if the talks implode, the WGA may be walking out after the original contract expiration after all – on November 1st.

Just in time for the holiday shopping season!

In any case, you will probably not be looking to deck your halls with many imported goods this year – never mind the toxic ones from China – since our dollar continues its downward spiral under the aegis of the clueless “end of empire” policies emanating from the cabal in the White House.

And if you haven’t bought your buttery scones or tea tins from either Canada or Australia, you are especially sans luck, since the Loonie has now surpassed the American buck in value!
It’s kind of an “we told ya so” moment for UR, since this writing’s been on the wall for awhile, but getting this particular augury right is bittersweet at best, given its implications.

And our northern friends – never mind the FTAC trade petition wending its way through the World Trade Organization’s arcane legal system – are quite aware of those implications, too. In an unbylined article on the “Canadian Press” website, datelined Halifax, the piece, about the soaring Loonie and the attendant “uncertainty” being caused in northerly film production, notes that “people in the film industry asking if the race to attract film production will intensify as Canadian producers struggle to keep business.”

The piece then reports that Nova Scotia “Premier Rodney MacDonald used the opening night gala of the just-concluded Atlantic Film Festival to announce the province was boosting its labour-based film tax credit to 50 per cent from 35 per cent. An additional 10 per cent will be tacked on for films shot in rural areas of the province.

“The province already had an additional five per cent credit in place for companies that shoot three or more films over a two-year period. The increase was the second in just two years and was in large part dictated by the improved tax regimes that have been introduced by British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I., and New Brunswick.”

So the evidence is becoming clearer that it will all boil down to who has the best subsidies, since it certainly won’t be “cheaper” to shoot in Canada anymore. Which is also the case with Australia, another favorite outsource-y locale of U.S.-based entertainment conglomerates.
As of this writing, the Oz dollar is at its strongest level in 18 years against its American counterpart, so U.S. greenbacks won’t “stretch” so well down under, either.

Perhaps it will mean the return of interesting Australian-made films, like “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” and “Don’s Party,” etc., etc., to our shores!

Don's Party

But I get ahead of myself. It might be interesting to see whether the weak dollar, forcing Canada’s hand on the subsidy front, actually makes FTAC’s trade case stronger – that these represent unfair practices in luring productions over the border.

The real surprise is that the a truly widespread loss of jobs in Hollywood may be hitting us before within the space of one or two more columns ( as we measure time here at UR!), far in advance of the original predictions in what must now strike us as the more innocent days of spring.

At least the waiting game may soon be over.

And then all the other games will begin. ‘Til next time.

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