As Hollywood sees the light at the end of the tunnel amid the history-making dual strikes, anxieties have begun to set in.
“You’ve got the entire industry starting up again. Everybody’s going to be hitting the starting line with the same needs. There will be issues with cast availabilities, crews, getting stages, equipment,” says one studio executive. With the Writers Guild of America having reached a tentative deal and SAG-AFTRA next up at the bargaining table, reps and execs, while hopeful, have begun fretting about what the post-work stoppage future holds.
The strikes have lasted long enough that entire production schedules have been blown on major studio features and series. “People are already starting to argue about who is in first position,” says one rep. While most back-to-work scenarios are more cut-and-dried — the studio film will take precedence over the passion-project indie — other situations are more nebulous. Does a movie that got shut down mid-filming go in front of the show that got a series order during the strike? And what about those interim-agreement projects that only materialized during a work stoppage?
A source tells The Hollywood Reporter that Emma Roberts was kept from signing on to an indie project because of her preexisting commitment to American Horror Story, which stopped filming in the middle of its most recent season during the actors work stoppage. FX debuted part one of that season, Delicate, on Sept. 20 with the expectation that filming will resume on the second half once a contract is secured. Elsewhere, Daisy Edgar-Jones had to drop out of Ron Howard’s Origin of Species because of a presumed scheduling conflict with picking up on the Universal tentpole Twisters, which got halted midway through production.
Of course, Hollywood has had a recent experience with resuming productions after a dead stop. Following the interruption during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was jockeying for talent. But insiders note that while the post-COVID return-to-work was understandably cautious, this post-strike production push will be different. There is little preparation that can happen prior to a contract being signed between the AMPTP and a union; any discussions about talent schedules would be happening in the abstract. Moreover, talent, and by extension their reps, aren’t meant to be speaking to studios until memberships ratify contracts. “The levee will break after SAG makes a deal,” describes one rep.
Outside of talent scheduling, another pressing concern for productions is crews, who will be in high demand and coming off months of missing on-set work. Some skilled crewmembers have left TV and film production for other sectors, such as live events, meaning there will be an even smaller pool of resources.
Another factor will be shoots that were interrupted could compete against productions that hadn’t started yet — those would ensure longer employment. Says the studio exec, “If you have movies and shows with less than three to four weeks left, now you’ve got people on crews being offered shows for 20 weeks or 30 weeks, and it becomes hard to hold on to them.”
All of this uncertainty is soundtracked by a ticking clock. Multiple insiders note that if SAG and the AMPTP don’t reach an agreement in the coming weeks, with a contract ratified in October, then production start dates would be pushed back several more months.
“Once you’re in October, it’s unlikely any studio will start producing between the window of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s too expensive,” adds a former network boss. “They’d start in January.”
Of course, choosing to push production until after the new year will have its own casting and crewing consequences, not to mention more financial windfall for studios and financiers. In a Sept. 5 securities filing, Warner Bros. Discovery said that the SAG-AFTRA work stoppages would amount to a $300 million to $500 million hit for the company, assuming that the strikes would last through the end of the year.
While there will be headaches as the industry migrates back to sets, a studio desires to ramp up production to make up for time lost could lead to some upsides for those who have been out of work for several months. “There are very great actors, very great DPs, very great editors, very great artists,” says one agency head. “They’ll be able to capitalize financially on the demand.”
Lesley Goldberg and Rebecca Keegan contributed to this report.