Michael Cieply: As Talks Resume, Collateral Strike Damage Piles Up


This week, the big story is a presumed return to talks between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the striking Writers Guild of America. May things go well.
But last week’s still lingering narrative—apart from guild collisions with Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher—is all about collateral damage. For bystanders and the peripherally involved, the stand-off between companies and Hollywood’s striking writers and actors has been hell.
Four and a half months since the writers first walked out, nobody within shouting distance of screenland is safe. Entertainment Partners, the industry payroll and production consulting firm, is laying off. In Chicago, an IATSE health fund is crumbling. Disney is suspending deals with non-writing producers.
And a next crisis will involve the awards economy: Just how deep will the damage be? Already, the Primetime Emmys and Governors Awards have been delayed, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has formally warned that the March 10 Oscar ceremony is in jeopardy. In another month or two, ongoing strikes, should they continue, will force the Emmys, Oscars, and Globes, along with the SAG, Critics Choice, and myriad other ceremonies into cancellations or a hopeless pile-up that can only mean lost livelihood for the many people involved.
Publicists, production crews and the media have been hurt. This week’s talks should tell how much pain is yet to come.
Of course, what’s hard for those on the margins of a strike is that they are largely without a voice. They have no place at the bargaining table, no vote, and for the most part no stake in the final outcome, apart from possible benefit from precedents affecting future contracts by those represented by other unions. They’re just along for a very rough ride.
That’s the nature of collateral damage. The combatants might not be aiming for you. But anyone near the battlefield is at risk, especially when the conflict starts rising toward a climax, as seems likely with arrival an abortive fall film and television season.
When it all ends, as eventually it will, the companies and the guilds may patch up their differences; indeed, someone may even declare victory, pointing to gains that make up for strike-related losses.
But for those on the sidelines, there won’t be much to celebrate (and certainly no Marshall Plan, to rebuild a shattered industry).
You’ll just pick up the pieces. And with luck, you’ll get back to work.


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