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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 13:11 GMT
Stars prepare to strike
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones
The Douglases: Acutely aware of crisis
By the BBC's Peter Bowes in Hollywood

Hollywood stars are gearing up for a long strike which is expected to bring movie-making in Tinsel Town to a standstill.

Many celebrities, who can earn up $20m a movie, are expected to support the walkout, which is over pay.

I'm a member of SAG and I'll certainly support my union in what ever position they take

Michael Douglas
Writers and actors are on a collision course with the big Hollywood studios, their employers, over the issue of residuals or repeat fees.

At the moment the artists receive no extra payments when their work is shown on cable TV or the internet.

Most so-called 'A' list stars are saying they will honour any call by their union, the Screen Actors' Guild, to lay down their scripts.

Michael Douglas, who stars in the new drug movie, Traffic, said: "I'm a member of SAG and I'll certainly support my union in what ever position they take."

The dispute is expected to hit in the summer. The writers have already begun negotiations over their contact but the actors are playing a wait-and-see game.

"It's pretty complicated - the latest news I heard was that the actors are going to wait until after the writers," explained Douglas.

Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts: Strike would give her a welcome break from work
"The writers are going to be the guinea pigs - they're going to go out first. There are going to be no negotiations until late May - and we're supposed to go out 30 June and so I think it's going to happen," he said.

As the studios rush to stockpile as many new movies and TV shows as possible, many actors are finding themselves working almost round-the-clock.

Golden Globe winner Julia Roberts is currently working on two pictures - Ocean's Eleven, with fellow Globe winner George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt - and America's Sweethearts with Catherine Zeta Jones and Billy Crystal.

Dividing her time between the various sets and numerous awards ceremonies in the coming months - she is a hot tip for a best actress Oscar - Roberts will hardly have time to worry about the dispute.

"There'll probably be a strike - at that point I'll be tired, so I'll be okay with that. I just hope it doesn't go on too long," she said.

Catherine Zeta Jones also has her hands full juggling a new baby and her role on America's Sweethearts.

We may be seeing next year a few movies that should never have left the drawer

Catherine Zeta Jones
Still enjoying the US box office success of Traffic, which opens in the UK on Friday, Zeta Jones said she was acutely aware that Hollywood was facing a crisis.

The Welsh actress fears the studios are rushing to make too many movies based on mediocre scripts.

"Right now there's a huge influx because of the possibility of an actors strike," she explained.

"Everybody's digging so deep in those drawers to find something to do and then its, 'oh the actors strike and we have to be finished by this date'.

"This is when really bad choices are going to be made and we may be seeing next year a few movies that should never have left the drawer. They should stay there and be ever buried," she said.

Hollywood newcomer, Snatch star Vinnie Jones, appears to be less concerned.

"I don't really know what it's all about. I know it's something about residuals or something - but I'll go fishing, it doesn't bother me," he said.

Michael Douglas has been taking a more analytical look at the dispute.

"There are many issues," he explained. "A key problem is the lack of residuals paid to actors for their work on cable television.

Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones: "I'll go fishing"
"The last time we negotiated, eight or nine years ago, it's hard to believe this, but cable was a brand new industry."

At that time actors were prepared to wait to see how big a player cable TV became in the US market. Now that it attracts a significant proportion of advertising revenue, the actors want a piece of the action.

Douglas, who expects the strike to last a long time, believes the biggest problem lies in the studios' apparent refusal to acknowledge the internet as potential source of income for the actors.

He said they were denying the performers' rights to be "involved in percentages or pieces of the internet. That's going to be ugly."

Not everyone in Hollywood believes strike action is the best way to resolve the dispute.

Adam Shankman is the director of The Wedding Planner, the new romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, which opens in America this week and in the UK in April.

It's like an 8.0 earthquake for Hollywood

Adam Shankman, director

"I think that it's absolutely one of the great tragedies that's about to happen to this community - it's like an 8.0 earthquake for Hollywood," he said.

Shankman is particularly concerned about the behind-the-scenes workers - costumers, lighting technicians - who stand to gain nothing from the dispute but face months without income.

"Forget the actors, forget the writers, how about the tens of thousands of crew members that are going to lose their homes, their cars? They are going to be driven out of the business. "

While acknowledging that Hollywood actors and writers deserve a "fair wage," Shankman said there was nothing that justified the "decimation" of the lives of film industry workers.

He added, "I want these things to get resolved but I think that both sides puffing up and throwing their weight around is tragic. It's made all of our lives really, really bad."

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