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Lights, camera, industrial action 26/3/01
Hollywood, the home of film noir.
Today, the mood on the streets is
blacker and meaner than ever.
It could get really ugly, there's a
real divisiveness between the
studios and the labourer. All of
the elements are in place, on
both sides, for us to have the
show business equivalent of
the perfect storm.
People are terrified of losing
their homes and businesses, and
how are we going to raise our
kids? It is terrifying.
Everybody in America has two
businesses, their own and show
business. And when, you know,
with the possibility of an actors
and writers strike, that's affects
people's daily lives, from watching
on the TV set and watching.
The movie business here is, you
could say, as old as the hills. What
could happen here in three months'
time will be as historic. People
will stop making movies. That's if
135,000 actors carry out their
threat to go on strike. Hollywood
could start to fall apart. The
stars mean business. Kevin Costner
told Newsnight why. Do you support
I support the Screen Actors Guild,
and all artists. It will affect projects
if they strike. Some people get a
vacation, I'm fortunate that it's not
going to affect me too much. But
there's other people who really
depend on being able to work, and
I empathise with them.
Last year, actors went on strike over
payments for commercials, as Liz
Hurley found out to her cost. Tim
Robbins accepted her innocence,
but still talked tough on the streets.
I will have a long memory for scab
actors, as a producer and director.
We must stay strong, united, show
solidarity to this working class
issue, this working class strike.
This is a middle class issue,
most actors don't make over
$5,000 a year.
The new dispute is not just about
ads, but about all film and TV.
Actors are fighting over residuals,
the payments they get from films
being shown outside cinemas. There
has been a huge growth in new
outlets, home video spending in
the States has risen by 50% in five
years, and DVD sales have more
than tripled in just two. Foreign
markets and cable TV have grown
too. The internet could become a
whole new way to see movies. But
actors' contracts haven't caught up
with any of this. Bill Daniels runs
the actors' union.
(PRESIDENT, SCREEN ACTORS' GUILD)
With places like China opening up,
I get fan mail from the strangest
places, that we never did before,
that are watching American television,
and the payments are for actors are
not in line with the profits that the
producers are getting out of these
To track down who might be
lifted from economic gloom, we
entered the twilight world of the
resting actor. It said that's the lot
of 70% of them in Hollywood at
any one time, so more money from
the films they do do, could make
a big difference. Hyla Matthews
works in the hottest restaurant in
town. By night, she greets the likes
of Tom Hanks and Madonna. In
the day, she's done a commercial
and acting classes. But making
ends meet is tough. She sees the
irony in big stars taking to the
It helps bring attention to the
strike, but as far as them being
affected, it's a joke. It's not
their livelihood, and I think they
should be doling out money to
those they're on line with. I know
they're trying to show their support,
but it's pretty ironic.
American actors are proud of their
history of taking on the movie
studios. Some would say Ronald
Reagan was at his most political as
President of the actors' union in the
'40s and '50s. The groundwork was
laid by stars of an earlier generation.
Bette Davis famously rebelled
against the studio system, and in a
landmark decision, Olivia de Haviland
weakened their power to dictate
which films you did. One of
Hollywood's veterans has seen things
evolve from the days of the moguls.
The people holding the purse strings
have changed, and getting what you
want has become tougher.
In the old days, you sat down with
Fox and Columbia, and the four big
studios and sat down and negotiated
a situation. Now it is hard to find all
these people, because there's a lot of
different corporations, and it is hard
to find out who is in control of the
These faceless executives are now
under more pressure than ever.
In anticipation of the strike, they're
churning out as many films as
possible. That's one short-term
benefit for actors. This movie,
starring Jim Carrey, was shooting on
Hollywood Boulevard. The work
rate was speedy, to beat the clock.
Everyone is crazed, there's a lot
of nervous energy, because they're
afraid they may lose their jobs.
The studio executives are working
on two or three times the number
of productions that they normally
do at once. I talk to these people,
and they're talking like they don't
have time to breathe. They're rushing
movies into production, they're trying
to finish the movies, because they
can't have one even in post production
during the strike.
Like a classic Hollywood thriller, this
story looks like it'll run right up to
the line. It's easy to cast the stars as
villains, asking for money when they
live in mansions like this. But there is
a smoking gun in this drama. Remember
the line about the actress who was so
stupid, she slept with a screenwriter,
thinking it would help her career? Now
the writers want to get even with the
studios too, creating their own twist in
this tale. The screenwriters are due to
strike first, in a month's time. People
like Charles Pogue are fighting for
more money, but they also want greater
status within the creative process. They
spend months on the script, only to
be excluded from the set, and then
the director often claims possession
of the movie, by putting his name over
the posters, and above the opening
We don't understand is why anybody
has to have "Joe Blow film" or "A
film by Joe Blow", we think that is
not only demeaning and detrimental
to the writer, but demeaning and
detrimental to everybody who worked
on the movie. Everybody has their
job, and everybody does their job.
But we should all be working as a
unit. And somehow, when the actor
and director are huddled with the
studio head, and the writers are saying
"Remember me? Hey, throw me a
bone". I do not understand the person
who generates the project, originates
the project, is taken out of the
collaborative circle, and tossed aside
So everyone seems to be betraying
the studios as the bad guys. But
how fair is that?
They're looking the a time right
now, when the economy in general
in the United States. People say
we're on the verge of recession, the
business, the economic climate for
the entertainment business is iffy,
and they're looking at the fact that
they're all controlled by multi-national
corporations. So the issues at hand
are not that significant to them, and
they see no reason to give major
concession to the writers or actors,
because they don't have to.
But it is reckoned the real victims
aren't even involved in the negotiations.
We' talking blue collar Hollywood,
like the make-up artists, the Key Grip,
the Best Boy. These technicians on
this new indie film, Bug, starring
Scream star, Jamie Kennedy, fear if
the strike happens, they'll be hurt first.
They will be out of a job for a
while, until they resolve it. They'll
have to get on unemployment or
something, or work in McDonald's.
Even if the strike doesn't happen, it
will slow down, since almost everything
is almost done already. Either way, it
will affect us. If it happens it will affect
us, if it doesn't happen, it will affect us.
It pretty much hurts the little guys.
Whatever takes money out of my pocket,
I don't support.
We're not talking about a shutdown in
the steel mills. Who cares about the
movie world? The economic impact
could be far beyond the film set. LA
might not be so sunny and carefree this
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION)
It's going to be a significant impact,
about 10% of the employment in Los
Angeles county is tied to the motion
picture and TV production industry.
We estimate that if you had a strike, a
monthly impact would be $1.8 billion,
so that would put a pinch on the local
Hooray for Hollywood, if a strike
creates a gap in the market for British
and European film-makers. Well,
actually, no. The movie business here
is likely to suffer just as much. The
British actors union, Equity, is already
asking its members not to work on any
film that's moved to the UK, in order to
avoid the strike. The US Screen Actors'
Guild wants a boycott of films made in
Britain with American finance or pre-sales.
That's most big films. British TV will be
hit too, if American sitcoms and dramas
don't get made.
The key thing is to remember is that the
Screen Actors' Guild has been talking to
the Guilds in Canada, the UK and Europe,
so if there's a strike there won't be any
production involving US film, US money,
that's important to understand.
Hollywood in Spring is usually running
full-throttle on self-congratulation. But this
year's awards season has been tempered
with foreboding. If things do grind to a halt,
who will come out stronger? No Oscars for
predicting that the studios will win. They've
had the time to stockpile films, because the
talent has spent so long talking about getting
difficult. For a profession that's all about
timing, theirs has been appalling. They're
threatening to go without work, just as
America slides into recession. Most actors
and writers are standing firm.
This has always been a precarious
business. If I have to be out of work, I'd
rather be out of work fighting for something
that's worth having, as opposed to just
the caprices of the business.
There have been adverts in the local
papers, saying pre-strike stress counselling
Is that available? Can I have the number?
If Hollywood does go dark, for once, all
those actors' tears at Oscar-time might be