FILM STUDIES: Writers Are Revolting, Actors Are Grumbling, but Costly Habits Die Hard ; the Shift from the Photography of Films to the Electronics of the Net Could Have a Seismic Impact on the Entertainment Industry as a Whole
Thomson, David, The Independent (London, England)
On 1 March, in Los Angeles, talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers broke down. It was not a definitive cessation. The producers left their latest offer on the table; they said they looked forward to further meetings. The Writers' present contract does not run out until 1 May. On the other hand, the talks that began on 22 January were deemed hopeful because they had gone on longer than was promised, and because there had been no leaks on what was being aired. Now it's clear that the writers walked away because the producers had moved so little towards their demands on residuals.
Meanwhile, the producers (aided by the writers, some of whom have never done as well as in the past few months) are making as many movies as they can to bridge the gap ahead. The last time the writers struck, in 1988, they were out five months. The movie producers now boast that they have product to last a year. This time, the fears concern a larger hiatus: the issues are important, yet unclear; and, as of 30 June, the two actors' unions - the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television Artists - are ready to strike as well. Why, ask many producers, when the economy seems daily more like a recession, and when the industry is poised on so uncharted a brink? It is that brink that's pushing us, say the writers and the actors, whose grievances are alike. The business has changed so much in the past few years that ordinary craftsmen feel left behind. They want to prosper in success. They note that some TV actors get $1 million an episode for a hit series. That's only possible because of the vast residual income from TV cable re-runs, just as theatrical movies become staples of VCR and DVD. What's more, as yet, no one has any agreement on eventual internet residuals.
There's the real danger (or opportunity), say some prophets. Don't trust the big box office numbers every Monday morning in the newspapers. What seems like a bumper business actually draws as small a portion of the American public as it has ever had (try 15 per cent). The bulk of that portion is young people in the 14-24 age range. Those kids are fickle. Suppose, say the prophets, that in a prolonged window of opportunity (the strike) the dot.com guys so desperate for rescue, found a new, gimmicky entertainment on the net, an interactive video game that might enthrall youth. You say that's impossible? Listen, 105 years ago they invented something called the movies, and the public went crazy. There were forms of live entertainment that were never the same again. …