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STRUCK DUMB: Unless a miracle has occurred, the long-threatened strike by film and television writers started this morning, and the New York Times had a story in Friday’s paper anatomizing the repercussions of a walk-out on the economy of not only the entertainment business, but of Los Angeles and the support industries that rely on the machinery of TV and movie production.
“I’m afraid that everybody’s in for a terrible time,” said Norman Lear, the venerable writer and producer behind shows such as All In The Family, and the big victims would include the publishing industry on the opposite coast in New York, who will see a virtual halt to the purchasing of literary properties for adaptation into movies. Also looking at lean months ahead are more local industries like the people who do the dry cleaning for movies and shows in production, who will clean up to 2,000 garments a night, and a tree nursery that rents trees and shrubbery to set decorators.
“This is an awfully good reminder of the need to diversify,” said Dan Needham, the owner of Green Set, the nursery.
Then there are the lumber yards that provide set-building materials, animal trainers, and even L.A. tourism in general – “If tourists see that the entertainment industry is shut down, we worry they will think the entire city is shut down,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. This actually seems like an overreaction – with production at a halt, it’s more likely that the talent will be on the streets, and that opportunities for stargazing will actually increase, unless they all have ranches in Montana, and intend to sit out the strike playacting at being Buffalo Bill, or taking roles in that edgy, independent, non-union show that their agents had been trying to talk them out of doing.
Starbucks seems to be one business relying on this scenario – a spokeswoman for the coffee chain told the Times that they’re anticipating a spike in business as people look for a place to hang out and mooch off free wireless. There’s even a sort of futures market for the newly unemployed of Hollywood that’s like an upmarket version of payday loans from cheque-cashing storefronts: businesses that buy “participations” – points in future profits from productions – in exchange for cash up front.
A final victim, according to the Times, is the Oscars – without writers, hosts, presenters and winners will be forced to ad lib their jokes and comments. This happened during the 1988 ceremonies, and considering how much less real wit and charisma imbues the industry twenty years later, it could make the Oscars an even bigger train wreck.