Lights, camera, and action on hold -- Hollywood braces itself for a potentially devastating strike

By Daniel Fierman
Updated December 22, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

It has the makings of a delightful mess. Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts singing ”We Shall Overcome” on the picket lines. Susan Sarandon playing the lefty hard case on MSNBC. The potential loss of $6 billion in wages and ancillary business per month, in Southern California alone.

They should make a movie about it, or something.

Ironically, the entertainment story of the year is the one that hasn’t happened yet: On the heels of a crippling six-month strike against advertisers looms another by writers and actors. When, as it is widely assumed, the screenwriters power down their iBooks May 1 and the actors abandon their trailers June 30, the film and TV industries will be virtually paralyzed. That means no new movies. No new TV. Nothing that requires actors or screenplays. Zippo.

”I’m very pessimistic,” says Nick Counter of the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group repping the studios. ”They’ve given no indication they’re willing to…come to the table. The ad strike cost $240 million over six months. If we went six months? Devastating.”

As with the haywire presidential election, the issues are at once devilishly complex and grade-school simple. Just as all the Floridian minutiae (dimpled chads, butterfly ballots, David Boies) are code for a basic goal (power, power, power), so it is with the strikes. Ancillary revenue, pay-per-view residuals, force majeure contracts? Money, money, money.

The studios and unions have played puffer fish — inflating with sour bile and showing their spikes. ”Everybody is saying we’re interested in the strike happening,” says SAG rep Greg Krizman, ”but we’ve never said that. There is a deal to be made.” Yet with the actors focused on making a new pact with talent agents (their old one expired in November) and the writers yet to come to the table, there’s no movement. Fearing a work stoppage, the town has shifted into fifth gear, ramping up projects and stockpiling films. (Jack Black? $1 million! A comedy about a guy turned inside out? Gold!)

Which means even if the two sides stop the ship from sinking, you’ll be keelhauled nonetheless. That’s right. You. The devotee. The one who watches the stuff they slap on the screen. Get ready for the cancellation of the fall TV season. Get ready for crummy reality shows (Real World: Trenton). And more than anything, get ready for bad films. Merry Christmas.