Ahnuld, Julia, Keanu, and Sharon are all temporarily out of a job

By Daniel Fierman
Updated April 10, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
John Travolta
Credit: John Travolta: Armando Gallo/Retna

Everywhere you turn in Hollywood, from the grubbiest soundstage to the most posh executive suite, there’s a pervading sense of gloom that hasn’t been felt since the last Freddie Prinze Jr. premiere. In anticipation of a possible work stoppage by writers and actors, major talent agency UTA recently asked senior agents to defer 20 percent of their salaries into a fund that would help with overhead. Heck, even on the red carpet at last month’s Oscars, ”Gladiator” producer Douglas Wick was heard lamenting, ”My driver asked if there would be a strike.”

The short answer is: probably. The Writers Guild of America (WGA), whose contract expires May 1, hasn’t been at the table with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) since March 1, and, at press time, no new talks were scheduled. Though they use completely different sets of numbers, the two sides agree they are roughly $100 million apart on a proposed bump in residual payments to writers for video, cable, foreign, and other secondary revenue streams. And they don’t appear to be getting much closer.

Meanwhile, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), whose contracts expire June 30, haven’t even formulated their demands, strengthening the Sunset Boulevard consensus that SAG lacks direction. Recent troubles have included everything from outraged members trying to boot some of the union’s top leaders to the police being called to quell a spat at a high level meeting on March 27. ”My friend compares SAG to the Russian army,” says guild spokesman Greg Krizman, who insists the actors’ proposals will be finalized at meetings the weekend of April 21. ”It’s kinda big, messy, and maybe its shoes don’t fit. But ask Napoleon and Hitler about the Russian army.” (Yes, he did just compare studio moguls to historic despots.)

For Hollywood, a strike would be as financially devastating as a war. In Los Angeles County alone, approximately 467,000 people — including limo drivers, stylists, florists, waiters, caterers, and bartenders — base their livelihood on the entertainment industry, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC). That’s roughly the population of the state of Wyoming. ”The potential economic impact on Los Angeles is $1.8 billion per month,” says Jack Kyser of LAEDC. ”It’s a nightmare.” (Several industry vets recall businesses closing and people losing their homes as a result of 1988’s 22 week writers’ strike.)

While the TV networks’ hopes for an undisrupted fall hinge on a quick settlement with the unions, the film industry has been shaken by the mere threat of pickets. In fact, the casualties are already piling up. ”We’re at D-Day,” explains Artisan Entertainment CEO Amir Malin. ”Either you have a film going or you don’t.” ”It’s too late,” confirms Nina Jacobson, president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. ”Right now we’re prepping movies for after the strike. But we can’t set a start date, so all you can do is say, ‘Oh, well.”’ In the meantime, here are six movies you won’t be seeing anytime soon because of strike jitters:

”BUTTERFLY” She may be an Oscar winning box office sweetheart, but not even Julia Roberts can escape strike woes. Witness her planned reunion with director Gore Verbinski (”The Mexican”) for this thriller, which she hoped to start in mid- April after finishing ”Ocean’s Eleven.” According to a source at Revolution Studios, producers pulled the plug when they realized that the script would require a 70 day shoot and they had only a 50 day prestrike window. Upshot: This caterpillar won’t emerge from its cocoon until SAG signs a contract.

”THE MATRIX” 2 Leave it to the Wachowski brothers to attempt a maneuver as tricky as dodging a clip full of bullets. ”We’ll shoot for a few months in the Bay Area and then shut down,” says Carrie-Anne Moss, who wriggled back into that sleek, black suit opposite Keanu Reeves on March 26. ”They’re gonna do effects work and editing during the strike and pick it up after,” explains a source on the Warner Bros. sequel. But has Moss fully recovered from the leg injury she suffered during her training for ”Matrix” 2 (which also threatened to delay shooting)? ”Totally healed,” she says. ”I’m trained and ready, man.”

”TERMINATOR” 3 For 10 years, finding a director for the third installment of the James Cameron franchise proved as slippery as liquid metal. Now Jonathan Mostow (”Breakdown,” ”U-571”) is committed to direct possible gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger for C-2 Pictures. ”This is a high priority,” says the director’s publicist. Right now, Mostow is retooling the script for a launch in the poststrike future.

”ENCHANTED” For Disney’s ”Enchanted,” a fairy tale drama featuring a cartoon cast as well as a live action star (likely to be John Travolta), the good news is that ‘toons — and their animators — can’t picket. ”Because it has an animated sequence, we’ll record the voices prior to the strike,” says Jacobson. While animators can work during a SAG walkout, the studio will have to be flexible about the final product. ”After we start up production in New York, we’ll have questions,” laughs Jacobson. ”Like, is it going to be a winter in New York movie? Or a spring in New York movie? Who knows?”

”BASIC INSTINCT” 2 Last June, Sharon Stone agreed to return for a sequel to the 1992 hit for $15 million, and the project seemed a go. What followed: a game of directorial musical chairs — David Cronenberg (”eXistenZ”) was replaced by John McTiernan (”Rollerball”) — and then a futile search for a leading man. With potential costars like Kurt Russell, Bruce Greenwood, and Benjamin Bratt all committed to other prestrike projects, the MGM project is colder than an ice pick.

”TWO GUYS ON THE JOB” It looked like a surefire home run: Kevin Costner reteamed with his writer – director buddy Ron Shelton (”Tin Cup,” ”Bull Durham”) for Beacon Communications’ San Francisco set drama about two male cops whose friendship sours bitterly. But when a costar didn’t sign before a projected prestrike start date, Shelton headed to another cop flick, ”The Plague Season.” Sighs a source close to the production, ”We just ran out of time.” At least they weren’t alone.

Additional reporting by Andre Chautard, Clarissa Cruz, Chris Nashawaty, and Brian M. Raftery