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Cannes is about 6,000 miles and a world away from the Writers Guild of America picket lines in Los Angeles, but with less than two weeks to go before the May 16 start of the 76th Cannes Film Festival and accompanying film market, the Marché du Film, the impact of the ongoing Hollywood writers strike is already being felt.
On the surface, it looks like business as usual, the same hectic bustle that precedes every Cannes. The studios are finalizing their press strategies and party plans. Agents and sales companies are honing their market pitches. Actors and their stylists are picking out this year’s red carpet looks.
But veteran Cannes attendees with long memories can still recall the seismic disruption of the 2007-2008 WGA walkout and fear a similar outcome this time unless the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) soon reach an agreement on a new contract.
For the festival itself, the disruption is likely to be minimal. WGA writers on Cannes-bound films will not be allowed to promote their movies — the guild clearly states that members are “prohibited from making promotional appearances” while the strike continues — but writer-directors, like Wes Anderson, in Cannes competition with Asteroid City, and Martin Scorsese, whose Killers of the Flower Moon will have its out-of-competition world premiere on the Croisette, will be able to attend the festival and hold press conferences in their capacity as directors. Their co-writers, however — Roman Coppola on Asteroid City, Eric Roth and David Grann on Killers — will be expected to stay home, or at least not take part in any official promotion activities in Cannes.
The strike is also unlikely to immediately upend the Cannes film market. Anticipating possible strike action, producers and sales companies set their deadlines for writers to deliver scripts before the May 1 walkout. Ahead of this year’s Marché, international buyers report a healthy number of new projects, both finished films and presale packages.
“We’re already looking at a number of great projects, all with finished scripts, that are being sold in Cannes this year,” says Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann, CEO of German media group Telepool.
But even if those packages get sold, an extended strike could still disrupt or delay the start of production.
“The movies being pre-sold in Cannes, many of those scripts are going to require a polish or a second or third draft, or after they are cast, some of the actors are going to want their dialogue rewritten,” says David Garrett CEO of Mister Smith Entertainment, which is handling sales on Directors’ Fortnight title Riddle of Fire and the in-production, New Zealand-set horror film Grafted in Cannes this year. “So either those will be put on hold, and people will miss their summer window to shoot, or they go through and shoot with the poorer-quality script.”
And it will be tough for studios or production outfits to go outside the U.S. and hire English-speaking, non-WGA writers to fill the gap. Most international writers unions — including the Australian, Canadian, and U.K. writers guilds — have advised their members to support the WGA and not take on U.S. work. The Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) has explicitly forbidden members from taking on “struck work,” that is, U.S.-based productions or ones initially set up under a WGA contract. The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) said it would kick out any members that break the WGA picket line to work on a U.S. project.
Adding to the uncertainty are the upcoming negotiations between AMPTP and the Directors Guild of America (DGA), set to begin on May 10. The DGA’s current contract expires June 30 and the guild has already predicted “difficult and complex” negotiations over streaming residuals and greater transparency from entertainment giants, the same issues that proved deal-breakers in the WGA talks.
For the moment, all that potential turmoil is playing out beneath the surface. Unlike late-night TV, which has already shut down because of the writers strike, film production is a long-lead business. Movies being shopped at the Cannes market this month are aiming, at the earliest, for release in 2024/2025.
“I don’t think we’ll see the full impact of the strike [in Cannes], but it’ll certainly be felt later, probably in another six months’ time, around fall and the American Film Market [in Los Angeles in November],” says Telepool’s Higuchi-Zitzmann.
And the longer the strike goes on, the longer it will take for the industry to recover.
“At the moment, writers aren’t allowed to even take meetings to talk about new projects, or do any development,” notes Garrett of Mister Smith. “Everything has come to a standstill.”
So it might look like business as usual in Cannes this year. But the longer the writers strike continues, the more likely those underground tremors will eventually shake things up.
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