Paychecks hit as shows close
EmptyCraft services provider Kim Thorpe helped serve a Thanksgiving dinner for lunch Friday on the set of "How I Met Your Mother." It was the last day of production on the CBS comedy before shutting down because of the WGA strike.
"People would come up to us and say this would probably be their only Thanksgiving dinner if this doesn't get resolved," she said. "I'm a single mom, and my son — I don't know how I'm going to pay his tuition next month."
The strike casualties among the show's crew include camera operators, assistants, grips, electricians, hair and makeup artists and many more. And then there are the extras.
"We use a lot of extras each week, and these people barely make it," Thorpe said. "What are they going to do? It's so unbelievably painful to think about the size of this. Thousands and thousands of us have lost our jobs this week. The lady I buy my donuts from — she has two kids in college. It a huge loss of income."
There are concerns that about 50,000 from IATSE-represented crafts and 30,000-plus in the postproduction industry are facing the prospect of scripted series going dark one by one as they run out of scripts from striking writers. Most crew members are employed on a week-to-week basis, so they are laid off immediately after a show shuts down production.
Mortgage payments, health benefits, pensions, tuition and families are top of mind. There also is the realization that some will be forced to leave the business, and it's unlikely they will return.
Of those affected in production, some are filing for unemployment and others are looking for work in commercials or indie films, making these areas more crowded.
Things could get worse if the commercial production business slows down as some predict, with ad agencies growing hesitant to invest in spots that would air during reruns.
Few in the below-the-line community were willing to talk about the residuals issues at the heart of the strike. One source in production senses some sympathy toward the writers. But another commented: "People don't like to express their opinions. It's Hollywood. They just would like to work."
One week into the writers strike, its ripple effect already is reaching television postproduction.
"We are feeling the beginning of it now," one source said. "For those doing post for television, the strongest impact will be felt in December."
Others are more optimistic, saying that they might have enough work until the end of the year.
Many post businesses remain busy in commercials, indie film and studio mastering. But if the strike is prolonged, downsizing will be on the horizon.
"It's a sad situation; we are planning how we will respond and how quickly we have to start letting employees go," one executive said.
Robert Solomon, the president of Ascent Media Creative Services, a cluster of postproduction video and sound facilities, admitted that his company is "going to be hard-pressed to have to think about letting people go" but has no plans of doing so in the near term.
"I'll fight like crazy to try to avoid (layoffs)," he said. "We continue to remain positive that people will persevere to find suitable solutions to their issues and we can get this back on track so that we don't do any permanent damage to either the overall industry for producing entertainment content or the post industry specifically."
But for those already affected by the strike, things look bleak.
"I'm not sleeping," Thorpe said. "I'm on the computer, looking for some sign of hope."
She recently made a T-shirt to wear to a WGA rally. It reads: "Getting back to the table is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of compassion."
"They've got to get back to the table," she said. "Until they go there, there is no hope."