Potential writers strike colors deals at AFM


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Strike Zone: Latest on WGA talks

Buyers and sellers from around the globe are abuzz with the WGA decision to strike beginning Monday morning and what impact that might have as the weekend dawns at the American Film Market.

The WGA West board and WGA East Council voted unanimously Friday afternoon to accept negotiators' recommendation and stage a writers strike starting at 12:01 a.m. PT Monday.

News of the pens down swept through the halls here, finally putting an end to any hopes that an eleventh hour deal to avoid industrial action would be made.

While the studios across town prep for picket lines, sellers here are busy weighing the implication and potential impact on the indie film world.

Most agree that the length of the action will determine just how much impact it will have. The longer it goes on, the greater strain it will put on the availability of decent scripts for sellers looking to do presales.

Handmade Films International director Michael Ryan said, "As a company with several high-profile projects in the pipeline, we are as concerned as anyone that if this strike continues into the New Year the impact on our ability to presell will be significant. Specifically, we have one feature where the director will begin to write in February, but if a solution is not found, the project could be in serious trouble."

But every strike cloud has a silver lining.

Director Damian Lee ("Ski School"), whose "The Poet" is being sold here by American World Pictures, thinks there might be opportunities "for the next tier of talent."

Said Lee, "There's an organic consumption in our industry as never before. Nature abhors a vacuum, and distributors will turn to other sources if needed. It's dangerous for the WGA now because of the proliferation of alternative delivery systems like live TV and content systems such as the Internet."

Lee warns that the guild is operating "under the old paradigm model."

If the strike goes on for too long, and surplus is consumed, it will offer nonguild signatoris including minor production companies and up-and-coming producers new opportunities, Lee thought.

IM Global CEO Stuart Ford, whose company reps several high-profile projects here, is not sure the scribbler's strike "has particularly affected the market."

Ford's concerns lie with the talk of an impending actors strike that has seen the studios rush to greenlight movies and put the squeeze on the availability of top-line talent for indie projects. And it also drives the offer prices, which lead to higher presale prices.

One U.S. buyer said the writers strike might be a good thing for patient sellers if it lasts for a long time. "If they're smart they'll hold off on selling the pics until March next year and then they'll be able to command higher prices than now because people will need projects even more then."

Also weighing up the potential fallout from the strike on foreign shores will be the world's big broadcast groups, particularly in the major English-speaking territories Canada, the U.K. and Australia, all of which are heavily dependent on top U.S. primetime programming.

But Andrea Keir, Australian Network Nine's Los Angeles-based president of programming and acquisitions, noted that broadcasters have had fair warning of the likelihood of a strike and have alternative plans in most cases.

"We do have quite a lot of American programming, but even without the threat of a strike we were moving toward producing more local productions, both reality and scripted," she said.

Other Australian networks, such as Seven, also air a large amount of U.S. shows and will look to go back to local shows if the strike is elongated.

One of Seven's big offerings this year is NBC Universal's "Bionic Woman," which it airs virtually day-and-date with the U.S.

With as many as 13 weeks of new primetime programming in the can, there is the likelihood that a prolonged strike could force international programrs to work with reruns or to relay on a slates of home-produced programming.

Canadian broadcasters, which depend on U.S. network series to drive their primetime ratings and ad revenue, will be directly affected.

Canadians air day-and-date with the U.S. networks. The consensus is Canadian primetime schedules will reflect the same glut of reruns and reality TV series that are expected to show up on U.S. channels once the major networks burn through stockpiled episodes of popular shows, beginning in early 2008.

Canadian broadcasters say they've remained in close contact with studio suppliers in Los Angeles.

Guy Mayson, president and CEO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., representing indie producers, said a prolonged strike may hold out opportunities for major domestic networks such as Global Television and CTV to run more homegrown shows.

But Mayson said Canadian producers would prefer labor peace in Los Angeles to prevent inevitable disruption to Canadian TV to the north.

"We're not interfering or playing into anything. Ideally, we'd like to see labor harmony," he argued.

Gregg Goldstein, Steve Brennan and Etan Vlessing in Toronto contributed to this report.