Los Angeles, CA (December 19, 2007)--The gloves are off in the dispute between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMTPT), with each side hurling accusations and recriminations at the other. As an outcome to the strike--which began November 5--becomes harder to predict, what is certain is that some audio post houses have become part of the collateral damage.
"Everybody in our business is affected and everybody they know is affected--the local grocery store, the dry cleaner; everybody is feeling it already," comments Craig Hunter, co-owner of R/H Factor, a leading audio post shop that specializes in high-quality episodic TV work, much of it primetime network series. "We, like many other post houses in town, are subservient to those schedules generated by production companies. RH Factor effectively will be in a holding pattern until some kind of resolution happens, as we're downstream of all the productions."
Facilities with a more diverse clientele or facilities offering a broader range of services, such as the larger conglomerates, are perhaps better able to ride out a protracted dispute. But Robert C. Rosenthal, COO of Ascent Media's Creative Sound Services group (which includes Soundelux, Todd-AO and Sound One) believes the company's workload could soon be affected. "To date, there has not been a material change in our level of television post sound work," he says. "While we are hopeful for a speedy remedy to this labor dispute and urge both sides to work responsibly to achieve closure, based on the current negotiation status, we are now projecting a reduction in episodic television work by the end of January 2008."
The last strike by the writers, in 1988, extended for 22 weeks and was estimated to cost the US entertainment industry approximately $500 million. This time around, The Hollywood Reporter is estimating the cost at $80 million per day and, earlier in the stoppage, predicted the loss of 33,000 jobs in ancillary trades, crafts and businesses by the end of the first month. An Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry, posted online by the AMTPT on December 17, states, "By January, the economic losses to the region will exceed $200 million a month, with as many as a third of the entertainment industry's 250,000 jobs jeopardized."
Whatever the eventual resolution, Hunter believes the industry will never be the same again. "My feeling is that the studios are positioning our business for a paradigm shift that will follow on from the innovation started by cable a few years ago," he says. "The traditional methodology of building a television schedule is going to change. New shows come in the fall, sweeps in February; I think that model is going to shift, and the consolidation of money afforded the old model is also going to shift."
There have also been reports recently that some striking writers are seeking alternative methods to reach viewers via the internet, bypassing the traditional Hollywood production system.
Although the imminent start of negotiations between producers and both the directors and actors guilds, whose respective contracts are up for renewal June 30, as well as news that late-night talk show hosts are returning to work despite the work stoppage, may put pressure on the writers to find a resolution, Hunter is pessimistic: "I am not optimistic today that this will be resolved any sooner than sometime after the first of the year, probably February or March."