But if the strike goes on past the New Year, things start to look a bit more dicey. Every production chief faces the anxiety-filled challenge of actually proceeding with greenlit projects that will shoot under unprecedented duress, and "bubble" projects that have solid scripts but incomplete casting.
An estimated 50 or so projects across studios are at the "go" stage, among them the next James Bond movie, "The Da Vinci Code" prequel "Angels & Demons" and "The X-Files" sequel, rumored to be titled "Done One."
A producer who has five films on the bubble, however, estimates that as many as 75% of the "go" projects are actually "up in the air." Inevitably, some will end up on hold or the chopping block.
"The impending strike felt like an anvil over our heads," says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "Now it feels like it's landed on our chests. The pressure on the last movies greenlit feels very intense."
Twentieth Century Fox production chief Hutch Parker insists "we're in good shape," with nine movies going into production through March. "The one caveat is, we've never done this before."
To proceed with a project during the strike means no polishes, no response to executive notes, no fixes for actors uncomfortable with their lines, no rethinking of elaborate setpieces that don't work. Even under the best of circumstances, screenplays require writer-assisted tweaking right up until the first day of principal photography and sometimes throughout the shoot.
Inevitably, this means there will be anxieties over what is ready. One senior ICM agent notes that in 2001, when it looked like writers might walk out, "things got rushed into production, but even then, we had writers available."
"Studios have been more prepared for it this time around, and have pushed the writers and pushed the projects to get them in the best shape prior to this date," the agent adds. "But when you're talking about films that will shoot in February or March, there's a lot of scripts that still need a lot of work. There's no two ways about it."
Despite their best efforts, several studios have potential problem-children on their hands. "There's no such thing as a locked script," says one Sony-based producer who has a go project. "That's just a fact of life. Sometimes you do need more flexibility, and you do need a new scene, and you need to call the writer. That won't be happening."
"How can you make a movie without a writer?" asks manager Patty Detroit. "You can't!"
Writer-director Tony Gilroy is prepared to shoot "Duplicity" with star Julia Roberts.
"I've done everything I can do," he says. "My script could shoot word for word. Everyone is in agreement. But it's not ideal any way you look at it. This is all an experiment. I'm happy I don't start shooting till March."
NETWORKS GO TO BACKUP PLAN
The WGA walkout may have rendered the 2007-08 television season stillborn — but that doesn’t mean the networks have stopped planning for the next campaign.
Like a government in exile, the small screen’s band of D-boys and girls is now waiting on the sidelines. There are no more pitch meetings or notes sessions to attend.
But thanks to the recent trend toward year-round development, webheads aren’t completely lacking in material for 2008-09.
That’s because a few months ago, as a strike became more and more likely, pilot development kicked into overdrive. Nets started handing out put pilot commitments, and even series orders, like they were candy.
The result: All of the networks have completed scripts in hand for projects they put into motion before the scribes skedaddled.
That means the TV studios won’t be entirely quiet over the next few months. As scribes march the picket lines across Hollywood, writers rooms are dark, latenight talker sets are collecting dust, and several series sets have already shut down — with many more to come in the next few weeks.
But there may still be work for TV thesps, helmers and below-the-line crew during the writers strike, as some pilots are ready to be shot (and others already have been).
To be clear, most scripts in development haven’t been turned in yet, or aren’t polished enough to be filmed. But NBC’s Ben Silverman boasts that he’s got more than a half-dozen pilots ready to lens, with big-name helmers attached.
Fox has already started shooting one drama (“The Oaks”), while another (“Hackett”) is wrapped. ABC already has its Cedric the Entertainer sitcom in the can, and CBS has begun production on one of its big hopes, “The Kingdom.”
Other projects could begin shooting within weeks. Most will have to wait until after a strike is settled.
Five years ago it was rare for any pilot scripts to pop up before Thanksgiving. But Silverman, ABC’s Steve McPherson and Kevin Reilly (first at NBC, now at Fox) have made so-called “off-cycle development” a priority the past few seasons as they tried to shake up a system that produced too many projects in too short a time frame.
BROADWAY STAGEHANDS TO STRIKE
Broadway stagehands are set to begin a strike on Saturday, darkening the majority of Rialto productions.
Timing of work stoppage has been ordered by the international president of IATSE, Thomas C. Short, who granted strike authorization to Broadway stagehands' union Local One after sitting in on contentious labor talks with Rialto producers Wednesday and Thursday.
First show affected Saturday looks to be “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the holiday production whose unorthodox performance sked includes an 11 a.m. Saturday curtain.
Without stagehands, more than 25 productions will not perform. The only Broadway shows not affected are the theaters that have a separate contract with the union -- the four nonprofit houses as well as the Hilton, the Helen Hayes, the Circle in the Square and the New Amsterdam.
Actors’ Equity looks poised to honor the Local One picket lines, with the org’s website announcing that the Equity council has voted to support any potential strike.
There are no indications as to how long a work stoppage would last.
Both the union and the trade association of Broadway producers, the League of American Theaters and Producers, have stockpiled funds to help endure a shutdown.
Local One and the League have been wrangling over a new agreement for several weeks. The stagehands have been working without a contract since their previous agreement with producers expired in July.
At issue in the talks are contractual employment obligations, particularly the hiring requirements for the process of loading a production into a Broadway theater. Producers want to establish flexibility on rules — for instance, the obligation to hire a fly operator even for productions that have no flies — that they see as outdated and overly costly. Stagehands, meanwhile, refuse to give up what they see as hard-earned protections of their livelihood without receiving other benefits in exchange.
The last Broadway shutdown occurred in 2003, when a strike called by the musicians’ union darkened Broadway for four days, causing an estimated box office loss of $5 million.