What's more, nobody wants to go back too early, particularly if it appears a settlement of the strike could be at hand. But with most of Hollywood bracing for an extended work stoppage, producers have been forced to start talking about a return.
Toward that end, reps for the major broadcast network shows--but not the networks themselves-- have been quietly feeling each other out, trying to determine when might be the appropriate time to return to work. All the major latenight talkers have been dark since the WGA strike began Nov. 5.
Since none of the shows wants to be the first to return to production, the behind-the-scenes conversations seem to be aimed at reaching an informal agreement that would result in at least two shows from separate networks returning on the same date.
While Letterman, Leno and O'Brien all want to be respectful of their writers, they're also deeply concerned about the impact of a prolonged strike on their non-WGA staffs.
NBC, for example, had told producers on its latenight shows that it would only continue paying staffs through Nov. 16 (Daily Variety, Nov. 7).
Producers of the Peacock shows lobbied the net to keep the paychecks coming, however, and late Thursday, the network agreed. Staffers on Leno and O'Brien's shows, along with those on "Last Call with Carson Daly," will be paid for at least two more weeks, a network spokeswoman said.
Letterman, whose Worldwide Pants Prods. is solely responsible for staffer salaries on "Late Show" and "Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson," has told staffers they're not going to be cut off. Company will "continue to pay the non-writing staff of the shows - fully compensating lower-salaried employees, and providing a substantial portion of salaries for those at the higher end -- at least through the end of the year," a Worldwide Pants spokesman said.
'BEOWULF' 3-D FILM ENTERS BOX OFFICE BATTLE
In the widest domestic rollout of a digital 3-D film to date, Paramount will unspool Robert Zemeckis' big-budget "Beowulf" on roughly 740 3-D screens as it opens the violent animated epic in a total of 3,164 theaters this weekend. Film began playing in some locations Thursday evening.
"Beowulf," drawn from the 9th century epic poem, is also receiving an aggressive foreign day-and-date release.
Hollywood studios are investing heavily in 3-D releases, although there are still a limited number of screens equipped with the necessary technology. That means a movie like "Beowulf" will still play mostly on traditional 2-D screens.
The weekend's other wide release is Fox Walden's G-rated family fantasy title "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," starring Natalie Portman, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Bateman. Pic was written and helmed by "Stranger Than Fiction" scribe Zach Helm, who makes his feature directorial debut.
New Line opens Mike Newell's "Love in the Time of Cholera" in 852 theaters. Based on the acclaimed book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and adapted by Ronald Harwood, film toplines Javier Bardem.
Forecasters say "Beowulf," which cost $150 million to produce, has a strong shot at the weekend crown, placing the box office haul at $20 million-$25 million.
Steve Bing's Shangri-La Entertainment put up roughly $100 million of the film's budget, with Par making up the difference. Warner Bros. is a distribution partner on the film and is releasing it internationally.
While "Beowulf" is the biggest test yet of digital 3-D, the first movies that will truly live or die on this technology are James Cameron's "Avatar" and DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens," both of which bow in 2009, when there should be many more 3-D screens.
"Beowulf," rated PG-13, employs the same motion-capture technology Zemeckis used in making "The Polar Express." Pic's ensemble voice cast includes Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Robin Wright Penn.
BURTON, DISNEY TEAM ON 3D-FILM
Tim Burton is pairing up with Disney to direct two 3-D pics, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Frankenweenie."
Two-movie deal with Walt Disney Studios begins with "Alice in Wonderland," which will combine performance-capture imagery, currently seen in "Beowulf," with live-action footage.
Script by Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast") is based on the Lewis Carroll classic.
Richard Zanuck, Joe Roth and Suzanne and Jennifer Todd will produce.
Burton, who is wrapping "Sweeney Todd" at Paramount and DreamWorks, will tackle "Alice in Wonderland" early next year, with production set to wrap by May.
After "Alice," Burton will helm and produce "Frankenweenie," based on his 1984 short film about a pet dog brought back to life by his loyal owner. Pic will be shot in stop-motion animation and shown in digital 3-D.
Movies are part of the Mouse House's efforts to ramp up its 3-D pic offerings, after starting with "Chicken Little" in 2005, followed by "Meet the Robinsons" and a re-release of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 3-D.
"When the script came to us from Joe Roth, there was one name on my list and it was Tim," said Oren Aviv, prexy of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. "It felt like a project that needed someone with a unique vision and voice to really give it that special look and memorable characters that only Tim Burton can do."
Burton had previously produced "Nightmare Before Christmas" and helmed "Ed Wood" at Disney.