By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Also, the cast and crew had been hired and a start date in Thailand set for December 10 for what was going to be a three-month shoot. Some of the crew members were already there and then, suddenly, the Thai government was being notified, sets were struck, hotels reservations canceled, etc. Talk about money out the window for a fledgling studio that’s part of a troubled major (MGM).
Some films are in retreat because of the strike. But Hollywood studios, which already have a full slate for 2008, aren’t even close to a crisis. Still, the studios have been boasting how they planned for this writers strike. Well, no one can plan for everything.
For instance, Angels & Demons, the next in best-selling novelist Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code franchise for Sony, was the pic for which Akiva Goldsman bagged $4 million — a new high for a screenwriter scribbling an adaptation of a book. Yet, from what I hear, star Tom Hanks isn’t happy with the script he’s been presented, and the start of filming has been pushed back right now from March to a release date of May 15, 2009 at the earliest.
Warner Bros. just called off a February production start on Shantaram, the Mira Nair–directed adaptation of the Gregory David Roberts novel that was to star Johnny Depp. Eric Roth had been doing the rewrite. The Weinstein Co., meanwhile, postponed Nine, the Rob Marshall–directed musical that was slated to start production in March with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard starring. In both cases, the scripts weren’t ready. After Michael Tolkin wrote the screenplay for Nine, TWC engaged Anthony Minghella to do a polish, but he was able to put in only three days of work before the writers guild struck. Catherine Zeta-Jones dropped out of the movie.
Other films affected by the strike include 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Voyage, helmed by Roland Emmerich; Paramount’s Transformers 2 from DreamWorks; the Reese Witherspoon starrer Morning Glory, produced by J.J. Abrams for Paramount; and Universal’s State of Play, starring Brad Pitt (again the star isn’t happy with the script). Some of these have been pushed off their 2008 dates to 2009.
Then there are the picket lines on locations where Hollywood studios are shooting their films. The biggest took place in pastoral and usually peaceful Palisades Park in Pacific Palisades when striking Hollywood writers disrupted a Paramount movie starring Eddie Murphy, who left and did not come back for the rest of the day.
WGA sources claimed that he stopped in a show of unity with the writers once a picket line was set up. “The WGA definitely hearts Eddie today. Big cheer for him,” a Writers Guild source told me. But Paramount refuted that, claiming Murphy left because his 8-year-old co-star was “upset and crying” over the chanting picketers. So, which was it — Eddie Murphy, the working writers’ hero? Or Eddie Murphy, the fuck-it-I’m-out-of-here-after-a-crappy-day? Maybe it doesn’t even matter.
Like him or not, there’s no doubt that Murphy is one of a handful of Hollywood icons who have incredible leverage in this town because moguls love to be loved by their stars. But whether he or any other major stars (George? Angelina?) are willing to use that clout for a cause bigger than themselves is a huge question.
Meanwhile, the nonstar actor is getting screwed as well. I saw a “force majeure” letter from NBC Universal received last week by a Hollywood talent agency on behalf of an actress on a TV series. From what I can glean, the casts of The Office, 30 Rock, Bionic Woman and Battlestar Galactica, to name just a few shows on NBC and the Sci-Fi Channel, were informed that their contracts had been suspended. The reason is that Universal Media Studios opted to exercise what’s known as the force majeure clause in its Screen Actors Guild agreements. The clause is normally invoked when productions are shut down wholesale for one reason or another, and usually that reason is something unforeseen or external to the production (say an earthquake, stock-market crash .?.?. a writers strike). However, NBC and Sci-Fi are applying pretzel logic to the clause, both suspending actors without pay and trying to hold onto them contractually.
Other studios have done the same: at Sony Pictures TV, the casts of Fox’s Til Death and CBS’s Rules of Engagement have been suspended too. And letters, although not specifically citing force majeur, went out this week from Fox. That the studios are suspending actors without pay and not outright terminating their contracts, which prevents them from finding work elsewhere, has SAG royally pissed off. Per SAG’s agreement, studios can opt to suspend members for five weeks with half pay; suspend them with full pay; or release them from their contracts. Even if the actors are fired, they’re supposed to be immediately rehired under their original contract terms once production recommences. But a member of the Battlestar Galactica cast told me: “When our agents and managers phoned business affairs for clarification, they were told that we are on suspension without pay. We are not terminated. We are on hold to BSG with no pay in perpetuity until the strike is over.