As notable writers in Los Angeles and New York continue to walk on picket lines, buyers and sellers march down the Croisette, heading for the Cannes Film Market. Whether they pack their bags of films in hand or not is still unclear.
Heading into the festival, dealmakers were largely confident, or at least vocally, that the WGA strike wouldn’t have a major impact on the movie market. Scripts for splashy packages were rushed to come in ahead of the May 1 strike deadline, and the projects featuring A-list talent like Andrew Garfield and Florence Pugh seemed to have outnumbered many markets in recent times.
Now, on the ground, a slightly more complicated picture emerges
Top of mind is the potential for a multi-union strike. Less than a week before the opening of the Cannes market, the DGA began contract negotiations with the co-chair of the negotiating committee, Todd Holland, issuing an ominous warning, saying: “We know there will be conflict.” A week later, SAG-AFTRA’s national board voted unanimously to recommend that members approve a strike ahead of its own negotiations with the AMPTP.
Lately there has been a rush to reveal projects as a DGA and SAG strike becomes more likely by the day. Todd Brown, partner and head of acquisition at XYZ Films, says, “We have a project that we’re going to announce in the next few days because the talent reps are chasing us and saying, ‘We want to get the word out so people know we’re not breaking picket. ‘”
As for the WGA strike, with far more catwalk available than television networks, debuting fall schedules with mostly unscripted fare (Golden bachelor, anyone?), executives were confident in a cushion that would allow their film slates to weather the WGA storm. But a domestic distribution manager notes that if the strike were to last for six months, release calendars would begin to feel the pinch.
“This is the first time in a market where I’m seeing scripts that aren’t the final script, with detailed notes from director and producer about future major changes,” notes one buyer. The hope here is that the standout writer will come back and implement the notes soon after an agreement is reached between the WGA and AMPTP. The buyers are left with a decision to buy a project that may or may not be lensed this year with a script that may or may not run.
Of the films that presale at Cannes without completed scripts, David Garrett, CEO of Mister Smith Entertainment, says: “Either they get put on hold and people miss their summer window to film, or they go ahead and shoot with the script of lesser quality.”
With this in mind, projects currently in production, with deal terms in effect, have become hot items. A finished movie? Even better. Yet even these are not immune to strikes. Aziz Ansari’s Lionsgate feature Good luckin which Seth Rogen and Keanu Reeves play together and are for sale at the market was halted this week due to protesters.
International productions don’t feel that much warmth. “We’re adapting Brazilian projects for Asia, South American movies for Europe, whatever, all non-WGA scripts, so we’re not affected at all,” said Meg Thomson, executive vice president of global content at Globalgate Entertainment, whose upcoming projects include the rom-com Night and dayan adaptation of a Virginia Woolf novel starring Haley Bennett and German actor Elyas M’Barek.
But even if international productions can film, the question is whether they will stick to the striking guilds. Says Brown, “This time there is also a much greater degree of solidarity, both between the guilds and internationally, with writers’ guilds in the UK, Australia and Canada all expressing their support for the WGA.”
Of course, all this fear comes amid a tough macroeconomic environment in which domestic studios and streamers are implementing austerity measures, with waves of layoffs and Wall Street analysts demanding a pivot away from the streaming strategies that once supported stock valuations. Since the beginning of the year, there is a phrase often used about the purchasing power of domestic studios. Says a top salesperson: “Crying poor.”