Cannes is about 6,000 miles and a world away from the Writers Guild of America’s Picket Lines in Los Angeles, but with less than two weeks to go before the May 16 start of the 76th Cannes Film Festival and its associated film market, the Marché du Film, the impact of the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike is already being felt.
At first glance it seems like business as usual, the same hectic bustle that precedes every Cannes. The studios are finalizing their press strategies and party plans. Agents and sales companies sharpen their market talk. Actors and their stylists pick out this year’s red carpet looks.
But seasoned Cannes visitors with long memories can still remember the seismic disruption of the 2007-2008 WGA strike and fear a similar outcome this time unless the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) reach an agreement on a new contract soon.
For the festival itself, the inconvenience will probably be minimal. WGA film writers going to Cannes will not be allowed to promote their films – the guild clearly states that members are “prohibited from making promotional appearances” as the strike continues – but writer-directors, such as Wes Anderson, in Cannes competition of Asteroid Cityand Martin Scorsese, whose Killers of the flower moon will have its world premiere out of competition on the Croisette, be able to attend the festival and hold press conferences in their capacity as director. However, their co-writers — Roman Coppola on Asteroid CityEric Roth and David Grann op killers – is expected to stay at home, or at least not to participate in official promotional activities in Cannes.
It is also unlikely that the strike will immediately disrupt the Cannes film market. Anticipating possible strike action, producers and sales companies set their deadlines for writers to provide scripts before the May 1 strike. Leading up to this year’s Marché, international buyers are reporting quite a few new projects, both finished films and pre-sale packages.
“We are already looking at some great projects, all with completed scripts, to be sold at Cannes this year,” said Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann, CEO of German media group Telepool.
But even if those packs sell, an extended strike could still disrupt or delay the start of production.
“The films that pre-sold at Cannes, a lot of those scripts are going to need a polish or a second or third draft, or after they’re cast, some actors want their dialogue rewritten,” said David Garrett CEO of Mister Smith Entertainment, which handles sales for the Directors’ Fortnight title Riddle of fire and the New Zealand horror film in production grafted at Cannes this year. “So those either get put on hold and people miss their summer window to film, or they go ahead and shoot with the lower quality script.”
And it will be difficult for studios or production outfits outside the US to hire English-language, non-WGA writers to fill the gap. Most international writers’ unions – including the Australian, Canadian and British writers’ guilds – have advised their members to support the WGA and not to accept American work. The Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) has explicitly prohibited members from taking on “strike work”, meaning US-based productions or productions originally set up under a WGA contract. The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) said it would kick out any members who break the WGA picket line to work on a US project.
Adding to the uncertainty are the upcoming negotiations between AMPTP and the Directors Guild of America (DGA), which begin May 10. The DGA’s current contract expires June 30, and the guild has already predicted “difficult and complex” negotiations over streaming residues and greater transparency from entertainment giants, the same issues that proved to be deal-breakers in the WGA talks.
Right now, all of that potential turmoil is happening below the surface. Unlike late-night TV, which has already shut down due to the writers’ strike, film production is a long-running business. Films bought in the Cannes market this month are targeting release in 2024/2025 at the earliest.
“I don’t think we’ll see the full impact of the strike (in Cannes), but it will certainly be felt later, probably in another six months, around the fall and the American Film Market (in Los Angeles in November)” , says Higuchi-Zitzmann of Telepool.
And the longer the strike lasts, the longer the industry’s recovery will take.
“Currently, writers aren’t even allowed to attend meetings to talk about new projects or do any development,” notes Garrett of Mister Smith. “Everything has come to a standstill.”
So it could look like business as usual at Cannes this year. But the longer the writers’ strike goes on, the more likely those underground quakes will eventually shake things up.