READER QUESTION: Will movies be affected by the strike?

All of us, whether we’re in L.A. or not, have felt the impact of the writers strike over the past few weeks.  Every evening when we turn on the TV and are confronted with reruns or reality shows or big gaping holes where The Office of The Tonight Show or David Letterman used to be, we’re reminded of what’s happening on the street of New York and L.A.

But yesterday, loyal reader Ellen asked a good question: what about movies?  We haven’t heard as much about them, and we certainly haven’t yet seen the strike’s impact at the box offices.  Here’s Ellen’s message…

“Chad, Random question…If the strike continues, how will the movie business
be affected? In the absence on new television shows, is it possible
that more viewers will head to the theater in the coming weeks/months?
Does the big screen have a place in this debate?”

Great question, Ellen.  Here are my thoughts…

Unless this strike lasts for many months, it’s unlikely its affect will be felt by normal movie-goers across America.  Unlike TV shows, screenplays are often written long before they’re shot… and they can even sit on the shelf without aging.  In othe words, studios currently have plenty of scripts just waiting to be filmed as actual movies– scripts that have already been written– so while writers may not be giving studios new scripts to film, the studios certainly aren’t hurting for material.  (In fact, some movies are also filmed several months before they’re released, so many features that are to be released next year have already been made.)

Television, however, has to put a mini-movie on the air every week, so TV writers are constantly pumping out new scripts.  Basically, a TV show’s writing staff must churn out a script a week in order to make sure they can produce an episode a week.  So when TV writers stop working, the studios and networks are suddenly left with no scripts to go out and shoot.

So this strike will have to last a long time before the studios begin to feel a lack of scripts.  Basically, the strike has to outlast the studios’ reserve of unfilmed scripts.

How the strike WILL affect movies, however, is in their promotional attempts.  Without late-night talk shows like Jay Leno and David Letterman, studios and actors have lost one of their most critical platforms for promoting upcoming movies.  So while movies studios may not feel a lack of scripts– yet– they certainly feel the loss of promotional muscle.  Studios also like to promote movies by putting trailers in the commercial breaks of primetime scripted shows like E.R. and Criminal Minds… so if fewer people are watching those primetime shows, fewer people are seeing trailers and learning about the movies.

Movie studios will also feel the burn because– while they do have already-written scripts– they have no one to rewrite those scripts if need be.  Just this week, Brad Pitt dropped out of a Universal movie called State of Play, because he felt the script needed a rewrite… but Universal didn’t want to wait till the end of the strike to have the writer fix it.  Universal’s movie execs simply wanted to get the movie into production so they could release it on schedule– even though Pitt felt it could be better.  Rather than star in what he felt was a half-baked script, Pitt vacated the picture.  (Rumor has it Russell Crowe may be taking his place.)  So there may be a dip in quality of some of the movies you see coming out, although scripts being shot right now won’t be released for months, so it’ll be a while before that happens.

As for people going to the movies instead of watching television– great question, and– to be honest– I dunno.  Maybe.  But I think people tend to watch TV because they can do it in the comfort of their own home, or keep it on the background, and going to the movies requires checking the schedule, leaving the house, driving, parking, spending money, etc.  It’s a very different experience.

I think the more likely outcome is that people will move away from the networks that show scripted shows that depend on writers– ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW– and spend more time with quality non-scripted programming like Top Chef or Project Runway on cable networks like BRAVO, A&E, etc.  Many people also think the writers strike may give a boost to the internet… that without new shows on TV, people will start downloading shows, watching streams, or seeking out original series online like Clark & Michael or Coastal Dreams

I’m not so sure, honestly, that that will be a massive result of the strike, because just like movies are a different experience than television, so is watching the internet.  Watching a 15-minute episode of Sanctuary isn’t the same as watching an hour of Desperate Housewives, and propping yourself in front of the computer isn’t the same as relaxing on the couch.  People may spend more time working or playing on their computers because there’s less to watch on TV, but I don’t think the internet is quite ready to replace television as our dominant form of in-home entertainment, strike or not.  Someday it’ll happen… but we’re not quite there.

Anyway– to wrap up, while the movie execs and moguls are certainly sweating a bit as they watch the strike play out, and the strike is definitely giving them headaches, I don’t think you– the average viewer going to the movies on a Friday night– will notice much of a change unless the strike goes on for several months.  And let’s all hope it doesn’t.

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