Multi-Union Strike Fear Has Dealmakers on Edge  

As striking writers continue to walk picket lines in Los Angeles and New York, buyers and sellers are marching the Croisette, making their way to the Cannes film market. Whether or not they pack their bags with films in hand is still unclear.   

Heading into the festival, dealmakers were largely confident, or at least vocally so, that the WGA strike would not have a major impact on the film market. Scripts for splashy packages had been rushed to get in prior to the May 1 strike deadline and the projects with A-list talent like Andrew Garfield and Florence Pugh seemed to have numbered more than many markets in recent memory. 

Now, on the ground, a slightly more complicated picture is emerging  

Top of mind is the potential for a multi-union strike. Less than a week before the opening of the Cannes market, the DGA entered contract negotiations with negotiations committee co-chair Todd Holland issuing what could be read as an ominous warning, saying, “We know there will be conflict.” A week later, SAG-AFTRA’s national board voted unanimously to recommend that members authorize a strike in advance of its own negotiations with the AMPTP. 

As of late, there has been a rush get projects unveiled as a DGA and SAG strike becomes more likely with each passing day. Says Todd Brown partner and head of acquisitions at XYZ Films: “We have a project that we’re going to be announcing in the next couple of days because the talent reps are chasing us saying ‘we want to get the word out there so people know we’re not breaking picket.’” 

As for the WGA strike, with much more of a runway available than television networks, which are debuting fall schedules with predominantly unscripted fare (Golden Bachelor, anyone?), executives felt confident in a cushion that would allow their film slates to weather the WGA storm. But one domestic distribution exec notes that should the strike last six months, that is when release calendars will start to feel the crunch.  

“This is the first time in a market where I’ve been presented with scripts which are not the final script, coming with detailed director and producer notes about future significant changes,” one buyer notes. The hope here being that the striking writer will come back and implement the notes quickly after an agreement is reached between the WGA and AMPTP. The buyers are left with a decision to purchase a project that may or may not be able to lens this year with a script that may or may not be done. 

Of the movies being pre-sold at Cannes sans finished scripts, David Garrett CEO of Mister Smith Entertainment, says, “Either those will be put on hold, and people will miss their summer window to shoot, or they go through and shoot with the poorer-quality script.” 

With this in mind, projects currently in production, with deal terms in place, have become hot items. A finished film? Even better. Still, not even these are strike immune. Aziz Ansari’s Lionsgate feature Good Fortune, which co-stars Seth Rogen and Keanu Reeves and is up for sale in the market, had filming halted this week due to protesters.   

International productions aren’t feeling as much heat. “We adapt Brazilian projects for Asia, South American films for Europe, whatever, all non-WGA scripts, so we aren’t being impacted at all,” says Meg Thomson, executive vp of worldwide content at Globalgate Entertainment, whose upcoming projects include the rom-com Night and Day, an adaptation of a Virginia Woolf novel set to star Haley Bennett and German actor Elyas M’Barek. 

But even if international productions are able to film, there is a question of whether or not they will stand with the striking guilds. Says Brown: “This time around, there is also a much greater degree of solidarity, both between the guilds and internationally, with writers’ guilds in the U.K., Australia and Canada all expressing their support for the WGA.” 

Of course, all of this anxiety comes in the middle of a difficult macroeconomic climate that sees domestic studios and streamers implementing austerity measures, with waves of layoffs and Wall Street analysts demanding a pivot away from the streaming strategies that once bolstered stock valuations. There has been one phrase commonly thrown around since the top of the year about domestic studios’ buying ability. Echoes a top sales agent: “Crying poor.” 

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