The screenwriters and actors who are the lifeblood of this industry town may all be out of work by summer if they cannot agree on new contracts with the producers they work for.
Movie companies are cranking out films to show during an anticipated strike, while the stars are making as many movies as they can to put money in the bank. A strike might cost Los Angeles alone $250 million a week in lost wages and sales.
"I think the number of projects that are going to be going on are the most I've ever seen in my 15, 20 years of making movies," says Ted Kurdyla, executive producer of the upcoming movie Phone Booth.
The writers' union, the Writers Guild of America, is set to strike May 2, when its current contract with film studios and television networks expires. The Screen Actors Guild contract expires June 30.
Strikes by the writers and actors would put everyone out of work — from Ben Affleck to Julia Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the cameramen, caterers and costume designers.
Writers, Actors Seek Greater Share
The writers are demanding a bigger piece of the $31 billion a year generated by their work.
"The reuse of what we write for American TV around the world is astonishing in terms of the revenue it generates," says Tim O'Donnell, a sitcom writer.
The workaday actors say they too want more of the profits made when their work is sold on a video disc or shown in a foreign country.
"The perception out there is 'What are these rich people asking for, for gosh sakes?' and we have to fight against that perception. We have to tell them these people are having trouble paying their rent," says SAG President William Daniels.
This is also a clash of egos. The writers, who feel they are not valued, want to get rid of the "A film by ..." credit, which they regard as a vanity credit used by producers and directors to suggest they did all the work.
The film industry could take a strike without too much damage, but a 1988 strike started a slide in viewership for the television networks. Another strike could bring further erosion of the networks' audience, although some analysts say the business picture is a little different today.
"So much of networks' schedules these days are reality shows and game shows and news programs that the impact on the networks would be much less than it was in 1988," says entertainment industry analyst Dave Davis.
Come next fall, the reality could be a lot of reruns on television, and movies they're now making in a hurry.