Hollywood United? Strike's Star Supporters May Turn

Most of the writers currently on strike in Hollywood are no doubt struggling, but walking the picket lines with them are some of the most powerful names in Hollywood.

They include "Knocked Up" director Judd Apatow, "The Simpsons" creator and producer Matt Groening, "Million Dollar Baby" producer Paul Haggis, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld" producer Larry David.

And entertainment legends like Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford and Garry Marshall have expressed their support for the strike by the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America. Writers went on strike after negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down Sunday over the scribes' demand for a bigger share of DVD sales and a piece of Internet sales.

But don't expect the love to last -- the longer the strike continues, the more that Hollywood heavyweights will begin opposing the walkout, say longtime observers of the industry. And some high-profile directors have already criticized the strike and ridiculed actors who support it.

And if the strike lasts for several months, it will have a much more devastating impact on the economy of Los Angeles than the last one, the 22-week walkout in 1988 that cost the industry more than $500 million.

"As time goes by, support for strike will erode," said entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel, who used to work as an associate counsel for the Writers Guild. "A few months from now, people will lose their jobs."

Handel said that Apatow, Groening, Haggis and other "writer-producers" might be loyal for now to the WGA because they started out as writers in their careers and still wear that badge proudly.

Apatow, the powerful comedy king behind "Superbad," "The Forty-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," walked with the strikers outside the Sony lot Tuesday. "I do know that I agree with everything that the Writers Guild is trying to accomplish," he told IGN.com.

Haggis, who reportedly received close to $5 million to write the script for the next James Bond movie, walked the picket line Tuesday and described the deadlock with the studios as "yet another example of corporate greed." (But most writers don't circulate in this altitude. The average WGA member earns about $30,000 a year, according to the guild.)

But these mini-moguls are in a conflicted position because if the writers are paid more, it means less money available in the production budget. "The more there is for you, the less there is for me," said Handel.

In addition, these writer-producers may start to change their minds when shows start to shut down. "Some of these shows employ hundreds of people and only a few of them are writers," said Handel. "The rest are production assistants, catering folks and others. And [writer-producers] will come under pressure because they feel responsible for the employment of people working on their show."

Although strikes have walked the picket lines in both Los Angeles and New York, the impact will be felt the most on the West Coast.

Fallout Could Be Huge in L.A.

Both cities are cultural capitals, but Los Angeles is dominated by the movie business -- more than six in 10 jobs in the city's entertainment sector are in movie and video production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison, New York City is much more diversified. No single sector -- film, publishing, TV -- represents more than a quarter of the jobs in what the bureau calls the "creative arts."

The city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, predicted that the strike could cost the area more than $1 billion. "This could have a deleterious impact on the L.A. economy and on the revenues we desperately need to provide services to people in the city," he said earlier this week.

But some economic officials downplay the significance of the strike, noting that overall, only 3.5 percent of Los Angeles County's work force is employed in industries that might be affected by the strike. "It's not a showstopper," said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Aside from the potential impact on the economy, the strike could strain relations with directors. The Screen Actors Guild quickly expressed its support for the strike and many actors have spoken out, such as Eva Longoria, Meg Ryan, Vanessa Williams and Katherine Heigl.

But the Directors Guild has yet to state a position.

Indeed, some directors have been outright hostile to the walkout. "Smokin' Aces" and "Narc" director Joe Carnahan is one of the most outspoken. On his blog, Carnahan disparaged the strike and those who support it:

"Kids: Only in L.A. would people use a strike as an opportunity to put themselves in front of cameras for the pure PR of it all. There's not a greater whorehouse on the planet than Hollywood. I love watching these various stars of varying stripes traipse out and 'show their support' by delivering baked goods and urging their creative brethren to 'fight the good fight' and 'soldier on.' We need some good old-fashioned chain and bat-wielding strike breakers. Not because I'm anti-union in any way, I just want to see a little melee on the picket lines to keep it interesting. S--, if we're gonna fight this hard and shut the town down, we should all be tasting a little blood at some point."

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner reportedly took time out to blast the guild at a conference Wednesday. "I've seen stupid strikes, I've seen less stupid strikes ... This is a stupid strike," he snapped. Eisner said the writers demand for a cut of the profits from digital media is a pipe dream, since most studios are still losing money on digital. "It's a waste of their time. [The studios] have nothing to give. They don't know what to give."

Of course, there's never been any love lost between the writers and the studios.

One of the original Warner Brothers, Jack Warner, once derided writers as "schmucks with Underwoods," referring to the typewriters they used to craft their screenplays.

Warner used to sneak over to the writers' offices and listen for the sound of typing. Legend has it when he once caught Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Billy Wilder napping on his couch, he barked, "I'm paying you 10 grand a week! Why aren't you writing?" Wilders reply: "I am writing. Later I'll be typing."