Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hollywood Split Over Strike Plans

Hollywood is split over plans for a strike as actors warn it could disrupt the Oscars and reflect badly on them amid the world economic gloom.

For the second year running, a cloud is hanging over the entertainment industry's annual session of self-congratulation.

A list of high-profile stars including Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Martin Sheen, Diane Ladd and Sandra Oh are among a group of SAG members urging a "yes" vote in the strike referendum, the results of which are due by January 23.

Jason Alexander, Danny DeVito, Mike Farrell and Rhea Perlman are among the actors backing a "no" vote.

The guild's leaders need the support of 75 percent of members to call a strike. They say a "yes" result would not automatically trigger a walk-out but rather give SAG vital extra muscle in its negotiations with Hollywood studios, who have refused to budge on a "final" offer made in June.

Many members believe the timing of the vote and its potential impact on the Oscars is key, given how the WGA managed to secure a new contract after threatening Hollywood's biggest night last year.

But whether the sharply-divided SAG can muster the support for a strike remains unclear. The New York division of the guild last week described the strike vote as "irresponsible" and urged SAG leaders to scrap the referendum and get the studios back to the table. Alan Rosenberg, SAG president, said the request was "extraordinarily destructive and subversive".

Issues central to the dispute include royalties paid to actors for work that is distributed over the internet.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major Hollywood studios, describes SAG's position as "astounding" and claims the guild's demands are excessive given both the terms of deals the alliance has reached with other industry unions and the economic climate.

What a strike could mean for Hollywood is unclear. Film production wound down after the expiration of the actors' old contract in June and jitteriness abounds.

"A lot of films are falling apart," actor Colin Farrell, who received a Golden Globe nomination for the comedy In Bruges last week, told the Los Angeles Times.

"Climate-wise, it's a worrying time for the industry. I don't know that a strike at this time wouldn't be a counterproductive thing."

If a strike leads A-list stars to boycott the Oscars on February 22, the Academy's hopes of reviving the ceremony, which last year mustered its lowest television ratings, would appear dashed. Its new host, Australian actor Hugh Jackman, could even stay away.

Organisers say planning continues as usual although they are monitoring developments. The same is true of those throwing Oscar parties, including the glitzy Vanity Fair bash, which was cancelled last year and will this year be scaled down with recycled d├ęcor and a more "intimate" feel than in the past.

Earlier this year, a 100-day stoppage by the Writers Guild of America decimated television production, cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated 3 billion dollars, reduced the Golden Globes to a press conference and came close to scuppering the Oscars.

This time, although the Golden Globes are likely to be spared, the Academy Awards could be hit thanks to the timing of a strike authorisation vote next month by the 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild.

The prospect of a walk-out at a time of US and global economic crisis has sharply divided Hollywood's biggest names, prompting impassioned rhetoric and dire warnings.

"A strike, if one occurred, would be nothing short of horrible," Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director of A Beautiful Mind whose latest film, Frost/Nixon, is considered a strong Oscar contender, told Reuters. "The timing couldn't be worse."

"It's really important that we come up with a solution," said actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who last week received a Golden Globe nomination for Revolutionary Road. "These are unheard-of times, and no one can predict what is going to happen".

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