The union contract for movie actors is set to expire on June 30, but no resolution has been reached with movie producers.
When the recent three-month writers’ strike shut down most TV productions in Hollywood, Massachusetts’ fast-growing film industry saw virtually no negative impact.
But this state’s movie industry won’t be as fortunate if the Screen Actors Guild goes out on strike after its contract with a consortium of TV and film studios expires on June 30.
While industry insiders still hope that an agreement can be reached, film crews have been racing to finish their principal photography before the end of this month, said Nick Paleologos, the executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office.
“Everybody is acting as if something is going to happen,” Paleologos said. “Everybody is hustling to get things done.”
Of the seven major motion pictures that have been started this year in Massachusetts, five have been completed. Paleologos said the two that still are being shot are “The Surrogates,” a sci-fi flick starring Bruce Willis, and “Ashecliffe,” a Martin Scorsese-helmed movie based on the Dennis Lehane novel “Shutter Island.”
Paleologos said film companies are delaying decisions about when and where to begin shooting their next movies until the SAG contract is resolved. He said no movies are confirmed to begin shooting in the state in July, even though movie making has reached an unprecedented level here since the state sweetened a set of tax incentives for the industry last summer.
“I think what’s happening is that the studios are not making commitments to start shooting anything ... until this is resolved,” said Chris O’Donnell, business manager of the IATSE Local 481 union that represents film workers in this region.
Massachusetts quickly moved into a list of the most desirable states to shoot a movie after this state’s tax incentives first took effect in January 2006. They provided a 25 percent production tax credit for film work done in the state, among other benefits. The changes that the Legislature made last year removed a cap on tax credits for payroll expenses and made it easier for out-of-state production companies to be reimbursed for the credits.
O’Donnell said he has been warning his union’s members for the past year to prepare for a possible strike this summer.
“I think they are anxious about it,” O’Donnell said. “The prospect of losing work is difficult for anybody.”
The TV industry is still recovering from the longer-than-expected writers’ strike that ended in February. A Milken Institute report last week estimated that the writers’ strike and its ripple effects caused more than $2 billion in economic damage in California.
The severe impact of the writers’ strike is one reason why Jodi Purdy-Quinlan, a casting director and talent scout from Weymouth, remains optimistic that a SAG strike can be avoided.
“With the economy the way it is right now, nobody is looking to play high-stakes poker,” Purdy-Quinlan said. “I don’t think the producers want to go through what they went through with the writers’ strike. ... It had such a negative impact that I don’t think anybody wants to see that again.”
Purdy-Quinlan also said the issues that were resolved with the writers – such as compensation for shows that are broadcast on the Internet – are similar to those faced by the movie actors.
If an actors’ strike does take place, Paleologos said he sees one silver lining for local movie crew workers.
“In the case of some of them who are working nonstop for two years, they’re looking forward to a couple weeks off this summer,” Paleologos said. “The general feeling here is the break will be a welcome respite for most of the crews. I think they’re expecting to be right back at it in August.”
Jon Chesto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.