|The pall of a potential labor strike in Hollywood descended Tuesday over the NATPE convention with various panelists making reference to the disruption such a work stoppage would create.|
Both producer Dick Wolf and MGM chairman Harry Sloan suggested that such a scenario was just about the worst thing that could happen to the biz.
"I'm worried about the atmosphere," Sloan told attendees at a panel conducted by "Sunday Morning Shootout" hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber.
The Lion topper pointed to the out-of-whack salaries of certain top execs in Hollywood and the strident rhetoric on the part of certain Hollywood chieftains (think Viacom's Sumner Redstone and New Line's Bob Shaye, among others, he said) as making the town "more polarized than ever."
Exacerbating the problem between work-a-day talent and the producing companies is the fact that the little guys feel they got a raw deal during negotiations years ago on DVD revenues. Now they're focused on new media, and they feel that revendues from those ancillaries are pouring in to the studios probably much faster than they actually are.
Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer, who was the other guest on the panel, sounded slightly less anxious about the state of the negotiations, but he did say "a mutuality of interests" needed to be developed.
"Certainly talent deserves to participate in the endgame," Feltheimer said.
Earlier in the day Wolf told another panel that he felt that the possibility of a strike was "a virtual certainty," which would throw a huge monkeywrench into both the TV and the film biz.
Wolf believes that "a perfect storm" is brewing, adding that writers and authors feel that they are being screwed by the studios.
The last Writers Guild strike was 20 years ago, and Wolf declared that because of it a lot of people lost their houses. "Everybody got hurt," he added.
Other sources at NATPE pointed out that such predictions of dire consequences almost always precede negotiations, but they also added that the CEOs of the major companies have apparently yet to sit down to thrash out a battle plan for dealing with the guilds.
In other comments, panelists suggested that it's really the top talent, the A-listers in both TV and film, who are getting too much of the gross and are likely to throw the discussions out of whack.
The Writers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild all have contract renegotiations coming up over the next 18 months, with the writers in first position.
Sloan suggested that there could be a communality of interests between the studios and the working stiffs.
The MGM topper has been vocal about his belief that the Hollywood studios as currently structured do a really bad job at being cost-effective.
"I haven't seen film budgets that can't be made cheaper by 30% by indie producers," he said, suggesting that development and production are hugely bloated parts of the studio system. (Marketing and distribution are the fortes of these congloms.)
MGM and Lionsgate each in its own way rep more streamlined models to emulate, Bart and Guber suggested.
Feltheimer said Lionsgate is managing successfully to keep its film and TV budgets under control. It currently has 13 series on the air.
Asked if the company was, inevitably for a successful indie, up for sale, Feltheimer suggested that it may more likely be that one or another conglom changes hands in the next year or so.
"We'll keep growing the company. We have $300 million in cash and no debt," he said.
As for the Lion now under the control of private equity players, Sloan said their time horizon is longer than one might have thought -- some ten years out.
"It's far enough along down the road that we have time to develop the Lion," including exploiting the MGM library and taking advantage of the explosion of the international market.