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Consequences of Hollywood dysfunction become clear amid strikes

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When are the writers’ and actors’ strikes going to end?

That’s the question on the minds of everyone in the entertainment industry as — after a fleeting but futile moment of hope — the summer of labor unrest looks likely to stretch well into the fall and possibly the holiday season, disrupting studios’ movie schedules and awards season plans.

The consequences of Hollywood’s dysfunction are becoming clearer by the day.

Last week, Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment announced their decision to delay the release of “Dune: Part Two” until March 15, abandoning its original date of Nov. 3. It’s the latest major motion picture to flee the 2023 calendar as the SAG-AFTRA strike keeps actors off the promotional campaign trails.

Pundits will question the necessity of such a move, with “Dune” already established as a known franchise.

But while Denis Villeneuve’s big-budget sci-fi epic isn’t as dependent on cast junkets as other movies might be, having Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet doing press interviews and walking the red carpet would be nice, especially if the studios want the film to hit with younger demos.

Nonetheless, it’s a blow for the theatrical movie industry, especially coming after this summer’s box office surge (hi, “Barbenheimer”).

The setback was widely predicted after a handful of major films vacated the fall and winter schedules.

Sony pushed its Marvel antihero picture “Kraven the Hunter” to next August and is holding its upcoming “Ghostbusters” sequel until March. Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” from MGM/Amazon, now won’t hit theaters until April. Ethan Coen’s “Drive-Away Dolls” (for Focus Features) now is scheduled for February.

No one is happy about the industry’s rancor resulting in the long COVID of strikes. Studios know they need to release movies and promote them.

But the public battle between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, plus the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ members jockeying behind the scenes, gives little confidence that this will be over anytime soon.

The decision by the AMPTP to release the details of its counteroffer to the press appears to have backfired, as my colleagues Meg James and Wendy Lee reported last week.

The studio heads clearly thought they could move discussions in their favor by playing on simmering frustrations among the guild’s membership. Studio sources have said the chief executives released the details in the hopes that writers would gradually look at the proposals and see that the companies have given some ground.

Those tactics may have worked in 2007-08, the last time there was a screenwriters’ strike, but are less effective in today’s climate of stronger union solidarity and public support, especially when pro-union sentiments are so easily amplified — and less pro-labor stances demolished — on social media.

The WGA has said that the studio’s proposals don’t fully address its concerns about the ways in which streaming has upended the business.

The diverging priorities and strategies of the studio chiefs have made themselves apparent. When it looked like the sides were making progress, there was an inverted “I am Spartacus” moment among multiple executives trying to get their due in the press.

No wonder the AMPTP decided to bring in a crisis PR firm to help wrangle its messaging strategy.

Trying to guess when the WGA and the AMPTP will hammer out their deal is an exercise in silly speculation.

The optimistic view is that the sides will get serious about dealmaking after Labor Day, leading to a possible October armistice. Or the studios may throw their hands up and turn their attention to SAG-AFTRA, though such a move would probably be counterproductive. One distressing theory suggests that failure to reach a pact by the middle of next month will further prolong the work stoppages, because the media companies will have essentially given up on their financial fourth quarters.

The growing consensus is that the studio alliance ultimately will have to make significant concessions to get back to work, because the WGA is so unified and energized by the backing of SAG-AFTRA and other labor groups. Until there’s compromise, there will be more delays and damage.

Stuff we wrote

Six months before the Lizzo lawsuit, 14 dancers who appeared in HBO doc settled a dispute over payments. Dancers who performed with Lizzo during the 2019 VMAs settled a payment dispute after they discovered behind-the-scenes footage of them was used without their permission in an HBO Max documentary.

New CNN channel to stream live on Max in an effort to reach cord cutters. Warner Bros. Discovery is adding CNN Max to its Max service at no additional cost starting Sept. 27.

Why ‘Suits,’ ‘Ugly Betty’ and other comfort food shows are having a moment on streaming. Amid a dearth of fresh content during the Hollywood strikes and summer TV doldrums, consumers are rediscovering older series and movies to keep themselves entertained.

Numbers of the week

twelve point eight million

Despite former President Trump not being onstage in Milwaukee, Fox News’ telecast of the first GOP primary debate of the 2024 presidential election season drew 12.8 million viewers. That’s not nearly what the Trump-fueled Republican debates generated in 2015, but it’s better than analysts expected.

seven hundred and sixty-seven thousand dollars

Recent allegations from retired NFL star Michael Oher, whose story formed the basis for the hit film “The Blind Side,” have revived criticisms of the 2009 drama and, more broadly, movies and books that employ “white savior” tropes.

Oher, in a petition, says the wealthy Tuohy family never adopted him but instead were his conservators, and that they profited massively from what was essentially a lie.

But the producers of the film — Alcon Entertainment founders Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove — released a lengthy statement last week defending the film against not only the cultural critiques but also the notion that the Tuohys made millions from the film.

Alcon said it has paid the family and Oher’s talent agency about $767,000. No telling, though, how much money went where after the talent reps took their cut.

seventeen point four million dollars

Who won the weekend at the box office? Sony Pictures says its release “Gran Turismo” took the crown with an estimated $17.4 million in ticket sales, topping Warner Bros.’ juggernaut “Barbie,” which earned $15.1 million Friday through Sunday. However, about $3.9 million of “Gran Turismo’s” total came from preview screenings during the weeks leading up to the release.

Best of the web

Hollywood’s antihero? David Zaslav gets the New Yorker write-around treatment.

— Defector has a good essay on how the strikes are forcing a reckoning for the entertainment industry trade press.

— New York Times profiles AMPTP’s press-averse chief negotiator Carol Lombardi. She declined to participate, but her parody X account makes a cameo.

Finally …

I tried to avoid the heated discourse surrounding Oliver Anthony’s populist hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” but alas… Writer Sam Adams at Slate wrote an interesting piece on folk rock musician Billy Bragg and the song he wrote in response to the somewhat confusing politics of Anthony’s viral sensation. It’s worth a read. Both songs are worth hearing.

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