Image: Jean Hodges
Ric Francis  /  AP
“If there is a trickle-down, I am at the absolute bottom of the list,” sats Jean Hodges, a food stylist who cooks burgers, turkey dinners and other prop food for TV shows.
updated 11/9/2007 2:46:40 PM ET 2007-11-09T19:46:40

They’re not on screen or on strike, but somewhere way behind the scenes in Hollywood, legions of workers are off the job as writers strike against studios.

A growing number of caterers, hairdressers, set builders, crew members and people who rent everything from trucks to portable dressing rooms have been idled in this industry town, as filming shuts down and studios yank funding from production companies.

With no deal is sight, the toll will only mount.

Already, at least seven sitcoms, including “The Office,” have stopped production along with other popular shows such as “Desperate Housewives” and “24.”

More shows are expected to be forced into hiatus sooner than expected as their creators and producer-writers close ranks with strikers and withhold their services.

About 75 writer-producers, known as “show runners,” marched Wednesday, pledging they would withhold their editing and administrative services in hopes of shutting down their own shows.

In response to the strike, studios have started canceling development deals with writers who have set up shop on studio lots but have yet to produce scripts for new shows.

The end of those deals would put hundreds more writers, assistants and other support personnel out of work.

“If there is a trickle-down, I am at the absolute bottom of the list,” said Jean Hodges, a food stylist who cooks burgers, turkey dinners and other prop food for use on sets of such TV shows as NBC’s “Chuck” and ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters.”

Video: Scoop: Hollywood on hold

Like many “below the line” workers who make far less than writers, actors and directors, Hodges sympathizes with the push by writers for a bigger cut of money from DVD sales and shows offered on the Internet.'

But she is also worried about the potentially devastating effect on her livelihood.

“We’ll be lucky if we get a second-half of the season on many of the shows I work on unless they settle pretty quick,” she said.

Like many of the lighting directors, prop masters and other support staff attached to network shows, Hodges will be looking for work outside the entertainment industry and may not be available to return to TV work, even when production resumes.

She said it took two years for her business to fully recover from a slowdown in 2001 that came after studios rushed to complete projects ahead of a threatened walkout by writers and actors that never happened.

With the writers strike still in its first week, economists said it’s impossible to fully calculate the financial effects. The last writers walkout in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry $500 million.

The entertainment industry contributes an estimated $30 billion a year to the Los Angeles economy, or about $80 million a day.

As work slows and people lose income, the effects will spread to non-entertainment companies as people stop eating out at restaurants or take other steps to save money.

A study commissioned in 2001 by then-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan concluded that a possible walkout of several months by writers would put 130,000 people out of work. Nearly one-third of those jobs would never return, the study concluded.

Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, has said he expects a lengthy standoff in the current walkout.

That could push the impact beyond Los Angeles and New York, since the film and TV industry has become a significant part of many state economies across the nation.

States such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New Mexico have seen tremendous growth by offering producers substantial tax breaks for filming.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a presidential candidate, issued a statement in support of writers but also noted that his state has a stake in seeing a quick resolution of the strike.

Despite the intense pressure on studios and producers, major companies that own the networks and studios have said they were willing and able to survive a walkout lasting several months.

“As for how it will impact us, my guess is that during fiscal 2008, a strike is probably a positive for the company,” News Corp. president Peter Chernin said Wednesday during an earnings call. “We save more money in term deals and, you know, story costs and probably the lack of making pilots than we lose in potential advertising.”

That’s bad news for Michael Marr, owner of Hollywood Honeywagon, which provides dressing room trailers and other transportation for TV and film companies.

“It’s going to hurt me,” Marr said. “My wife is a costume designer who works on a scripted show, and she was going to be employed through April. She was handling the house payments. Now I’ve got to take over the payments in a couple of weeks.”

Like many support workers, Marr is torn about the goals of the writers strike.

“Is shutting down the business the way to make people want to give you more money?” he asked.

That skepticism is echoed by Patrick Graham, publisher of “Below the Line,” a Web site and magazine devoted to the lowest-paid Hollywood workers.

He said film editors, camera operators, production designers and other who don’t receive the residuals paid to writers and actors will not be happy about a long strike.

Graham singled out “show runners,” a small corps of powerful producer-writers who shape the creative direction of shows and answer to networks.

“The question is why 75 show runners, each of whom is making six figures, feel an entitlement to residuals,” Graham said. “We’re struggling with that.”

Marc Cherry, executive producer and creator of “Desperate Housewives,” said he was paying a couple of his assistants out of his own pocket since they’re not on ABC’s payroll anymore.

“We’ll take care of our own,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.93%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.20%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.58%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.42%
13.40%
Cash Back Cards 17.92%
17.91%
Rewards Cards 17.13%
17.11%
Source: Bankrate.com