A Strike Without Movie Stars
Why are A-listers like George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Brad Pitt avoiding the picket lines?
Greetings: Hollywoodland has not been on strike but on hiatus. And here we are, back to the grind while the writers are still out. Attempting to read the tea leaves at this point defeats us, but a question has come to mind: Where is Hollywood's A-list movie talent?
The writers have flooded the Internet with videos at Web sites from YouTube to United Hollywood to LateShowWritersOnStrike.com, and those videos are helping them win the public-relations war. Many actors have appeared in the videos, including Holly Hunter, Sandra Oh, a gaggle of Desperate Housewives, Ed Asner, and Josh Brolin. That's a lot of television stars—feeling the pain because their shows are shut down.
But where are the movie stars? OK, you get Harvey Keitel, William H. Macy (married to a television star), and inevitably Susan Sarandon, but what about Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Johnny Depp, who have had movies canceled because of the strike? Where's the one you'd most expect to see, George Clooney, who happens to be a Writers Guild member?
Clooney hasn't been entirely invisible, in that, if you read the trades closely, you might know he gave $25,000 to the Actors Fund in a donation earmarked to help those affected by the strike. And he said he is encouraging others to donate, too. But that's as far as it's gone. A powerful producer observes that the top movie talent is "not touching [the strike] with a 10-foot pole."
Why? "They don't want things to change," says a former studio president. "They have the greatest deal in town. Why hurt the golden goose?" Movies haven't been hit as hard as television shows, he adds, so the movie stars are not really feeling it yet.
An agent who represents A-list talent agrees. "Most movie stars aren't affected by any of this," he says. "And for them, it's like, 'No matter what you get [out of the fight], it doesn't really benefit me.' " This agent paused to admire the adroitness of the Clooney contribution—showing he cares without actually putting himself out front and center. "That was smart," he says.
Despite this display of cynicism, the agent doesn't think the absence of the big stars matters much. "I don't think movie stars' picketing for any cause is effective," he says. "I even think they hurt political candidates." (link)
Nov. 9, 2007
Here's the story: The writers seem to be keeping up their momentum, and talent from Jason Alexander to Ray Romano to Holly Hunter to Patricia Heaton is turning out to support them. The question is: How stiff is their resolve?
Show runners—those rich writer-producers—caught the studios off guard by refusing to cross lines. At first the studios assumed the writers would work without a contract. Then they assumed they'd performing nonwriting duties on their shows during a strike. Wrong on both counts.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of George Clooney by Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images. Photograph of striking writers outside Warner Bros. by David McNew/Getty Images.