It's been more than three months since the Writers Guild of America went on strike, wreaking havoc on prime-time TV schedules. While the strike's toll on film production has been less visible, a number of literary agents said the labor dispute has complicated the selling of movie rightsin Hollywood.
“What I'm seeing is that deals are being held up and a lot of people are waiting for the strike to end,” said Trident Media's Robert Gottlieb. Because projects are unable to be shuttled into production—screenwriters cannot be hired to adapt the works—there is hesitation from agents and producers, Gottlieb explained. “How long do you want an author's book being taken off the market? Extending the length of time [a book is under option] may create worse odds for [getting a film made].”
While most options have “force majeure” clauses, which allow the rightsholder to extend the period of the option at no cost in the case of unforeseen events, this safety net is tenuous, at best. Jessica Regel, of Jean V. Naggar Agency, said that despite such clauses the strike is taking its toll on both new and old deals. Regel explained that because force majeure clauses rarely go into effect immediately, options are always affected by the strike.
Though Gottlieb said that business has certainly not ceased—he noted that one of Trident's subagents just closed a deal for the novel The Kind One—execs in Hollywood saw the strike coming and prepared. “We're not seeing a lot of [deals like this] because most of the product available before the strike has been put into production. Now we're seeing a slowdown in the execution of contracts.”
Richard Pine at Inkwell said that the strike has “seriously disrupted the normal flow of business.” There is, Pine explained, a lot of window shopping. “Studio execs have lots of time for reading, but little appetite for buying.”
Even agents who said the strike isn't affecting them dramatically, like Taryn Fagerness at the Dijkstra Agency, have seen the holdout worm its way into business proceedings. Fagerness said a studio recently offered her agency a low-ball figure on a title, citing the strike as the reason for the paltry sum.
Although Richard Curtis, president of Richard Curtis and Associates, thinks the strike has been a slight boon for business—“producers are stockpiling projects and are under pressure to continue building an inventory”—others see the time line differently. Regel, like Gottlieb, believes the stockpiling Curtis refers to happened before the strike, leaving many producers with smaller budgets.
The other complication is what becomes of projects that were under option when the strike began. While many will undoubtedly move forward, others, said Regel, are being negatively affected. The strike is giving the studios “an excuse to clean out projects,” she said. With money tight and studios bracing for losses that won't hit the books until next year, when current production delays show up, the strike has allowed studios to defer extending options on projects, especially on midlist titles, according to Regal.
Agents are also unsure how quickly business will pick up after the picket lines disperse. As Gottlieb noted, there will be a glut of “product” available and “it will be a long time before that product has a chance to go through the system.” Regel thinks there will be a rush, but “people will be grabbing for the same projects.”