It's Slow Business Around Show Business

Hollywood Economy Feels Ripples from Writers Strike

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"Six inches," goes a saying popular with veteran Broadway producers. "Always remember that span; it's the distance from the limo to the gutter."
Even limo drivers are feeling the writers' pain.
Even limo drivers are feeling the writers' pain.

With a stagehands strike darkening the Great White Way and a Writers Guild of America strike rapidly shutting down production of TV shows on both coasts, that shop-worn maxim is getting new traction -- especially among ancillary businesses such as jewelers, spas, restaurants, event planners and, yes, even limousine companies -- that hinge on show business. In Los Angeles especially, such companies are feeling the effects of the labor squabble -- some to the good, others to the bad.

Striking deals
Keenly aware of the deadly effect force majeure clauses have on expense accounts, popular industry restaurants and bars are already taking strike-related marketing measures: For example, at the popular lunch spot Campanile, executive chef Mark Peel this week rolls out his "Writers Soup Kitchen" menu. Any card-carrying member of the WGA can obtain a three-course meal at a subsidized price: roasted tomato bisque, followed by a grilled albacore steak, long-cooked greens with leek fondue, capped off with two scoops of handmade ice-cream with biscotti. Total cost: $18. (Vegetarian scribes, fear not: There's also polenta sautéed in sheep's milk served with brown butter and sage-glazed cauliflower, then the ice cream, also $18.)

Campanile's director-catering, Caroline Allaine, says the response has been very good, and that the restaurant expected to be full as a result of it, although "many of the clients we usually work with in catering have been laid off [from their studio jobs]."

No one knows this better than film and TV producer Gavin Polone, who in addition to producing shows such as HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is opening his restaurant, The Waffle, on the Sunset Strip late this December. Reached on the set of his new film (the aptly titled "Ghost Town" starring Ricky Gervais) in New York, Mr. Polone admitted the timing of the strike was rotten and that its impact on his new venture would be inescapable. "But we've spent a lot of money on the place already," he said, adding, "When you're eight months pregnant, what're you gonna do?"

Other businesses, such as jewelers and stylists, are feeling the effects of the work stoppage more immediately. At the Beverly Hills rare-jewels purveyor Martin Katz, which supplies hugely expensive baubles and trinkets not only to starlets but to Hollywood's elite producers, executives and agents, the strain has been noticeable among a certain class of customer: the aspirant show-biz executive.

"Yesterday, I ran into a young agent in the street who told me, 'If we settle this strike, I'll be in to buy those diamond earrings for my wife,'" said Mr. Katz, adding, "We have our suspicions that there'll be fallout among a certain class of people. It's always the younger, junior exec that gets hurt earliest."

For Mr. Katz, the effect of a strike is far more about marketing and advertising than about sales: "Hollywood accounts for 60% to 70% of our press," he says, "But only about 10% of our sales. Still, who wants to lose 10% of their business?"

Silver-plated lining
Other industry-adjacent endeavors whose fates have become entwined with Hollywood's have, ironically enough, actually experienced an uptick in sales, as people with more money than time find themselves finally free to spend a bit more of both: At the Four Seasons hotel on Maui at Wailea, bookings are actually up, according to Mark Simon, director-marketing, who says that overworked and strike-frazzled Hollywooders are at last going on holiday.

So, too, at the exclusive French West Indies retreats such as Eden Rock (booked solid from Dec. 21 through Jan. 9th) and at the Guanahani Hotel; both enclaves on St. Barthelemy are nearly full for the holidays.

Other Hollywood-dependent businesses are enjoying a bizarre, if potentially short-lived, strike-effect: At Eco-Limo, a livery company that specializes in renting hybrids with tinted windows and leather interiors to Hollywood's green-conscious artists and writers, there's been little impact on rentals, despite 40% of its business coming from networks and studios. Indeed, Eco Limo manager James Cluster said it recently saw one prominent TV writer rent several hybrids to ferry picketers from studio to studio.

On-screen talent
Of far greater concern, said limo execs, is what might happen if scheduled talks with Hollywood's actors implode over the same issues that plagued the those of writers. With the Screen Actors Guild's contract expiring in June, that's cause for real concern, said Craig Friedemann, special-projects director for bicoastal limousine company Music Express. Said Mr. Friedemann, "If there's nobody to film, there's nobody to move."
Sarah Silverman (l.) and Kathy Griffin on the picket line.
Sarah Silverman (l.) and Kathy Griffin on the picket line. Credit: Robyn Beck

Last week, comediennes Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin were hoisting barbed, if amusing signs on picket lines with bawdy exhortations, like a sign that read "You'll be a rich dick either way -- why not be fair?"

It would appear that Ms. Silverman's charges carry some weight: Mr. Katz, the jeweler, noted that on the same day the young agent delayed the purchase of his wife's diamond earrings, the head of a film studio came into buy his spouse a necklace for her birthday.

"It was a nice piece," he said.

How nice?

"$125,000 nice," said Mr. Katz.
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