Strike Two

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After a bump in February rivaling November's post-strike level of commercials production, the Creativity Production Index dipped in March while still outpacing the six-month average. Meanwhile, as the effects of last year's SAG strike linger - compounded by a sagging economy - strikes by screenwriters and actors threaten to tighten an already tight market, both by cutting demand and bolstering supply. On the one hand, if strikes halt new television production, producers worry, in the words of one Los Angeleno, that advertisers may not be "motivated to spend money on spots that will be shown during reruns because they suspect people won't be watching." On the other hand, idle production houses and directors could seek out additional spot work, boosting the number of mouths chasing a smaller pie. As one New York-based director observes, "We've got too much supply and a quarter of the demand there was two years ago. I think these things have a way of fooling you and coming back stronger than ever, but I think a lot of people are scared."

While many are looking for the bounce, when it will come is uncertain, making for a tentative atmosphere. "Prospects for the future are really clouded," says one New York producer. "People don't know what's going to come back to shooting in the States, and agencies have gotten used to reusing spots a lot more and green-lighting fewer spots. There's a lot of uncertainty about when clients are going to be green-lighting big spots and how many." On a more upbeat note, Richard Winkler, executive producer at New York's Curious Pictures, says, "Boardflow has been reasonably steady since about mid-February, and the quantity of storyboards has been about average for this time of year. Not robust, but decent. But for some reason, the quality ratio is high. Not to look a gift board in the fax, but maybe the overall macro-economic climate is causing better concepts to survive."

Over on the West Coast, the Los Angeles film office reports that commercials production days were way up year-to-year in January but down by over 10 percent in both February and March. Various producers we talked to estimate L.A. boardflow to be down between 15 to 50 percent year-to-year. Gary Ward, executive producer at Crash Films, says business heated up in mid-November after the strike, and carried through March, but is cooling. "We usually slow down around this time," he says. Rebecca Jasmine, executive producer at Swietlik Editorial, spots a similar Tinsel Town trend. "The boardflow I had last summer was really, really strong, but by this March it was really slowing down," she says.

Directors on both coasts, in the meantime, report being regularly mugged for reality TV pitches that might help the networks ride out a work stoppage.

On the bright side, early 2001 caution could mean a bounce is on the horizon. "I think there's going to be a very busy time sometime this year," says one director. "We still have to make 10,000 commercials this year."

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