Creativity Production Index: Tunnel Vision

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A New York-based executive producer recently summed up the current market in a way statistics never will. "It's gotten so bad," he said, "even the liars have stopped lying about it." In June, the charted its third decline in four months, plunging to an eleven-month low. At least we think it's an eleven-month low; our data doesn't go back any further, so it might be even worse than it seems.

And it seems pretty bad. The shakeouts and consolidations have begun in earnest, among agencies and production companies on both coasts. Dweck in New York and Elvis & Bonaparte in Portland have both closed up shop. L.A.'s Crash Films has made good on its name and Manhattan's Post Perfect and the rest of the New York Media Group has been acquired by Burning Suits (the company, not the social class). In Cannes, reps could be found blushing over their rose. "Ah well. We had a pretty good run," they mumbled, as if it was all but over.

So what lies ahead for the beleaguered biz?

"I don't think it's coming back yet, but I know it will," says EKA's Ellen Knable, an L.A.-based production rep. "Automotive is strong, but it doesn't seem like the normal flow is improving quickly. It just seems like the clients are taking their time approving and producing. They're re-cutting a lot. I think its going to improve in September, approaching the last quarter, when they decide they're going to mix it up." The networks backing off of preseason media prices might help ease the pain, Knable thinks, but it could take some time to trickle down. "If they're going to recut, the agencies will feel better, but production will still be hurting," she says.

Rebecca Jasmine, executive producer at Swietlik Editorial in L.A., says she detects the beginnings of an August production bump as Car Season comes late to Tinsel Town. "Everybody's about a month and a half off," she says of the automotive boards that are beginning to circulate. "I think we got a little scared because it wasn't happening based on the previous timelines that we had, but it is happening now." The flow of small projects is also reportedly up as everyone - networks, agencies, and production companies - slashes prices to keep things moving.

Back east, Richard Winkler, executive producer at Curious Pictures, says he's seeing a slight uptick in projects. "It's up from two weeks ago," he says. "I think it's slow but not dismal. There's some stuff coming from interesting places, small agencies we don't hear from often. I don't want to be too optimistic, but it feels all right for July." Winkler adds that he's planning to come in early and tune up the fax machine the day after Labor Day. "My prediction is that on September 4 all heck is going to break loose," he says. "Everybody's going to be back at work, and there will be a lot of pent-up demand from advertisers."

But what to do in the meantime?

"It could be worse," allows Chelsea Pictures executive producer Steve Wax. "We could all be making training films for the Navy."

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