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STRIKE—Valley Businesses Prepare For Hollywood Shutdown

North Hollywood caterer Ignacio Trujillo is busy, working as many 14- to 16-hour days as he can get on movie and television sets, serving meals to all the casts and crews he can find. Trujillo works so hard because he fears those long days might come to an end, should a writers’ and actors’ strike hit Los Angeles this spring. “If they go on strike for more than three months, we have to look for another job,” said the president of Big Picture Catering. “We might have to sell the business. A lot of small companies cannot afford to stay in business if they strike. If they go on strike, we will be suffering.” Trujillo, with a dozen employees, is one of more than 1,500 small behind-the-scenes business owners in the San Fernando Valley who could be dramatically affected if a walkout by members of the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists takes place. A strike could come as early as May 1, 2001, when the writers’ contract with major companies and networks expires. SAG and AFTRA contracts expire July 1. Massive strike losses Should there be a walkout, the Los Angeles economy could face a loss of $1.8 billion a month, including everything from lost wages to lost production costs to meals that go uneaten in Valley restaurants, said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Lost revenue shortfalls to owners of production sound stages, rental equipment companies, trailers and other necessities associated with the industry could also result. Much if not most of that $1.8 billion monthly burden would fall on the Valley. “It’s going to have a huge impact,” Kyser said. Independent businesses would be “the victims of this. They have no part in their own destiny because it’s between the major studios and the three guilds.” Although the major studios typically dominate entertainment news, roughly 97 percent of all businesses involved in the motion picture and television industry have less than 50 employees, Kyser pointed out. “It’s an industry of small businesses,” he said. And an industry that has been, and continues to be, a major contributor to the economy of the San Fernando Valley. In fact, the LAEDC says there are 1,527 entertainment-related small businesses in the Valley alone. Valley production and distribution companies employ roughly 103,194 people a year with a combined payroll of $6.15 billion, research by the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center shows. Working quickly ahead The threat of a strike has studios and other production companies rushing production to beef up inventory, which is also creating unusual business patterns, Kyser said. “Basically, what (small businesses) have to plan for is a dramatic drop in business around the end of May,” he said, “so they have to build up some financial reserves. They have to see if there’s other ways to generate some sales.” For Trujillo, these months leading up to a possible strike are crucial to building up that reserve. The caterer has been busy working overtime both locally and out of town in hopes his business can stay afloat if there is a dry spell. Should there be a strike, he hopes to cater private parties, weddings and birthdays to pay the bills. Of course, it’s hard to know just how many private parties and catered birthdays there will be among his clientele if a strike goes on very long. “Right now, we’re working every day,” he said. “We’re trying to save some money to get ready for the strike. If (the strike) lasts a few months, a lot of people will get hurt.” Ultimately, the impact on every business associated with the industry could be dramatic, added Cheryl Roden, assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America West Inc. “We know from the 1988 (writers’) strike that the small businesses that serve the industry directly are dramatically affected by any prolonged work stoppage,” Roden said. “It can affect anything from dry cleaners to restaurants that’s because there are so many people in Los Angeles that work in the entertainment industry.” Though small businesses may be impacted especially if the strike goes on for a length of time Roden is hopeful. “We’re confident that we will be able to negotiate a contract without a work stoppage,” she said. Earlier strike just the beginning Scott Spencer of Scott Spencer for Hire, a lighting company, has worked in the entertainment industry for 30 years. Reflecting on the recent commercial actors’ strike, which took six months to resolve and affected a number of businesses associated with the industry, Spencer said it was a foreshadowing of what could come. “The strike that we’ve already been through drove a lot of work away from this town,” said Spencer, whose business is headquartered in the Santa Susana Pass, just on the outskirts of Chatsworth. During the commercial actors’ strike, Spencer said, producers and others he knows in the industry took their work elsewhere, such as South Africa, Argentina, Australia and, of course, Canada. “If we go through another industry-wide strike I see this having an enormous effect on those of us who are trying to make a living in this town,” Spencer said. “It makes me angry because I think we have the best facilities and we are the best (entertainment industry) workers in the world. This is the No. 1 industry in Southern California, and we’re basically giving it to other countries.” On the other hand, there are some who say a strike might be good for their business. Paul Young, a Woodland Hills-based literary and screenplay consultant for more than a decade, is one of them. Over the years, Young has analyzed scripts for hundreds of clients. Those numbers, he said, could very well increase in the midst of a strike. “In general, what most writers do during a strike is write,” Young said. “(A strike) doesn’t alter a writer’s creative capacity.” From a consultant’s point of view, “it will probably increase my business because the traffic in writing screenplays won’t stop,” Young added optimistically. “Everybody has desks full of material,” he said. “Those things don’t stop because you can’t go to work.”

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