Will the Stars Align When the Strike Ends and Publicity Starts?

It’s been nearly four months since SAG-AFTRA went on strike, putting film and television projects on hold and actors on the picket line. With an end seeming closer than ever before, actors will be scrambling to get in front of a camera to finish shooting movies — and to prioritize publicity obligations for projects finished before the strike started. “Make no mistake, it’s going to be kind of a mess,” a top agent preparing to deal with this minefield told TheWrap.

With the box office sagging, particularly on big budget projects, studios need their stars to start championing films just as much as they need actual content. But what takes top priority: publicity or production?

Several people in the film industry, who spoke to TheWrap on background, said studios and publicists would have to get creative with balancing publicity obligations with shooting once the strike ends. “There’s going to be all kinds of creative negotiation,” one high-level distribution insider said.

“Everyone is going to play ball,” a top manager said, highlighting that every studio will be in the same boat on this issue. “It doesn’t benefit either party to not fulfill those obligations.”

The publicity versus promotion issues will come down to who has first right of return in their contracts. “Whoever is in first position will obviously get priority and the other projects will just have to wait,” the manager said. And there isn’t much wiggle room there, said one executive whose studio does have first right of return in their talents contracts. If talent has a previous contract for something like a TV show that was already shut down, like when the WGA strike started, then a studio would be willing to negotiate, he explained.

“But as far as going and doing any other movie or project, they have a contractual obligation to come back to us and complete their work before they go do anything else,” the manager said.

Is it as simple as just deferring to a contract? Not necessarily. The bigger question is how will the projects who were next in line, or reps who booked out the calendar year based on start dates figure in. “Does the whole thing pick up where it left off? Unlikely,” said the manager.

One prominent studio told TheWrap they only had two to three weeks left of shooting most of their 2024 slate and they aren’t too concerned about having to push back any additional release dates. But the desire is to get cameras rolling by the end of the year at the absolute latest.

Studios have pushed projects back already to accommodate stars needing to film but recently movies like Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders,” which has already screened in several different locations — including last week at AFI Fest in Los Angeles — moved its release date to sometime next year. As the distribution exec explained, moving the release date makes sense to ensure sure it have a lengthy publicity window. “The more specialized films, the adult oriented stuff where you can’t just do a media buy to make up for a lack of talent appearances will definitely be moved around,” the exec said.

A Crafty Negotiation

Just what type of creative collaborations can studios do to make sure everyone comes out of post-strike Hollywood happy? It could be as simple as offering to cover a day of production for a competitor, something that was routinely done before the strike. For example, as the distribution exec said, Lionsgate could pay for a day of production on Disney’s upcoming “Snow White” remake to make sure leading lady Rachel Zegler is available to promote “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (or that was until SAG-AFTRA gave “Hunger Games” an interim agreement to promote).

It all depends on how important the actor is to both productions. Because the costs rack up quickly it would only be an option for A-list or leading performers. “Usually they’re only asking you to shut down for a day most likely…but it does get expensive quickly,” said the studio executive, who doesn’t see that as being common in this situation. In most instances, studios will have to figure out how much time they need with the talent and, if they aren’t needed on the daily, they can schedule publicity on days they aren’t in front of a camera. “Everybody’s going to be very as much accommodating as they can without impacting themselves,” he said.

Another option, said the distribution executive, could see studios offer up certain projects to a competitor to allow an actor to promote, and vice versa. “It might be, ‘hey, you have that project I wanted in turnaround. Can you give that to me without the turnaround costs?'”

Stars in the Deep End

So how quickly can stars get back to work? According to the studio executive, much like when the WGA strike was resolved, as soon as the national board votes on the agreement stars can return to set, which shouldn’t take more than a day after an agreement is formalized. From there, stars can go to not only finish filming and promote, but close out other things like ADR.

According to the distribution executive, the priority will be on fast breaking publicity as opposed to long-lead stuff. That means gigs like talk shows, morning shows and late night will see the immediate return of celebrity faces as opposed to magazine and website interviews that often need to preview content and are scheduled months out.

Make no mistake, it’s going to be kind of a mess.

a top agent

And actors will be able to be choosy with their publicity requirements, if they’re famous enough. “If you have a quote unquote ‘A-lister’ they’re gonna have a little more latitude to say ‘I’m not turning on a dime. I’ll turn around in five days,'” said the distribution executive. “Some of the secondary players [who] are looking to get their next gig, they’ll be ready to go. Studios will slap them in, maybe not for marquee PR opportunities, but secondary stuff that supports the ongoing campaign.”

But make no mistake, actors are on the hook here and just like a star’s status can determine how much time they take to get back in the game, it can also affect them if they can’t make their schedule align with production and publicity. “Some actors may lose projects just based on the new schedule alone,” said the manager. The agent seconded this, pointing out especially that some actors could just be recast. “If there’s a conflict with a supporting actor on a film that barely starts or didn’t quite get started, they’re going to be recast,” he said.

Some Projects Won’t Be Promoted

“Promoting past struck movies will be the tricky part,” said the top manager. “You want projects to work and be successful [and] actors can catapult [them] back into the spotlight after having been forced to be sidelined.” But with Hollywood seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, most who spoke to TheWrap said there’s little time to dwell on the past, movies that is.

According to the studio executive, you could see past promotional opportunities for films that have international dates, are up for Oscar consideration, or have DVD and PVOD releases, but that’s the extent of it.

“Everyone’s going to look forward only because they’re going to be so busy,” said the distribution exec. That means anything that has already come out will just have to be content with the promotion they have. “That idea of anything holdover, most people are going to be like, ‘We missed the window on those.'”

Umberto Gonzalez contributed to this article.

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