“The agencies like Creative Artists, ICM, United Talent Agency and Endeavor—they weren’t hit hard because they represent 75 percent of the biggest actors and actresses in Hollywood,” said Todd Traina, who produced Grace Is Gone as well as four other feature films last year.
He was tucking into some scallops at Pace, a chic Italian restaurant on Laurel Canyon, on Saturday night. “Their big clients are still making so much money per picture that they could sustain the shellacking of their smaller clients being out of work.”
His dining companions, B. J. and Eileen Winslow, own and operate the prop shop Dapper Cadaver on Hollywood Boulevard. Their business had indeed suffered, but they had found other ways to survive—including selling their wares on the Internet.
Mid-level and smaller agencies did not fare so well. Mr. Traina, a close friend with a partner at one, said he had heard that people were really hurting. Taking on work as messengers.
But Mr. Traina said he doubted very much that places like Dan Tanas, Musso & Franks and the Chateau Marmont had been dealt quite as big a blow as conventional wisdom would have it.
“For those that couldn’t afford to go there anymore, now there are just as many who now have the time to go,” he pointed out. And nightspots? “All of the clubs have been off the hook,” said Mr. Traina, a part-owner of Goa on Cahuenga. “Hollywood is hotter than ever. The last several months the mood has been mixed if not totally negative.”
Rebecca Marder co-owns the Hollywood eatery Capo on Ocean Avenue, which counts Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks among its regulars, and the Broadway Deli on Third Street Promenade, a big power-breakfast and lunch spot for the likes of Sean Penn and Brad Grey. “What I saw was this doom and gloom indelibly etched in the psyche of these writers,” Ms. Marder said with faint hostility on the phone. “Almost playing out the victim, like they somehow got thrills telling the story.”
She said that business had been do
wn only about 10 or 15 percent.
“Everyone’s walking on eggshells,” Mr. Traina said, back at Pace, “but there was also something kind of neat and unique about it—writers rallying together, actors rallying to support their friends who were writers, and actors writing on shows that were canceled now had an opportunity to do independent films that they were wanting to do. Certain restaurants were not as packed, but the flip side is diners and the greasy spoons were thriving. There were a lot of actors getting together with producers and saying, ‘Let’s do this project.’”
Of course many of those projects didn’t come to fruition. “I had a client who was selling a TV series. Now that deal has been cancelled; it’s a big loss not only financially but emotionally,” said Jerry Zeitman, legendary agent to Frank Sinatra and mentoree of the late Hollywood kingpin Lew Wasserman. “There is excitement about people getting back to work. But it takes a while to get people getting back to work.”
“There’s disappointment also for some people who maybe didn’t take full advantage of the break,” Mr. Traina said. “It’s sort of like ‘be careful what you wish for,’ because all of a sudden the strike has been resolved and you’re back punching the clock and back to the deadlines and you didn’t get to make the Monster’s Ball and Napoleon Dynamite you thought you were going to make. The mood is very good for some people and bittersweet for others.”
Mark Lisanti, founding editor of defamer.com, gave up his post as of Friday. He said the last couple days of the strike had been pretty slow, with sources clamming up on him. “People are too fucking busy,” said Mr. Lisanti over breakfast at Hugo’s on Santa Monica. “People weren’t all over their computers, because they were locked in writers’ meetings.”
Director George Hickenlooper took a creative approach to the strike, making a series of short films with actors who wanted to show solidarity. “By default I was making connections,” he said, “working with Woody Allen and Laura Linney, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter.”
He estimated that he’d gotten half a dozen industry dinner invitations per week during the strike.
During one such gathering, at the home of Avi Lerner, head of First Look Studio, Mr. Hickenlooper’s host greeted him at the door with a joke: “Aren’t you crossing the picket line to come here?”
But as of Wednesday the 13th, the fun was over. “I’ve never been busier in my life,” Mr. Hickenlooper said, noting that he’d had a meeting Tuesday with NBC entertainment chair Ben Silverman, and took a meeting on Sunday at the Chateau Marmont with a young actress. Sunday was the only day that would work, because she was beginning filming the following day on a new Brad Pitt film.
BlackBook editor Steve Garbarino, who for three years lived behind the famous hotel, was also in L.A. over the weekend, gearing up for the city’s big annual orgy.
“All really isn’t back to normal,” he said, noting the thin crowd at the Chateau. “My friends who are screenwriters have this aura about them as if they are bears coming out of hibernation. Now they have to start washing and stop drinking as much.”
The Santa Monica farmer’s market was unusually busy on Saturday, and one local noted that parking lots near the beach had hiked their prices. The sun was shining, the breeze was fresh.
Additional reporting by Meredith Bryan, firstname.lastname@example.org