Talent agencies, postproduction houses and equipment rental shops have drawn up plans to cut costs and payrolls while caterers and special-effects houses scramble to find jobs that reduce their dependence on the entertainment industry.
All over Hollywood, people are bracing for a strike.
Writers could walk out as early as Thursday if their union can't hammer out a new three-year employment contract with the studios to replace one that expires at midnight on Wednesday. The two sides were huddled Friday at the Writers Guild of America West offices in the Fairfax district to wrangle a deal but, after four hours, had made little headway. They agreed to meet with a federal mediator Tuesday, people involved said.
It would be the first writers strike in 20 years -- and, economists say, more painful than the last one, in 1988, which lasted five months. Hollywood is a more dominant force in the region today, with studios and networks part of media giants -- such as Time Warner Inc., Walt Disney Co. and News Corp. -- that have bulked up to feed an entertainment-hungry world.
The timing would be unfortunate, given the already disruptive housing downturn and, most recently, the wildfires.
"If it [cost the industry] $500 million in 1988, a slowdown of that length would have over a $1-billion impact today. I'm very concerned," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview.
Because scores of businesses rely on the industry, a long walkout would inflict pain beyond Hollywood's studio gates.
"It would affect everyone: the people who mow your lawn and those who serve you at restaurants," said Richard Riordan, who worked to avert a Hollywood labor dispute when he was mayor in 2001. "It's not just the wealthy that are going to get hurt."
The entertainment industry contributes nearly 7% -- an estimated $30 billion annually -- to Los Angles County's $442-billion economy, supporting not only studio jobs but companies tied to the industry, including hotels, restaurants, florists and even dog groomers.
Though tourism and international trade employ more people, entertainment remains L.A.'s signature industry, accounting for about 250,000 jobs and as many more that are indirectly tied to the business. That is up from about 69,000 in 1985, although certain jobs counted now were not included then.
If a strike were to occur, one of the hardest-hit sectors would be the tens of thousands of technical workers who toil behind the scenes on the sets of movies and TV shows. Electricians, camera operators and other blue-collar crews work under separate contracts and don't have a say in whether writers walk.
No one can predict how long any strike might last. Although the film and TV writers were not discussing their plan of attack, picket lines probably would form at select studios around town.
Production would not come to a halt. Writers for commercials, sports programs and reality TV would be free to work because they are not covered under the guild contract.
Filming on movies with finished screenplays would continue. Television programs with a stockpile of scripts would still be made. Networks appear to have enough shows to carry them through most of the fall TV season. However, some series could run dry as early as December.
The networks have been looking through their libraries for reruns and various unscripted programs such as game shows that they could use in the event of a prolonged strike.
The danger is that TV viewers, without their favorite shows, would turn to the Internet and other forms of entertainment that are increasingly grabbing younger audiences. "Moonlighting" never recovered after going off the air during the 1988 strike.
"Look what happened during the baseball strike," said former Warner Bros. Chairman and Dodgers CEO Bob Daly, now retired, who is no stranger to labor disputes. "Attendance was down and didn't come back right away."
In this case, he added: "The average person doesn't pick sides. They just say, 'Why can't I watch "Law & Order" and "Desperate Housewives?" ' "