Writers Strike Hits Faux Market Hard

Economic fallout from the Writers Guild strike is hitting a variety of niche industries around Southern California. Judi Bell owner of a company that makes fake IDs, passports, money and other such items for movies and TV shows, is feeling the pinch.

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LUKE BURBANK, host:

All right, today is day 11 of the Writers Guild of America's strike. And while there's been lots of attention paid to the plate of the writers on the picket lines, there have been some really damaging, unintended consequences that have gone largely unreported. Number one, because of a dearth of scripted shows that they can shoot, ABC has announced it's bringing "According to Jim" back as a mid-season replacement. As Marlon Brando would say in "Apocalypse Now"…

ALISON STEWART, host:

Did you make that up or is that real?

BURBANK: That is real, my friend. That is from Variety.

STEWART: I - just a sidebar, Jim Belushi, luckiest man alive.

BURBANK: And, if there's one person that's going to eat out of this strike, it's Jim Belushi, and there is no justice in the world. The second, though, unintended consequence - and this is actually a big one - L.A.'s local economy is reportedly grinding to a halt. You might not think of L.A. as a one-industry town but it kind of is. I mean, restaurants are reportedly empty, no one's valet parking their cars; it means those valet are out of work.

The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation says if this strike lasts as long as the last one, which was in 1998, local losses could top a billion dollars. And one of those ancillary businesses getting hit is a place called Cinema Paper Rentals and Graphics in North Hollywood. It provides fake paperwork for movies and TV shows. We'll explain what that is in a minute.

First, though, we're talking to Judi Bell. She owns Cinema Paper. She's on the line now. Hi, Judi.

Ms. JUDI BELL (Owner, Cinema Paper Rentals and Graphics): Hi. How are you?

BURBANK: Good morning to you out there in Los Angeles.

Ms. BELL: Thank you. Good morning.

BURBANK: Okay, so, wait, what exactly do you guys sell?

Ms. BELL: Well, we don't sell that much, but we do rent. And what we rent is paperwork, and folders, and graphic design, and office dressing for any TV show, film or commercial that needs to make it seem look real. It can be anything from children's artwork on a refrigerator to the stuff that lawyers handle, or the stuff in the background in a doctor's office or a hospital or the charts or the clipboards - any of that - binders, fake money, fake IDs, passports, badges - everything that you see, even stuff that they blow up like when paper explodes or photographs or bulletin board dressing, police stuff.

BURBANK: So anytime someone's complaining about doing too much paperwork or holding a binder or something or there's something that says Seattle Grace Hospital, I don't know if you actually do "Grey's Anatomy" or not, but that's stuff you guys make, and you rent those out to people. Why don't they just buy a ream of fake hospital paper? Why do they rent that?

Ms. BELL: It's actually harder to find than you think, and it has to be cleared. It can't have Social Security numbers. It has to be manufactured and fabricated just for that purpose. And if they buy it, then they own it, and then where do they keep it in between? They just - it's a storage problem, too, because, sometimes, they do have a stagnant set, like a recurring set, that they use over and over again. And eventually, shows like "West Wing" will make their own paperwork because they're running so long and they have, like, a recurring set that they just need the stuff, and they can't afford to just keep renting it…

BURBANK: Well…

Ms. BELL: …and sometimes (unintelligible)…

BURBANK: Well, how's the strike affecting you, Judi?

Ms. BELL: A lot. We've had several orders that they canceled. We've had other orders that aren't just coming in. I mean, I know - I've been doing this for five years and, you know, this time of year, usually it has to be pretty busy. I know it sounds a little strange - right before Thanksgiving and the winter holidays but this time of year is pretty, pretty busy. It's not as busy as January usually is, but it's a busy time. And right now, we are not busy at all. I had to lay one person off and tell everybody else to take as much time off as they need, you know, don't come in kind of thing because if there's not work to be done and there is not orders going out, then I don't really have the income to pay the employees or meet the expenses - the day-to-day expenses of running a business.

BURBANK: Are you kind of upset with the writers or do they have a point?

Ms. BELL: Oh, I'm not really upset with anybody because I totally understand both sides of the fence. That's my problem. I can see the producer's side and I can see the writer's side. I really just wish that they would settle it as quickly as possible and think of everyone. You know, I think there's a little fairness that they both feel they deserve and a little greed involved on both sides as well. I think to myself, gee, if they're fighting over the residuals on one thing or another, maybe they should just give it all to charity or something.

BURBANK: Can't you just…

Ms. BELL: You know?

BURBANK: Yeah, can't you just print your own fake money to pay your employees with?

Ms. BELL: Oh, wouldn't that be fun? No, we have to only print one side of the money so it would be blank on the other side.

BURBANK: Oh, wait, you're not allowed to print two-sided fake money?

Ms. BELL: No. There are certain rules and regulations. If you do print two-sided fake money, then it has to say some really absurd things on it to make sure - and be a different side ever so slightly…

STEWART: That's interesting.

Ms. BELL: …so that it's obviously not counterfeit because you will get in trouble on the way.

BURBANK: How did you get into this business? I mean…

Ms. BELL: No, I've been…

BURBANK: …what's the short version?

Ms. BELL: Short version. I've been doing graphics for a really long time and I worked on the movies and art department and props, decoration for about 12 years, and then a friend of mine had this business and wanted me to help them manage it, and then I actually - it's funny. I just bought it from him in February.

BURBANK: Oh, gosh, Judi, but…

Ms. BELL: Yeah, I…

BURBANK: Hopefully your luck turns around a little bit. By the way…

Ms. BELL: Thank you.

BURBANK: …if I need to get out of the country, I'm going to be calling you for a fake passport. Judi Bell…

Ms. BELL: Fake passport? Well, yes, we do that.

BURBANK: Judi Bell, owner of Cinema Paper Rentals and Graphics in Los Angeles, California on the BPP talking about the writers strike.

And that, dear friends, brings us to the end of this hour of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. We want to thank you for listening.

STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart.

BURBANK: And I'm Luke Burbank. Check out our blog, npr.org/bryantpark.

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