L.A. Businesses Feel Pain of Film, TV Writers Strike

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In Los Angeles, the strike by film and television screenwriters is beginning to have financial repercussions beyond the writers and the studios they work for. The ripple affect is hurting caterers, morgues and other ancillary businesses. Negotiations are due to resume Monday.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Striking screenwriters won't be picketing today in New York and Los Angeles. They're taking time off the lines for the Thanksgiving holiday. Negotiations are due to pick up again on Monday.

Here in L.A., the financial pain is beginning to hit businesses that are linked to those at the heart of the strike.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: When Bruce Schiller tidies up after work, he doesn't close filing cabinets.

(Soundbite of morgue trays)

BATES: He closes morgue trays. Schiller is the owner of Major Medical Props. It's one of hundreds of ancillary businesses that make much of their money from the film and television industries. In the three weeks since the strike, Schiller says he has seen a definite slowdown.

Mr. BRUCE SCHILLER (Owner, Major Medical Props): Ordinarily you will see one or two morgues almost every week on television, which means the props in here, which are the walls or the morgue tables or instruments, are usually on the loading platform every day of the week going or coming. But the last two weeks it's been sitting in here getting dusty.

BATES: Many TV studios have gone dark. Clients like "CSI" and "Pushing Daisies," which use Schiller's morgue and hospital setups, aren't putting in orders, so he isn't working, and it's costing him.

Mr. SCHILLER: Basically, it's been a significant drop-off in calls, because 50 percent of our business is television shows, and it's been so severely affected by the strike.

BATES: The pain that started with the writers is radiating outward, says Jack Kyser, vice president of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Kyser says even talent agents that represent writers and actors are feeling the pinch.

Mr. JACK KYSER (Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation): The agencies have already put out an edict: cut down on expenses. So that means fewer fancy lunches.

BATES: And it isn't just the guys who are ordering apple teanies and lobster clubs. Kyser says going to work, he saw an example of how the economic effects of the strike trickle down across several industries.

Mr. KYSER: People who rent equipment, the port-a-potty service, the location catering service, or security guards looking over everything. So the ripple impact is going to be significant.

BATES: And if the strike is prolonged, potentially devastating.

Mr. KYSER: If it goes on, say, about four more months, you'll get into February, and guess what February is - high award season, and the Academy Awards generates about $200 million for the L.A. County economy.

BATES: Tourists who stay away, unfilled hotel rooms, empty restaurants; that's a scary scenario for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He and California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have been working behind the scenes to end the strike. At an appearance in Los Angeles yesterday, Villaraigosa says he knows people whose incomes depend on the industry directly and in other ways are growing increasingly anxious.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Democrat, Los Angeles): Well, they're concerned about their jobs. They're concerned about meeting their mortgage payments. There's an impact on families that comes with a strike like this, and that's why our hope is that the parties will continue to negotiate aggressively with an intention to come to a quick resolution.

BATES: Negotiations will resume on Monday morning in a three-day media blackout cocoon. The mayor hopes privacy will encourage a resolution and get everyone working and earning again.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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