The writers, who began striking in early May, were joined by actors in mid-July. As a result, almost every scripted TV series and movie closed shop in Georgia, leaving only a handful of independent films and reality shows such as Bravo’s “Married to Medicine” and TLC’s “7 Little Johnstons.” This time last year, there were at least 49 productions in pre-production or active production in the state.
Although only 36 out of 11,000 WGA writers are from Georgia, based on a count at the beginning of the strike, the negative effects of the dual strike has been widespread, impacting the pocketbooks of camera personnel, hairstylists, caterers, set decorators and prop rental facilities, to name a few.
Currently, there are fewer than a dozen active productions in Georgia, including A&E’s longtime docuseries “Hoarders” and Netflix’s reality competition show “The Circle.”
Normally at this time of year, the state has at least 40 active films and TV shows from producers such as Netflix, Disney, Lionsgate and Apple, many with budgets exceeding $100 million. This past year, films and TV shows starring the likes of Jeff Daniels, Adam Driver, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington and Chris Evans have been produced in the state.
Instead, planned big-budget films have been placed on temporary ice and TV shows such as ABC drama “Will Trent” and Netflix hits “Stranger Things” and “Cobra Kai” have delayed their planned season production launches.
This has also left nearly all TV and production studios in metro Atlanta empty, including Athena Studios in Athens, which opened earlier this year, and Electric Owl Studios near the Indian Creek MARTA station, which opened its doors in the spring. Three other major studios are set to open before the end of the year: BlueStar Studios in Forest Park, Assembly Atlanta in Doraville and Lionsgate Studios in Douglasville.
The deal with the writers provides them with higher wages and heftier residuals for shows and movies on streaming services. Currently, writers are compensated for repeats of shows on broadcast and cable but see minimal residual payments from places like Netflix and Max.
Lamont Ferrell, a Conyers-based WGA member who has written for comedies like “Girlfriends,” “House of Payne” and “Are We There Yet?,” said he hopes protections in the deal will keep artificial intelligence at bay. “I can see studios figuring out ways to not pay actual writers and actors,” he said. “It will be anarchy. It will be a real-life purge.”
Decatur writer Topher Payne, who specializes in Hallmark movies, said the producers stayed on the sidelines for as long as they could until the financial pain was too much. “I’ve been baffled and angry,” he said. “The WGA has been at the table ready to negotiate since May. We’ve been waiting for the AMPTP (the group representing producers like Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros. Media and Disney) to show up. I’m glad they finally did.”
Thousands of metro Atlanta workers who rely on TV and film for their livelihood have had to scramble for other work.
To fill his time during the strike, Payne said he built furniture and wrote a play: “We just opened my new work, ‘You Enjoy Myself,’ in Colorado on Saturday. One way or another, I’ll always find a way to tell a story.”
Mauricia Grant, a costume supervisor in Fulton County who has worked in the industry for about 13 years, said since she finished her last costuming job in May, she’s been working in a day care, braiding hair and seeking out extra jobs in her neighborhood to make ends meet.
Grant said she’s cautiously optimistic about the strikes ending soon.
“I have my fingers crossed for a resolution, but I’m definitely trying not to check in until someone calls me and says, ‘Hey, you know, we’re looking at you for a job,’” she said.
Credit: Courtesy of Aliyah Kirkland
Credit: Courtesy of Aliyah Kirkland
Until the actors sign a deal as well, most scripted productions can’t really get off the ground. And the timing is hardly ideal with production schedules bumping up against Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Joel Harber, who runs Athena Studios, said he had a feature film and a game show scheduled to start production there now, but the clients are awaiting the conclusion of the strikes. “Everyone is looking to get going in November and December,” he said. “People are eager to get back to work so I think this holiday season will be busier than normal.”
Grant has stayed in the business because she believes it “really promotes individuality and creative talent,” but it’s not a place for those who prefer a regular paycheck.
“Even with these increased rates and things that we’re negotiating, we still are in a situation in the United States where a lot of families can’t afford simple things like day care and food and gas,” Grant said. “I feel like I’m just really proud to be part of a union, and I’m proud of all the people who made the sacrifices so that we can demand better quality of life from the people that we’re working for.”
Set decorator Nick Morgan (”Last Vegas,” “Parental Guidance,” “I Want You Back”) has also been side hustling galore during the strikes, from working at Rainy Day Revival, an oddities museum in Little Five Points, to making stop-motion promotional videos for a toy company. While he’s happy for the writers, he said the end to the strike won’t immediately affect him or his bank account.
“In my head, I’ve projected it next year and that’s what I’ve been telling myself in my head the entire time, and if something happens before then, great, but I wanted to be mentally and financially prepared for a long haul,” Morgan said.
Some of the stalled projects in Georgia due to strikes
Starz’s “P-Valley,” season 3
Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” fifth and final season
Netflix’s “Cobra Kai,” sixth and final season
ABC’s “Will Trent,” season two
“The Pinkerton” supernatural revenge-Western hybrid directed by Jason Bateman
“Blade” reboot with Mahershala Ali
“Thunderbolts” Marvel movie with Florence Pugh, Sebastian Stan, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Harbour
“Gladiator 2″ with Paul Mescal and Denzel Washington
“Deadpool 3″ with Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman