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Producers and financiers are trying to reconfigure US projects to shoot in Europe with non-guild talent this summer amid concerns the US Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) strike is about to be joined by the actors’ SAG-AFTFA union and the Directors Guild of America.

Sales agents and producers were already playing it safe when they arrived in Cannes with vague late 2023 and early 2024 start dates on US packages.

Meanwhile indie US producers have been told they cannot get a bond on projects that have not wrapped shooting by June 30, although Screen understands some projects with a hefty equity component have been able to get bonding beyond that date.

“You’ll see a lot of distributors getting very concerned about supply,” said Arclight Films CFO Brian Beckmann, of the strike’s growing impact on the film sector. “This has all the makings to last three months like the last strike, if not longer,” he said of the WGA strike. “That will have an absolute impact on the independent film sector.”

Arclight Films has productions lined up for the end of the year and into 2024. “We have got a lot of Australia-based productions lined up with Australian writers. We also work with many European non-Guild writers.” 

Can Europe step in?

As the WGA strike enters its fourth week and is expected to run into late summer, the consensus among a considerable number of industry attendees in Cannes is that SAG-AFTRA and the DGA will join them should their master contracts expire on June 30 without renewal.

SAG-AFTRA called a strike authorisation vote last week and president Fran Dreschler has made defiant statements about solidarity with WGA ahead of the start of her group’s contract talks on June 7 with AMPTP, which negotiates for the Hollywood companies. The DGA talks are underway under a media blackout.

TV has been impacted the most by the WGA strike and multiple shows have been paused since May 1, however the impact on film will become greater as the strike drags on. Sources predict studios and streamers may start pushing back start dates within the next month or so.

“Perhaps there is going to be an opportunity for non-American movies to be sold internationally,” said Phil Hunt, managing director of financier Head Gear Films.

He confirmed a number of films on which Head Gear is involved are “probably going to be postponed or people are trying desperately to get them up and running before the SAG strike starts, if it does go ahead. We have a couple we are rushing into production right now.”

Casting non-guild - in other words, non-US - talent will likely change the value of a project.  “It is hard to find European cast with the same value [in the market] as US cast,” one distributor noted.

“It is very difficult because a number of independent films are being held up until the SAG issue is resolved,” said a leading UK producer. “The problem with that is indie films aren’t as flexible as big studio films. The worry is that a lot of indie films will be squeezed out because bond companies and financiers will be nervous. If you’ve got a little film where you are relying on the actors to do the film for less than they might for a studio film, those films will get squeezed because the studio films will just extend their dates.”