The threat of an actors' strike in Hollywood takes on a somewhat surreal aspect when the global economy is collapsing around our ears. Last year's writers' strike took place against the backdrop of a hedge-fund boom. The studios had fallen spectacularly on their feet after a difficult period. Back then, the billions looked as safe as, well, banks.

The world has changed much but now, as then, the international business is having to play the role of interested bystander in the dispute - at least for now. The Writers Guild of America dispute last year - like so much from the US economy - was felt indirectly elsewhere: cancelled shoots at studios and later some issues around product to buy at markets.

The same will no doubt happen again, though the international market is hardly short of product right now. Most of all, talk of a strike adds to a growing set of problems the film industry at every level is facing. Finance has been tightening and is close to non-existent in some areas of the independent business; the film markets have been ticking over without looking close to a major recovery.

The comfort blanket that cinema is recession-proof has yet to be tested in what looks certain to be a major economic downturn in 2009. Certainly sales of new HD televisions and Blu-ray kit, on which much has been invested, must look worse now than they did a year ago. The switch to 3D and other forms of digital cinema are stalling, with the already damaging 'who pays'' row now exacerbated by the credit crunch.

More than all this, however, is the growth of alternative forms of entertainment that compete for people's precious spare time - particularly significant in a recession, when free time becomes ever more scarce.

None of the above undermines the positives and potential of the business. This is an era where the moving image is becoming ubiquitous and there are new means to reach audiences.

There are rational reasons for confidence over the long term. So it is not unreasonable for Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg to point out that: 'You can't use hard economic times as an excuse to sell out the future.' Well, no. But the studios are also right to point out the foundations for that future have not yet been built and this is the wrong time to fight over the spoils.

The same, very reasonable, discussions are happening at the dozens of conferences, summits and round tables that Screen attends or runs every month. From release windows to virtual print fees, everyone has a fair argument. The trouble is they never seem to connect adequately. There are too many lines in the sand where there ought to be discussion and debate.

Not every challenge to the existing order is a slippery slope, not every experiment the thin end of the wedge.There are not enough points of dialogue where whole industries are engaged in a single discussion. The interests of each part of the business can seem horribly disconnected, as the few who have spent time at producer, financier, distributor and exhibitor conferences will attest.

This isn't one of those annoying calls for heads to be banged together that jumped-up commentators are too fond of wheeling out. Banging heads isn't the issue, but getting heads together is. There are common interests for the business as a whole.

There are, in fact, common enemies that should be everyone's obsession. At the core of the challenges ahead lies competition for precious customer time and money. Most people do not recognise a split between Hollywood and independent when choosing how to spend their dollars. For them, it's a question of whether to go to the movies or watch television, play a video game, or indulge in a night of ice-cream therapy.

It is interesting that any strike will be timed to disrupt the annual awards ceremonies. They seem like a high-profile but easy target. But it says a lot that anyone takes as the soft option the opportunity to obstruct a showcase of the brilliance of cinema across the whole planet.