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Ongoing strikes taking the shine off Hollywood’s fall movie season

Release-date jockeying continues as labour standoff robs films of promotional star power
FILE - Striking writers and actors take part in a rally outside Paramount studios in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023. Hollywood productions and promotional tours around the world have been put on indefinite hold as actors and writers are on strike against big studios and streaming services. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Hollywood is at a standstill. Actors and screenwriters are months into a dual strike. Film sets are dark. But the movies are still coming — or, at least, most of them. Even if that means some potentially solitary red-carpet walks.

“I’m hoping I’m not promoting the movie by myself,” says Nia DaCosta, director of the upcoming Marvel movie “The Marvels” (Nov. 10). “No one’s there to see me, either. They’re going to be like, ‘Where’s Brie Larson?’”

Though the ongoing actors and screenwriters strikes are casting a pall over the fall movie season and prompting some films to postpone, a parade of awards contenders and autumn blockbusters are on the way, nevertheless.

The fall has long been the preferred domain of filmmakers and auteurs, but this year that’s doubly so. With cast members largely prevented from promotion duties, directors — whether helming an Oscar shoo-in or superhero blockbuster — are carrying the load, albeit very reluctantly.

“I think we’re now in a new world,” DaCosta says of the strike. “Everything that’s happening is an existential search that our industry is doing. It won’t be solved in one round of negotiations. But I’m hoping that the studios can end the strike soon and get us all back to work — to work for them.”

Up until now, the ongoing stalemate has had a modest effect on late-summer movie releases. “Barbenheimer” carried theaters through August.

But now that the strikes have rounded Labor Day, with no end in sight, Hollywood’s high season is imperiled. It has already robbed the Venice Film Festival of much of its star power and will soon do the same to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Can you launch an Oscar campaign without its potential nominee? How about a global spectacle without its cast? Everyone is hoping the strikes ends soon, but it’s clear that, not long after COVID-19 upended the industry, the usual rhythms of the fall movie season have again been blown to smithereens.

Much is in flux. Taylor Swift is in. “Dune” is out. Release-date jockeying continues. But for many of the filmmakers releasing films in the coming months, even their own movies aren’t the top concern.

“This fall is such an exciting time for movies. I just want to see every movie coming out,” says Emerald Fennell, whose high-society satire “Saltburn” opens Nov. 24. “But for the industry to be sustainable — for it to be much more accessible to people, for it to be better paid for everyone at every single level – that’s the thing. That’s the priority as far as I’m concerned.”

Screenwriters have been on strike for four months. The guild’s representatives began meeting with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, in August. But no breakthrough has followed. Instead, both sides have publicly sparred, dimming hopes that summer would end with a deal.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists began its work stoppage on Jul 14. The AMPTP has yet to reengage the guild’s leadership in talks.

As time has dragged on and picket lines have kept up the pressure, what may have once seemed like a disagreement over a handful of issues has swelled into a generational battle over the future of an industry remade by streaming and with new anxieties over AI.

For now, the strikes are leaving festival stages unusually bare and red-carpet premieres quiet or non-existent. Such a prospect has forced some films out of 2023, including two starring Zendaya. “Dune: Part Two” and “Challengers” have both postponed, as has the “Wonder” spinoff “White Bird.”

Many of the fall’s top titles have stayed put or shuffled backward, hoping resolution comes in early autumn. Those include late October releases like Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” (in theaters Oct. 20) and November entries like the prequel “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” (Nov. 17) and Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” (Nov. 22), with Joaquin Phoenix.

Meanwhile, the campaigns for some potential Academy Awards contenders such as Colman Domingo (George C. Wolfe’s “Rustin”; in theaters Nov. 3, on Netflix Nov. 17) and Paul Giamatti (Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers”; in theaters Oct. 27, expands Nov. 10) will get underway without either present to take a bow.

To Payne, whose film co-stars newcomer Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, that loss is heartbreaking.

“Unlike stage actors or musicians in concerts who get to have that feeling of completion with the audience, in film we don’t have that,” says Payne. “The only time you can kind of tiptoe up to that feeling of having a communication with an audience is at a festival or an early screening. It would have been really luscious for Paul, Dominic, Da’Vine and all the actors to go and have that rush, seeing it with audience and hear the laughs.”

READ ALSO: Canadian film, TV workers feel sting of twin Hollywood strikes