Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  May 23, 2002 at 4:38 PM
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LOS ANGELES, May 23 (UPI) -- This month finds Tinseltown in the doldrums, a major downer at Hollywood & Vine and elsewhere in the motion picture and television industries. Movie production is as low as it has been in decades.

TV production is in its annual slack season when old shows are canceled, new shows haven't started production and renewals are teetering.

Much of the current pall over the community can be traced to last September's massacre of thousands of innocents at New York's World Trade Center where Middle Eastern fanatics drastically changed American complacency forever. Terrorists demonstrated the United States is not secure from fanatical attack that has shaken the nation as has nothing since World War II.

Hollywood, which presents the country to the world in its movies and TV shows, has been particularly distraught. The current stagnation of production is ample evidence that all is not well in the show biz community.

This month the Cannes Film Festival is stealing Hollywood's thunder with a show of stars from Woody Allen to Sharon Stone. Moguls are in that Mediterranean resort making deals for new pictures, many of them to be filmed abroad. Gossip and excitement is being churned out while Hollywood is all to seek.

The locals aren't panicking, but they are severely hurt financially and creatively. What once worked in movies and TV pre-Sept. 11, 2001, is no longer acceptable in much of the nation: violence, bloodshed, explosions, fireballs and graphic mayhem. Moviegoers are turning away from old formulas and welcoming fantasy as never before.

Just look at the runaway top pictures since the Attack on America: "Spider-Man," "Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones," "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring," "The Scorpion King."

Escapism; every one.

And then there is the unreality of animated features: "Shrek," "Ice Age, "Return to Never Land," "Monsters, Inc." with many more on the drawing boards for the coming year.

While Hollywood collectively wrings its hands over runaway production depleting family incomes of thousands of studio workers, executives, actors and peripheral crafts, businesses and support groups, studios and independent producers continue to look elsewhere.

Latest depressing news: George Lucas, maker of the "Star Wars" movie series, announced he will film the sixth sequel of his heralded skein abroad.

Lucas' decision, like those of other filmmakers, will adversely affect all sorts of Hollywood services from film labs, sound studios, special effects firms, publicists, bit players and extras and crew members of local unions.

Moreover, shooting movie and TV films abroad, whether it be Canada, Australia or in a variety of states across the country, promotes hard times for industries dependent on the entertainment business.

Caterers, limousine rentals, honey-wagons and portable dressing room companies, restaurants, even filling stations and casting organizations feel the pinch. No wonder, then, Hollywood is deeply immersed in a depression, suffering the blue demons.

Major movie stars are only slightly inconvenienced by having to spend a month or two on location in a foreign country or perhaps in one of the Carolinas.

Big box-office drawing cards don't feel the economic squeeze, much less face unemployment.

When a Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts can demand $20 million -- and get it and, incidentally, are worth it at the box-office -- what does it matter if they miss a paycheck or two.

But for the little guys and gals who are lucky to get brief walk-ons, supporting roles, extras, stunt-men and other on-camera performers the current drought is disheartening and financially disastrous. Many are selling their homes. Others are quitting the business and looking jobs elsewhere.

But there aren't many openings for middle-aged performers untrained for the onslaught of younger people in business and industry trained for useful employment.

True, Hollywood has suffered hard economic times in the past, but they have neither been so prolonged nor challenged by foreign production. The future doesn't look promising.

Canadians, Australians, the English and French are filling the gap as never before with outstanding movies and TV product.

The situation will improve somewhat when TV shows crank up for the 2002-03 season. There are 35 new TV series to be launched this fall from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and Warner Bros. Meanwhile parking spaces on studio lots and television headquarters are available, thanks to the paucity of production.

Unless and until California and the United States government begin to meet the tax breaks and investment credits offered by foreign countries, the current languishing status of Hollywood production could become endemic.

If so, Hollywood's glitz may corrode, turning from tinsel to rust, the cavernous sound stages silent and dark.

The community is just barely scraping by with the production of television commercials during this protracted blight while, incongruously, box offices continue to boom.

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