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Local businesses feel impact of writers strike

Observers say effects may worsen as strike lingers; some say they haven’t been adversely affected

BARSTOW — With Hollywood television writers on strike, some Barstow area businesses and organizations are beginning to feel the effects.

Though much of the filming that goes on in the High Desert — movies, music videos or commercials — is unaffected, the strike has meant hard times for at least one small business locally.

“We were laid off the day the strike started,” said Jim Wheelan, who along with his wife, Rhonda Wheelan, started Mojave Productions in Barstow in 1994 and still maintains a presence in Daggett. “We’ve been scrambling to do whatever we can as far as commercials, music videos and film work.”

Wheelan said that his business, which serves food to television crews in the Los Angeles area, was immediately affected when the writers union struck Nov. 6.

“Once there were no writers to write a script, there’s nothing for anyone to direct or produce,” he said. “The writers have effectively laid off everyone in the industry.”

He said that some television shows are still filming using scripts already written, but the supply is dwindling. Still, he said he sympathizes with the writers’ cause. Writers are striking to demand an additional share of the revenues earned from the sale of DVDs and online viewing of their shows.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be working, but we support the writers. We could have the same thing happen to us,” he said. “I just wish it wasn’t taking so long to resolve it.”

In 2007, the High Desert made more than $16 million from the film industry, which is the most made by any area in San Bernardino County, said Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership.

Also on the horizon are potential strikes from the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, which Davis believes might strike to show support of the Writer’s Guild.

These strikes would not affect commercial filming, which is a considerable chunk of the High Desert business, Davis said, but it will affect other filming next year.

At the Barstow office of the Bureau of Land Management, requests from television and film crews to shoot on BLM lands keep coming in, said Joan Patrovsky, a realty specialist at the Barstow office. The agency charges film and television crews from $150 to $750 per day to film on its lands. Patrovsky said that if the strike continues, the Barstow office could see a 10 to 20 percent decline in the revenue its earns from issuing permits, though she doesn’t expect it to negatively affect the agency’s budget.

“We haven’t seen too much of an impact,” she said. “We anticipate probably a small effect.”

She said that requests from television crews only make up 25 percent of its total permits. The office issued 150 filming permits on its lands last year, the most of any BLM office in the country. Even if the strike continues on, she said revenue from alternative energy projects should more than make up the difference.

At Fort Irwin, there continues to be strong demand from television and movie producers to use military equipment for filming, said Maj. Todd Breasseale, director of the Army’s Public Affairs Office, Los Angeles branch. He said that because the post is the largest Army installation closest to Hollywood, its helicopters and ground vehicles are frequently seen on screen. The post’s Blackhawk helicopters were used in the filming of last summer’s “Transformers.”

He said that he with continued interest in making action movies and television programs, he doesn’t expect it to change.

“If anything since the fall, we’ve seen a 40 or 50 percent increase in demand for Army equipment,” he said.

He said that one change he’s seen because of the strike is that without writers, directors are relying more on Army advisors to be on the set as filming occurs to make last minute suggestions. Normally writers would consult the advisors and make the needed changes weeks in advance, Breasseale said.

“We know we’ve got to make sure and be there so when the director comes in and asks ‘would a soldier really do this’ we can tell them,” he said.

Staff writer Rachel Byrd contributed to this report.

Contact the writer:

(760) 256-4126 or jason_smith@link.freedom.com


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