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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's writers' strike has paralyzed television and movie production, but TV commercials are drawing everyone from idled actors and directors to crew members and studio operators into an increasingly competitive $5.4 billion market.
"Normally, commercial work is about 15 to 20 percent of the motion picture business but right now it's 100 percent," said Matt Miller, president of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, which has about 250 commercial production houses as members.
Writers of commercials are not covered under contracts with the Writers Guild of America, the union behind the 10,500 screenwriters in a month-old strike.
The walkout by WGA members has turned into the worst labor crisis to hit the U.S. film and TV industry in 20 years, not only halting production on dozens of TV shows and some high-profile movies, but also putting thousands of non-writing film and TV workers out of work.
Miller said many of these unemployed non-writing workers are bidding for commercials, as are studios, which find themselves with ample unused stages and equipment.
"If you talk with any studio head, they'll talk about what keeps their lights on and a lot of stages are being rented out. It is the bread and butter of the Hollywood community right now and the only thing that's shooting," he said.
Maria Marill, vice president of studio operations at Sony Corp's Sony Pictures Studios, who books stages for the studio, said she was booking more stages for commercial work.
"The television shows are down and we have more stages available and have the opportunity to book more commercials, which we are doing," she said.
Across the board, caterers, lighting, truck and crane rental and many other businesses are vying for the commercial business, which is pressuring the companies that normally earn their keep from commercial production.
"All the crew from productions that have stopped are now looking for work," said Rufus Burnham, owner of The Camera House, a North Hollywood camera rental company, and The Digital Film Co, a digital post-production company.
"All that does is drive the prices down and compete with the people who normally do this. The strike is awful and there are three people for every one writer, not doing anything as a result of it," he said.
In addition to the increased competition, Burnham and others in the commercial production industry worry that if the strike persists into January, many advertisers may pull the plug on plans to shoot spots if the networks are forced to air heavy cycles of reruns, which are bad for ratings.
"I think there's been a gradual pullback (among advertisers) and some of that would be attributable to the uncertainty in the media landscape going forward due to the strike," said Jon Kamen, chairman and chief executive of commercial production company @Radical.Media.
"If the strike continues into the first quarter, people might start holding up on new advertising," said Rich Carter, owner of Gartner, a Santa Monica commercial production house.
After sounding a brief note of conciliation, studio bosses and striking screenwriters broke off contract talks again on Friday, after four straight days of negotiations, dashing hopes the two sides were getting closer to settling the strike.
Editing by Gary Hill