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NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Even if Hollywood writers end their three-month-old strike soon, as the buzz seems to suggest, studios will be reluctant to ramp up development too aggressively because they must still contend with a possible walkout by actors in June.
"There's a lot we can do now (in the case of a resolution) that we couldn't do during the writers strike. But there's still a lot we can't do," said one studio executive.
The timing of the potential resolution between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the bargaining arm of the studios -- less than five months before a potential actors strike -- means there will be no immediate greenlights based on the work of returning writers.
Still, development projects frozen at the beginning of November can now finally begin to thaw.
Among them is DreamWorks' "The Trials of the Chicago 7," Steven Spielberg's narrative take on the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention.
The project has a finished script, but because it is deemed to be heavily dependent on writing, Spielberg is said to want more script adjustments. If the strike ends next week, the project could still shoot in the spring, just under the wire of a possible strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which has aggressively backed the WGA. SAG's contract with the studios expires June 30.
If the WGA doesn't vote to end the stoppage imminently, though, sources said the production likely would be pushed until after a possible SAG strike.
Meanwhile, productions with known script issues -- including "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" at Fox and Warner Bros.' "Justice League" -- are expected to get fast-tracked once writers return to the scene.
Columbia's Tom Cruise vehicle "Edwin A. Salt" also hit some development roadblocks and appears to be in limbo. After director Terry George left the project late last year, Michael Mann was in talks to helm, but only if there was a rewrite, which was impossible with the strike.
Smaller studios, many of which signed interim agreements with the WGA allowing them to use union writers, will see a limited effect from a strike resolution; Lionsgate, the Weinstein Co. and, most notably, Cruise's United Artists all have had weeks, if not months, to work on scripts.
But a number of those companies that didn't sign such agreements will find projects getting an adrenaline kick. At Summit, Gary Winick's "Letters to Juliet" and thriller "Labyrinth" are expected to get a boost in development from the return of writers. At MGM, meanwhile, revivals of "Fame" and "Death Wish" also are expected to reap the benefits of returning writers.
A restocking of the cupboard also is expected as agents and writers begin to crank up the spec script market in the hope of finding hungry studios.
The consensus from industryites seemed to be that Warner Bros. had the most immediate need on both the development and spec script sides. The studio's offerings for 2009 are light, with "Watchmen," based on the graphic novel; the children's fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are"; and "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins."
There are at least nine more projects that are not dated but could be slated for 2009, according to one source. But one studio tentpole, the sequel to "Superman Returns," is not so lucky. There apparently are no current plans to add the project to the slate, according to a studio source.
A number of studios are in slightly less urgent situations. Sony/Columbia stocked up on prestrike projects and has a half-dozen films for its 2009 slate already in production or preproduction, including Judd Apatow's "The Year One," the Kevin James comedy "Mall Cop" and Escape Artists' remake of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."
Still, one of the few casualties the studio suffered during the strike was the postponement of February production on "Angels & Demons," the follow-up to "The Da Vinci Code." Originally eyeing a December release, the studio pushed back the date to spring 2009 after saying the Akiva Goldsman-scripted project wasn't ready.
Fox adjusted its 2009 slate shortly after the strike started; the studio has at least half a dozen films gearing up for production, including "Night at the Museum II: Escape From the Smithsonian" and "Ice Age III." James Cameron's highly anticipated 3-D feature "Avatar" originally was planned for a Memorial Day release but was pushed back seven months to December 18, 2009, for what the studio says were software, not strike-related, issues.
On the specialty side, several companies, but not all, are expected to make spec scripts a high priority.
Among them is Fox Searchlight. With the company laying off acquisitions at last month's Sundance Film Festival and only a handful of projects significantly along in production -- including a Notorious B.I.G. biopic, the Keanu Reeves thriller "Street Kings" (formerly "The Night Watchman") and "The Secret Life of Bees" -- it could be looking heavily at scripts.
Disney's Miramax doesn't have a lot in production, but it doesn't have as many slots to fill as some of its competitors, either. Highlights of the imminent slate include a big-screen version of John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt," a remake of "Brideshead Revisited" and Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of the Portuguese novel "Blindness." Development projects include the Ryan Fleck-Anna Boden collaboration on "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" and literary adaptation "The Lost Painting."
"It's going to be one of those situations where everyone says coming out of the strike that they're fine," said one studio source. "But I think we're going to see over the next few months who really has enough for '09 and who has to scramble."