The end of the 118-day SAG-AFTRA strike isn’t just resuscitating the U.S. film and TV business, it’s also bringing back to life a raft of productions set in Europe. The dual writers and actors strikes, which spread over the second half of this year, took a heavy toll on the global film and TV industry and led to many series and films being delayed, postponed or recast. While European players, including financiers, producers, crew members, commissions and actors are rejoicing about the end of the historically long strike, many are also concerned about the probable bottleneck effect the backlog in production will have come next year, with many smaller indie projects fearing they will be squeezed out of the picture.
In Paris, where all shoots will be barred between June and September due to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, many delayed productions will kick off in January. Season 4 of Netflix’s hit show “Emily in Paris,” which was initially scheduled to start in the early summer, will begin filming on Jan. 15 for five months in Paris and will also shoot in Italy, according to the film commission Mission Cinema.
Amazon Prime’s “Etoile,” another series that was delayed, will see its shoot split in two, with the first part shooting from February, and the second in the fall after the end of the Paralympic Games. “Etoile” is a ballet drama created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, the team behind “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
“There’s going to be a big rush of productions before the Olympic Games; and it’s going to be a very packed eight months between now in June,” says Raphael Benoliel at Firstep, a leading line producer who works on both “Emily in Paris” and “Etoile.” He pointed out that dividing the production of “Etoile” will generate extra cost. Benoliel says the backlog will “spark tensions from French producers who will struggle to find available filming locations.”
Yet, Benoliel says “it’s a situation similar to what happened after the end of the pandemic, and this bustling activity is a sign of a healthy industry.”
As far as paused shoots, “The Killer,” Universal Pictures’ remake of John Woo‘s classic action film, will reprise filming on Jan. 21 with Omar Sy for just under a month. Production had stopped in July.
Another movie slated to lense in Paris at the beginning of the year is the next directorial outing of Jim Jarmusch. In terms of European series, Pathé will also shoot its “Black Musketeers” show for Disney+.
“There’s going to be 40 big projects shooting in Paris before the Olympic Games,” says Michel Gomez from Mission Cinema. He says landmarks, including Versailles and the Louvres, are also booked up “because there’re more and more historical films and series.”
Over in Malta, Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator 2” will be resuming production on the island, where a gigantic ancient Rome open-air set set that includes a life-sized Coliseum has been deteriorating since July 14 when the sequel was shut down. The sets will now need plenty of touching up.
Sources in Malta say the Paramount, Universal and Scott Free production is now expected back soon after nearly four months. A recent New Yorker profile revealed that in the meantime, Scott has been busy editing the 90 minutes of footage he was able to capture.
Over in Hungary, whose capital Budapest is another hot spot for Hollywood shoots, the Hungarian Film Commissioner Csaba Kael says he expects “another wave of permanent production growth, similarly to that of after the pandemic.”
The country is currently expanding one of its filming locations, the NFI Studio, to lure more shoots. Budapest has welcomed a number of Hollywood productions these past few years, from ““Dune,” to “Blade Runner 2049,” “Black Widow” and, more recently, “Poor Things.”
In Italy, where no hassle 40% cash back production rebates have been luring lavish Hollywood shoots such as “The White Lotus” Season 2 and Netflix’s upcoming “The Old Guard 2,” news that the strike is over was greeted with special cheer by Cinecittà Studios CEO Nicola Maccanico.
“There is an immediate feeling that we are restarting again,” Maccanico told Variety. “Finally, alongside smaller productions we can add the bigger ones that over the past four months were on hiatus.”
Maccanico noted that the revamped Rome facilities are having a strong 2023 thanks to a good first seven months during which they hosted Netflix period soap “The Decameron” and Roland Emmerich’s large-scale gladiator series “Those About to Die” on the backlot.
“Those About to Die” actually kept shooting through the strike since they managed to complete scenes with Anthony Hopkins, who plays Roman Emperor Vespasian, before July 14.
“There were no interruptions,” Maccanico said. “But after these big productions ended nothing else was coming in,” he added, noting that “we’ve spent the past few months talking about what could happen right after the strike.”
“Now we can take a leap forward and lock in several series and movies that will be landing at Cinecittà in the first quarter of 2024,” he said, declining to provide details due to non-disclosure agreements.
In the U.K., the impact of the strike was felt more intensely than anywhere across Europe due to Britain’s close ties with Hollywood. “I think it’s been a real eye-opener for the U.K. industry to see how much content is made over here and how reliant we are on the U.S. productions coming here to film,” said one British actor on a returning streamer series, who asked that his name be withheld. “I think no one’s felt it more so than maybe the below-the-line workers like the cast and crew and all the locations, transport, etc.”
But spirits were high on Thursday night at the world premiere of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which took place in London at BFI Imax with stars Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Hunter Schafer and Josh Andres Rivera all on hand and able to speak freely about the film and their upcoming projects (though the movie had been previously granted an interim agreement). Lionsgate motion picture group chair Joe Drake told Variety on the red carpet that he is “so happy” the strike is over.
“It was too long, it wasn’t good for anybody,” Drake said. “I’m glad that we’re going to move forward together.”
As for what Lionsgate has up its sleeve now that production can resume, Drake feels the company is in a good place. “We’ve had a very clear idea of what we’re making, and we did a lot of development before the strike,” he said. “Our international team has just left the AFM and has put a bunch of new movies into the marketplace, so we’re full and ready to go.”
But while the SAG-AFTRA strike might be over, that doesn’t mean all productions will be able to immediately resume. For indie producers, the reverberations of the strike might be felt for much longer than for big studios.
Charles Gillibert, a well-established French producer and founder of CG Cinema, says access to talent will be tougher in 2024. Gillibert, whose credits include Leos Carax’s “Annette” with Adam Driver, is currently developing Arnaud Desplechin’s English-language movie, which will boast several American actors and is tentatively slated to start filming next year in Paris.
“During the strike it was impossible to discuss with talent, so it delayed the project and now we anticipate that actors who couldn’t work for so long will favor the most lucrative projects or will go back to doing a series that had been delayed,” Gillibert says. “2024 is going to be a hectic year.”
As illustrated by the dearth of new packages launched at the American Film Market, the labor strife also blocked a number of indie projects from being announced and promoted, even those set up with talent from Europe, Canada and Australia who chose to stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA.
Nick Shumacker at Anonymous Content said he experienced this situation with a project that had foreign actors who were both SAG and Equity, or SAG and part of ACTRA, the Canadian trade union.
Shant Joshi, president of the Canadian production company Fae Pictures (“In Flames”), also had a movie whose release has been stuck in limbo. Joshi said he was developing a project with Alexandra Billings, who is a SAG actor. Since “the whole production is Canadian with Canadian actors, she was technically eligible to not strike but out of solidarity, out of principle, she decided to strike.”
Adds Joshi, “I think a lot of the actors are excited to not only get back to work in production but also promote the movies that they’ve been in.”
As an industry insider points out, “Actors are going to have to pick their battles for the months to come: either campaign for awards, or get back to work!”