BURBANK, CA—Universal Studios joined DreamWorks SKG, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Fox Monday, when CEO Ron Meyer announced that the company is shutting down operations and ceasing all film production, effective immediately.
"In their hearts, every studio chair would like to be a patron of the arts," said a candid and reflective Meyer, speaking from his New York office on the 69th floor of Manhattan's Rockefeller Plaza. "But this is a business, not an artists' charity ward."
According to Hollywood insiders, summer 2005 dealt the death blow to an already ailing industry. With box-office receipts 9 percent lower than those of 2004, the few successes, such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and War Of The Worlds, could not carry the industry.
Regarding the decision to liquidate Paramount, Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone said, "It was a simple choice: cling to an outdated business model or cut the pictures loose."
To better protect their stockholders' interests, Hollywood will be shifting its focus to safer, more reliable profit models, including real estate, life insurance, and the sale of hygiene products.
Said Meyer: "The mortuary industry also seems like a good bet. No matter what happens in the economy, there's always a market for funeral homes. People are always dying. That doesn't go unpredictably out of fashion with the public's taste, like, say, historical costume epics or Russell Crowe."
Monday, construction crews quietly dismantled the storied Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"This is a real shame," said foreman Kevin McKnight, directing members of his crew to pry the brass stars from Hollywood Boulevard and transfer them to a nearby freight crate destined for a Japanese smelting plant. "I love movies. My whole family does. All my life, I loved movies."
With each studio's decision to cease operations, dozens of films in various stages of production will quietly die, some going to DVD, others disappearing entirely, amounting to little more than tax write-offs. Assets are being sold for pennies on the dollar, and hastily liquidated prop houses and set rooms have flooded an already deluged eBay resale market. An original Indiana Jones flight jacket was sold Tuesday for $1.49 plus shipping.
Figures from the California Labor Department reflect the industry's sudden collapse. As of Tuesday, some 700 directors, 15,000 producers, 2,900 entertainment lawyers, 14,000 writers, and 72,000 actors—not to mention countless gaffers, tour guides, production designers, publicists, souvenir sellers, and personal assistants—were reportedly out of work.
"I feel a little betrayed," said Stealth director Rob Cohen. "After the summer season ended, I had hoped that people would start coming back to theaters, or maybe the industry would cook up some new concepts."
Cohen added: "Now it looks like I'll have to go back to directing TV ads."
"I don't know how my family will get by without a steady source of income," said 43-year-old Los Angeles resident Kirk Ferguson, a third-generation set carpenter. "Making facades that get blown up is all I know."
The absence of films is creating a ripple effect far beyond Southern California. Movie ushering has become an obsolete trade overnight, as first-run theaters shut down, convert to loft apartment space, and force hundreds of thousands of adolescents into the already crowded lawn-mowing and car-washing professions.
"A lot of movie history was made on the Warner Bros. lot, but not a lot of money," Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer said. "We've been sitting on valuable land at the height of a booming real-estate market. We could have sold it off months ago instead of making Must Love Dogs. We acted irresponsibly, and for this I apologize to our stockholders."
With little hope of getting a job in Hollywood, ex-film-industry employees are understandably reacting with anger and despair. Some, however, are more philosophical.
"I can always go back to Wisconsin and tend bar," actor Mark Ruffalo said. "Maybe do some community theater. The folks you should really feel sorry for are Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. They're fucking nuts. I have no idea what they'll do without Hollywood."
The void is not likely to remain for long, with heavy hitters such as Bollywood producer Aamir Khan ready to swoop in.
"We are very excited to be entering the American entertainment market," Khan said. "Our first release, timed to coincide with the American holiday entertainment rush, is a remake of Mahabharata, a five-hour retelling of the ancient Hindu epic, filled with thrilling synchronized dance numbers and much romance."