Los Angeles County has 88 cities. Ten million people. More than two hundred languages spoken.
And a nine-letter sign that, for much of the world, defines the entire region: HOLLYWOOD.
Los Angeles has long been considered the global « company city » for entertainment, and as a rare actors’ strike rocked the signature industry this week, the potential for cascading economic impacts across Southern California has emerged as a critical local problem. But economists disagree on how much the simultaneous strikes of actors and writers will be felt.
Even at the most generous estimates, Hollywood has never supported more than about 5 percent of employment in a region where far more people work in commerce, health care, government, and even Southern California’s small manufacturing sector. Yet Hollywood pervades Los Angeles life in ways as big as a movie backdrop or as small as a detour down the road at an awards night.
For many, the ceased productions and blacked-out previews are not only a threat to the flow of dollars to restaurants and retailers catering to film crews, but also a major blow to the cultural heart of the region.
« To the extent that Hollywood defines America’s idea of where I live, Hollywood’s problems become my problems, » said Southern California cultural historian DJ Waldie. « When Hollywood stops, a lot of things stop there, and not just some studios. »
During the 2007 writers’ strike, California’s economy lost $2.1 billion, according to a study. The last time unionized screenwriters and actors staged two strikes, in 1960, the strikes went unresolved for nearly six months.
Economists on Friday said the length of the two strikes will largely determine its financial impact on Los Angeles, though some were more optimistic than others.
Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who has written extensively on California, estimated that about 20 percent of the local economy could be affected, in part because the industry generates so much revenue and has so many income highly paid local employees.
Chris Thornberg, founding partner of Los Angeles-based consulting firm Beacon Economics, said the strikes may not be felt locally for a long time because so much of the show has focused on exploiting and distributing existing content.
« As long as people are paying for Hulu and buying Disney movies online, we’re making money, » Dr. Thornberg said. « Eventually, there will come a time when the lack of content will start to pinch, but that’s a slow boil, not a quick one. »
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass made it clear that she views the union deadlock as an urgent local matter and called on studios and unions to « work around the clock » to reach a fair settlement.
« This affects all of us and is essential to our overall economy, » Mayor Bass said.
Less tangible is the potential impact on Southern California’s self-image. The show is wrapped up in the region’s civic identity in ways that are unmatched in less well-known cities.
An audience of 18.7 million people this year tuned in to the Academy Awards, the most famous office party in Los Angeles. Backdrops from Venice Beach to Sixth Street Viaduct are regarded locally with pride as stars in their own right. Homeowners from the San Fernando Valley to South Pasadena run lucrative side businesses, rent their homes for filming and advertising.
Though most of the famous names live in mansions behind gates, few Angelenos, even in the farthest suburbs, don’t have a history of stardom: The producer spotted Joshua Tree, the famous face in the next lane in traffic.
« Everywhere I go, people ask me the same question: What stars have I met? » said Stephen Cheung, president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. « No one would ask me if I was from another city. »
A Hong Kong native, Mr Cheung, 44, said he saw his first real celebrity in Los Angeles when he was about 10, through a car window. « We were near the convention center downtown, and suddenly a car pulled up and I saw Madonna get out. »
Many also know the stars the way anyone knows someone in the nation’s second-largest city: as neighbors or fellow parents or people walking their dogs. Entertainers sponsor local schools, boarded second careers as politiciansstrain for statewide ballot drives and occasionally getting into fights with the mayor for trying to fill their own potholes.
Democratic leaders throughout the liberal state have long been supportive; Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom extended a $330 million a year film and television tax credit program to encourage studios to keep productions at home.
Some communities share a special bond.
« We have a lot of people in the studio who live in Burbank, » Mimi House, a retired medical clinic administrative employee, said Thursday as she lunched with a group of retired colleagues in the « beautiful downtown » Los Angeles suburb shortly after the The leaders of the actors’ union, known as SAG-AFTRA, announced the strike.
Without the entertainment industry, Burbank would be a « ghost town, » added Virginia Bohr, a retired accountant at Mrs. House’s table. Local officials recently renamed their airport Hollywood Burbank, although Hollywood is technically a borough of Los Angeles, a separate city.
The region has long attracted showbiz hopefuls from all over the world hoping to catch their big break. Many trudge for years before finding work outside the entertainment industry.
Thomas Whaley, a veteran teacher who for 23 years coordinated a broad performing and visual arts curriculum at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, credited the entertainment community for attracting him to the region and helping ensure the longtime success of its program, which has become a model across the state for the breadth and quality of its offerings. Were it not for the local concentration of talent, he said, he might never have ended up in the job he’s come to love.
« I moved to Los Angeles to play trombone for film and TV in 1990, » said Mr. Whaley, who grew up in Rhode Island and studied to be a full scholarship student musician at Berklee College of Music of Boston and the University of Miami. « My mom kept saying, come home, Rhode Island is great, and I was like, Mom, they don’t have what I need. »
Other Angelenos feel a disconnect with an industry whose workers have long been concentrated in more affluent, white parts of the city.
In Mid-City, a Los Angeles neighborhood several miles south of Hollywood predominantly Latino and blackRachel Johnson and Rosario Gomez, both 17, were more interested in the frozen fruity treats of the local paleta shop than in the demands of the Hollywood strikers.
« It’s the least of our worries, » Ms Johnson said of the pickets, noting struggling family businesses on their streets, rising rents and persistent homeless encampments.
“Yes, there are bigger issues here, like gentrification,” Ms. Gomez added.
Near La Cevicheria, a tiny restaurant on Pico Boulevard, Yejoo Kim, 29, who works in geopolitics, agreed that Hollywood « can feel worlds apart, » even for Angelenos who were born and raised in the city, like her.
But she and her roommate, David Choi, 27, also pointed to the large immigrant communities in Los Angeles that have been carefully reflected in recent years in film and television.
« I feel a sense of solidarity, » said Mr. Choi, a novelist interested in the wage standards Hollywood sets for its writers. « I would be happy to participate in a boycott of a show. »
Corina Knoll contributed reporting from Los Angeles and Vik Jolly from Burbank, California.