the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about ‘strike movies.’ The impending talent strikes have been hanging over Hollywood like Russian bombers in Georgian airspace: menacing and sort of scary, but not a guaranteed threat. Nonetheless, studio execs are doing what they always do when a strike looms: they’re stockpiling material to make it through the dark, cold times to possibly come.

The LA Times has a pretty good piece about the effects of the impending strike (click here to read it) –or rather the possible strikes, as the Writers Guild contract is up in October and Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild contracts are up in June 2008. The common wisdom is that the screenwriters will go without a contract through June, and then join all of the unions in a strike, completely crippling the entertainment industry. The sticking points are residuals, especially when it comes to new media, like the internet. Many of the writers I’ve spoken to lately have told me they don’t think their union has the balls to go out, but the DGA and SAG may very well kick up a fuss. According to Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, Fox is very much acting like they think a strike is all but a done deal, and since those guys are currently writing Night at the Museum 2 for that studio, I trust their take on it.

The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter whether there’s a strike or not when it comes to the films released in 2009 – either way that year’s crop may very well be completely terrible, and so could 2010’s. The reason is that the studios are hurrying up production on multiple projects so as to not be caught without product if a strike happens, but even if a strike is averted, all of that bullshit they fast tracked will still be on the production treadmill. And because the studios are trying to fill out their slates in advance, the movies of 2009 are being decided right now. By the time the strike doesn’t happen, the studios will have been committed to a slate of films greenlit in panic; the last time that happened we ended up with Men in Black II and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, among others. Hollywood’s quality control is already weak at best, and during a strike panic it becomes all but non-existent.

This weekend I wrote a satirical jab at sites that have been reporting unfounded rumor after rumor when it comes to the Justice League movie, but in their defense the strike panic does make it so that wacky casting and ideas are being thrown out left and right in studio boardrooms, especially as every actor and director’s schedule gets more and more booked; Will Ferrell is apparently booked solid all the way through next spring, and his availability in the weeks before the strike will determine whether the Land of the Lost movie lives or dies. The same goes for Paul Greengrass’ Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which needs to meet a very specific date if Matt Damon will star in it. The tightening of schedules will only add to the panic in the coming months, which will only add to the wacky rumors that will pop up; just because a rumor is nuts or doesn’t come to pass doesn’t mean it wasn’t brought up by someone – I would be surprised if the idea of Tom Welling in Justice League HASN’T been floated at Warner Bros.

While the sad news is that we’re almost guaranteed a whole new crop of half-baked shitty movies in a year or two, the LA Times article raises an interesting point: if there is no strike a lot of people are going to find themselves with a lot of free time next summer. And while the studios may have their pipelines clogged, the mini-majors and indies probably won’t have the funds to frontload themselves, so possibly some very talented people may have the opportunity to take on a smaller, more challenging project. That’s the silver lining in this strike cloud, I suppose.