When the Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos accepted the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival at the weekend, he spoke in detail about who wasn’t in the room: Emma Stone, who plays Bella Baxter, the main character in a furious Frankenstein farce set in Victorian times. This Bella Baxter, according to Lanthimos, is “an incredible creature who would not exist without Emma Stone – also an incredible creature.” It is all the more regrettable that Stone cannot be in Venice because of the current strike in Hollywood. Lanthimos said he hopes the situation will soon be over.

A film needs its stars, said the director. If he wants to have a big theatrical release, he depends on her. And especially if he wants to win Oscars.

For years, the Venice Film Festival has been the start of the so-called Oscar season. This is where the films and actors that will be talked about in Hollywood in the coming months are positioned. They come here to gather initial sentiments and votes from the members of the US Film Academy. This year, however, this was only possible to a very limited extent due to the Hollywood strike. The powerful actors union SAG-AFTRA, which called for an uprising in July – joining screenwriters on strike since May – has expanded the strike to include all promotional appearances, interviews and red carpet dates.

This time, the carpet in front of the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido outside Venice remained unusually empty. Photographers on site had to make do with inactive old stars like George Clooney, who didn’t have any film on the Lido. Coincidence or not, the jury under Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”, “Whiplash”) gave the acting awards to two actors who were allowed to come with an exemption from the union because their films were the responsibility of independent producers, not by the big studios: on the one hand Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a demented New Yorker in the memory drama “Memory”, and on the other hand newcomer Cailee Spaeny for her portrayal of Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s biopic “Priscilla”.

In the best tradition, Amazon and the Hollywood studio MGM Venice, which was bought by the US internet company, originally wanted to use Venice to broadcast the tennis drama “Challenges” with superstar Zendaya in the lead role for the Oscar season and the public launch planned for autumn (in the Amazon streaming offer and occasionally also in the cinema). Without Zendaya as a driving force, those responsible then decided: no chance. As a result, the film was scrapped as Venice’s opening film and its release was postponed until next year, taking “Challenges” out of the Oscar race.

The tennis film now shares the fate of the postponement with a number of films, and more are likely to follow. Probably the biggest cinema release to be canceled due to the strike is the sequel to the sci-fi classic “Dune”. The Warner Bros. studio had planned a big release in the fall for the blockbuster, whose budget is estimated at $125 million – but now it won’t come until next spring. Mind you, this film’s release wasn’t canceled because the film wasn’t finished – but because the stars, in this case Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet, are on a PR strike like their colleagues. It may be possible to replace striking actors with unorganized or foreign ones – but replacing striking stars in film promotion is hardly conceivable.

Industry representatives are already trying to imagine the unimaginable: not just empty red carpets in Venice, but an awards season completely free of actors. Without roundtables with the press, without events and the studios being forced to spend even more money on advertising in the industry media. Because something like this seems difficult to imagine, those responsible have already postponed the awarding of the Emmy TV award, which is usually scheduled for autumn, until next year – in the hope that the strike will be over by then.

The US film industry is already feeling the pain of the problems. The Universal studio with the dog film “Strays” and Warner Bros. with the comic book adaptation “Blue Beetle” experienced disappointing theatrical releases in the USA at the end of August. The absence of star promotion will cost the films 10 to 15 percent of their potential box office revenue, industry analyst David A. Gross estimated to the New York Times. For films that didn’t start with a well-known title – for example because they come as a continuation of an established series or as a film adaptation of a common story – the effect could be even worse, says Gross.

Hollywood actually experienced a hopeful development at the beginning of the summer. The global success of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” (popularly referred to in the industry as “Barbenheimer”) had fueled expectations that the film industry could finally put the Corona slump behind it. But despite the “Barbenheimer” effect, the number of cinema admissions this year in the summer was still 14 percent below the value of the last pre-Corona year of 2019. Things look even worse in Germany, here it is almost 16 percent in the first half of the year.

Fortunately for filmmakers – and also for festivals like Venice – the crumbling and only hesitantly convalescent cinema has been overshadowed by another development in recent years: the streaming boom. The battle between the pioneers Netflix, Amazon and Apple, on the one hand, with the studios Disney, Warner and Paramount, who were looking to catch up in the streaming business, and, on the other hand, for subscription market shares, had led to spending on productions being increased more quickly every year. Since the Netflix production “Roma” won the Golden Lion of Venice and an Oscar five years ago, the streamers had also spent the money on attracting attention with prestigious film awards. Venice in particular has benefited from this: no major festival has been as open to streaming productions as the Italians.

But those times are over. The cut-throat competition has proven far too costly for both Netflix and the Disney and Warner studios. Investors on Wall Street have been putting pressure on things since last year. Netflix has already sold 20 productions in 2022, while the Warner subscription channel HBO has sold 35. “Investors and managers have determined that streaming no longer enables good business,” said the analysts at Moffet Nathanson dryly. According to industry figures, spending on streaming productions will have increased this year – but much more slowly than last year. And in 2024, growth is expected to stop completely. Netflix said farewell to its big-spending production boss Lisa Nishimura in the spring. “Netflix has officially entered the era of austerity,” concluded the Hollywood Reporter.

The signs point to consolidation. This has accelerated even more since Disney switched from expansion to an austerity program. In the second quarter, the group reported a loss of $512 million in the streaming business; since the aggressive start with Disney in 2019, the group has invested around $11 billion in competition with Netflix

Forced consolidation and the slow revival of the cinema business are probably also the reasons why the Hollywood studio association AMPTP – Netflix and Amazon are also members – reacted so stubbornly to the strikers’ demands. A year ago they might have met with more open ears. The actors and screenwriters don’t just want more money. They also want to be more involved in longer-running streaming of their products. And they want to be guaranteed that the studios will not be able to build AI avatars of their characters in the future without compensation in order to work with virtual instead of live representations.

The lull will soon be noticeable at the major festivals and among the Oscar candidates. Because it’s not just less being produced for streaming. Netflix and Co. are also shifting the focus of what they produce: fewer Oscar and film award-winning productions – and more those that attract customers to subscribe. So series, preferably sequels and with stars – if stars are available again at some point.

Venice was able to benefit from a flow of streaming productions this year almost as before, if you put the “Challenges” cancellation aside. David Fincher’s hitman thriller “The Killer” with Michael Fassbender (but without him at the Lido), Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl adaptation “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”, the Chilean satire “Il Conde” about the dictator Augusto Pinochet and “Maestro” , the biopic about the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein – they were all shown here.

“Maestro” lead actor Bradley Cooper was even spotted by scouts in Venice; he was also allowed to appear, namely in his role as director. But Cooper might have faced accusations of lack of solidarity. So he didn’t show up at the festival site. It was later said that he had only made the final votes for the film.

This article first appeared on Capital