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    Strike Clears Johnny Depp's Schedule

    Johnny Depp's winter vacation has arrived early this year.

    Another handful of big-screen productions have been put on hold thanks to the ongoing writers strike, including two of the Oscar-nominated actor's upcoming films, Shantaram and The Rum Diary.

    Warner Bros' Shantaram, originally scheduled to begin shooting this winter in India and Afghanistan, was to star Depp as an Australian heroin addict who escapes from prison, reinvents himself as a doctor who ministers to the poor in India, and is later able to put his criminal connections to good use in the fight against Russian troops in Afghanistan.

    The studio has said that, while the start of monsoon season in India and a skyrocketing budget also helped slow the project down, the script adapted from Gregory David Roberts' novel just isn't ready yet.

    Forrest Gump and Munich scribe Eric Roth had been working on the latest rewrite in an attempt to slash production costs, per Variety, but the Writers Guild of America member is prohibited from attending to Shantaram while the union is striking.

    A similar fate befell Oliver Stone's Pinkville and Ron Howard's Angels & Demons last week. The Da Vinci Code screenwriter Akiva Goldsman reportedly worked round the clock to finish Angels & Demons in the days leading up to the expiration of the WGA contract, but Columbia Pictures announced that the script is still in need of fine-tuning.

    Meanwhile, WB says that it's still planning to make Shantaram, which Mira Nair is attached to direct, as soon as possible.

    Also on hold is the film Depp was planning to make after Shantaram, Warner Independent Pictures' adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, loosely based on the gonzo journalist's experiences reporting from Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

    Depp, who played the late gonzo journalist in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, will in The Rum Diary chronicle his surroundings as the Thompson-inspired character Paul Kemp.

    The project is still in the developmental stage, where it will apparently remain for some time.

    (But luckily it will seem as if Depp never went away—Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, starring the actor as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, opens Dec. 21.)

    Over at the Weinstein Co., Chicago Oscar-winner Rob Marshall's next Broadway-to-big-screen conversion—Nine, starring Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard—has been shut down for now, but cameras are slated to start rolling in the second half of 2008.

    Citing the need for complete compatibility between the script, originally penned by Michael Tolkin and in the middle of a rewrite from Anthony Minghella, and the director's choreography, the studio has opted to wait until the writers are available to proceed with production.

    In other strike-related news, the pickets may soon be adding to their ranks.

    CBS News radio and TV writers, graphic artists, editors and other behind-the-scenes talent voted last week to authorize a strike, meaning WGA leaders could call for a walkout at any time.

    Network and union reps have been meeting since January to hammer out a new contract, with the writers objecting to provisions that would allow CBS to hire non-union scribes for certain tasks and mandate lower salary increases for local radio scribes than for TV and network radio writers.

    "It’s a very powerful vote," WGA East president Michael Winship said. "It proves that the CBS News folks have reached a point where they have taken this situation in their own hands and recognized that they need to get a contract, whatever needs to be done."

    CBS, however, maintains that it brought a "fair and reasonable" offer to the table and, while the company hopes there is no strike, the network will have it covered.

    "CBS News, CBS Television Stations and CBS Radio remains fully prepared, and ready to continue producing the highest quality news programming for our viewers," Katie Couric's employer said in a statement.

    More than 500 writers, graphic artists, assistants, promotion writers and researchers in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago, about 40 percent of whom work on network shows, would be affected by a walkout.

    CBS News scribes are still hard at work, however, while their drama and comedy-writing counterparts in L.A. and NYC have been pounding the pavement in front of studios and network offices since Nov. 5.

    It turns out that the casts of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock's idea to perform live episodes at a Manhattan theater on Saturday and Monday, with all proceeds going to each show's production staff, was prompted by necessity.

    NBC gave more than 50 SNL employees the boot on Friday, despite its decision to keep nonwriting staff members from The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien on the payroll until at least the end of next week. The cast of the late-night sketch show hasn't been in production since Nov. 3, has been placed on unpaid hiatus—a move that has SAG and the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists shaking their collective heads.  

    More than 4,000 strikers and supporters—actors, directors, production staff, musicians, members of the California nurses and farm workers unions, etc.—showed up Tuesday for a WGA-organized solidarity rally, the last big sanctioned event until Nov. 26, when union negotiators are scheduled to resume contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers.

    Alicia Keys, who told the crowd that, as a writer herself, she is fully behind the cause, performed "No One" and "Go Ahead."

    "I’m a writer. Without words, there are no songs. Without words, there are no stories," she said. "Stay strong, I'm supporting you! Let's walk!"

    And then the throng marched down Hollywood Boulevard.

    Goldsman, whose schedule cleared right up once he had to stop fiddling with Angels & Demons, said that there isn't much that could pull him away from his life's work.

    "But on Nov. 5, I stopped writing," the Oscar winner said. "And I won't pick up my pen again until we have a fair deal."

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