Never mind that movie ticket sales are picking up and that "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" could become the biggest hit in motion picture history. As studios slash jobs and restructure to boost profits, Hollywood's creative and executive ranks are having a collective anxiety attack.
Walt Disney Co.'s move this week to lay off about 650 employees and revamp its Burbank studio to make fewer films only confirms what many in the entertainment industry have been stressing over for months: The movie business is shrinking.
Disney's firings, which started at the top with the studio's production chief, are the latest in an industrywide contraction that has cost more than 2,000 jobs worldwide. In Los Angeles, particularly, the economic effect is being widely felt.
Here, in an industry built on bravado, people are suddenly talking openly about being afraid.
"I think we're moving into uncharted territory and there's great unease about where we're headed," said Oscar-winning producer Doug Wick, whose credits include "Gladiator" and this year's "RV." "Occasionally, this fear turns into panic."
Producer Brian Grazer, a multiple Oscar winner whose current release "The Da Vinci Code" has racked up more than $700 million worldwide, went further.
"It's as if the managerial elite has made a secret pact to adhere to certain business principles that they want to enforce on agents and artists," said Grazer, who sees studios as more rigid today about how far they'll stretch to compensate even the biggest stars, directors, producers and writers on movie projects.
"That's never happened in the 25 years I've been producing."
Disney is not the only media conglomerate over the last year to cut, and cut deeply. Financial pressures recently forced the owners of two major movie studios, MGM and DreamWorks SKG, to sell once-vital operations to deeper-pocketed players. Those moves resulted in about 1,350 lost jobs.