Los Angeles: Theatrical Times
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30 Aug 2023 by BusinessTraveller
Los Angeles downtown by night (Credit peeter viisimaa/istock)

Strikes are threatening show business in Los Angeles, but the city continues to prosper as a hub of Californian creativity.

Under sunny skies and towering palm trees, sunglass-bespectacled screenwriters circle studio sidewalks, carrying “Writer’s Strike!” signs scribbled with quips: “I told ChatGPT to write a picket sign and it sucked.” “Spoiler alert: you need writers.”

Here in Los Angeles, this ongoing strike has parts of the entertainment business and the Californian city stuck in slow gear. In May, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) authorised a strike after failing to come to a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the organising coalition of Hollywood’s studios and streaming services – Universal, Walt Disney Pictures, Amazon Studios and Netflix, among others. At the time of writing, SAG-AFTRA, the corresponding actors’ union, is expected to take similar action if a deal can’t be worked out around similar concerns in the streaming era.

These disputes are primarily around the issues of streaming residuals, the ever-shrinking size of writing rooms, and the threat of generative AI – artificial intelligence that can create content such as text and images. Such clashes have slowed down traditional production in the entertainment capital of the world, producing ripple effects across the economy and business landscape. This comes after a record number of productions aired in 2021 (559 scripted series according to FX Research), driven in large part by the rapid rise of streaming services.

“The WGA strike has undoubtedly stirred the pot in LA’s vibrant business ecosystem,” says resident Laura Lynch, who also owns travel blog Go Travel California. “Hollywood, typically abuzz with constant creative ferment, now stands somewhat quieter, caught in a holding pattern.” Angelenos, however, are resilient. The city’s creative minds have pivoted to working on digital platforms or independent productions, and are also sparking new networking hubs across LA.

While the entertainment industry may be one of LA’s most prominent industries, it certainly isn’t the only one driving the economy. “Much like our community, diversity is the hallmark of business in Los Angeles,” says Adam Burke, CEO and president of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. “Digital media, tech, healthcare, fashion, sports, food, and the arts all make significant contributions to the economy.”

Hollywood - Paramount Pictures

Business boom 

As people return to offices post-pandemic, Downtown LA, known locally as DTLA, has experienced a renaissance of new activity and energy. “This increase in footfall is encouraging new hotels and restaurants to open in a clear show of confidence for this area,” says Burke. The area’s numerous museums, performance venues and sporting stadiums, alongside the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), drive significant tourist demand.

“Downtown LA is the heartbeat of the city’s commercial life,” says Lynch. “Its historic buildings serve as a backdrop for a medley of chic boutiques, cutting-edge galleries, and world-class restaurants.” Historic food emporium Grand Central Market, for instance, encapsulates LA’s rich cultural diversity.

Meanwhile, the city’s Westside region has earnt the nickname Silicon Beach for the 500-plus tech startups and companies that call it home in a playful nod to Silicon Valley, located just 500km south. Culver City in particular has become a popular crossroads of tech and entertainment, with Google, Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube offices alongside production studios run by Sony, Apple, Amazon, and HBO. Meanwhile Santa Monica, with its famous beach and pier, also attracts tech companies.

Hipsters and creatives often flock to Silver Lake just east of Hollywood and north of downtown, where the city’s best coffee shops meet designer indie boutiques. Lynch tells me that Dinosaur Coffee is best for business meetings, fuelling workers with Four Barrel Coffee from San Francisco and locally sourced pastries from the Farm Shop. “As a fun side note, the creator of Dinosaur Coffee is also the genius behind the popular game, Cards Against Humanity – an interesting and conversation-provoking spot.”

A city of Olympic proportions

Of course, with its year-round sunshine and alluring beaches, tourism continues to be one of the region’s primary drivers of employment, business sales, and tax revenues. Los Angeles County has already made a near complete recovery from the pandemic, with more than 50 million visitors expected to visit in 2023 – a 99 per cent recovery when compared to 2019. Internationals are expected to make up 6.2 million of these visitors (84 per cent of 2019 levels), primarily from Mexico, Canada, the UK, and France.

Such visitation figures are set to spike in five years’ time, when 15,000 athletes and millions of spectators descend on the city for the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “Los Angeles is the storytelling capital of the world, making it the perfect place to tell the legends of athletes competing in the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” says Burke. LA is no stranger to the global event, having previously hosted the games in 1932 and 1984. Today the city is home to more than ten professional sports teams and has a host of stadiums and arenas ready for action.

LAX’s Automated People Mover (Guideway Century)

As the city gears up for the games, it is getting to work on a transit transformation. Los Angeles International airport (LAX) is undergoing a US$15 billion modernisation programme, which will bring a new terminal, concourse, and roadway improvements. The centrepiece will be the Automated People Mover (APM), a free, 24/7 electric train system that travels along a 3.6km elevated guideway. “This will enhance the traveller experience, give guests easy access to terminals and provide the long-awaited connection to the regional transportation system, including direct rail service to Downtown LA,” says Burke.

Once in LA, the urban metro connects many neighbourhoods, though it has a mixed reputation. If you need to criss-cross the city’s sprawling neighbourhoods and expansive freeways quickly or frequently, renting a car or using a ride-sharing app can often still be the most convenient and reliable way around town – even with the world-famous traffic. As a former Angeleno myself, I would always add at least 30 minutes to my journey to account for traffic and parking.

The region will also be getting the country’s first high-speed rail come 2027. In March 2023, rail operator Brightline West secured key right-of-way agreements to run its all-electric train from just east of Los Angeles to Las Vegas along interstate I-15. Usually a 3.5-hour journey by car, the trip will only take about 85 minutes to go the 351 kilometres, with the train topping speeds of 322 km/ph.

A continuing crisis

Peel back LA’s glossy curtain, however, and there is still significant social inequality. The city now has the highest population of people experiencing homelessness in the US – about 69,000 or one in every five Angelenos. Unfortunately, the number is set to grow for the foreseeable future, as a dearth of 500,000 affordable housing units will take decades to catch up based on current construction speed and development.

The problem is driven in part by the sheer size and scale of Los Angeles. The metro area is home to more than 13 million people, living across more than 10,000 sq km. Along with addressing the needs of those currently without housing, LA County has also turned its attention to prevention strategies, piloting a predictive tool to identify and assist those most at-risk of losing their homes. The business world also has a role to play by supporting at-risk employees, offering more flexible hours, diversifying talent pools to expand employment opportunities, and providing skills training.

Skyline view Griffith Park. Credit LA tourism

Centenary celebrations

As Los Angeles tackles challenges in preparation for its future, the year of 2023 is also a retrospective one. The world-famous Hollywood sign sitting atop the Santa Monica Mountains turns 100 this year. The recognisable landmark once read “Hollywoodland” as an advertisement for a local real estate company, but eventually became synonymous with the growing film industry. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the LA Parks Department then made it their mission to preserve it (and ditched the “Land” to separate it from the housing development).

“The sign is an enduring symbol of Los Angeles as a place where magic is possible, and dreams come true every day,” says Burke. To experience the best views of the cityscape, he suggests a guided walk through LA’s trails with Bikes & Hikes (bikesandhikesla.com), or alternatively a horseback ride on the Mulholland Trail with Sunset Ranch (sunsetranchhollywood.com). If you’re not super active, then rooftop venues like The Highlight Room at Dream Hollywood Hotel also serve up beautiful views.

Warner Bros. Studio, the film company that brought “talkies” to audiences, is also celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, alongside the 50th anniversary of its studio tour, which includes a brand-new exhibition showcasing diverse productions including Casablanca and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Such anniversaries perhaps serve as a timely reminder of the legacy owed to the city’s writers. While their strike is expected to last until early autumn at least, residents continue to hold out hope for a conclusion that continues to cultivate creativity for the long haul. After all, Los Angeles has always attracted the big dreamers. And sometimes, in a city like this, dreams really do come true.

GETTING THERE

Virgin Atlantic operates a thrice-daily service between London Heathrow (LHR) and Los Angeles International (LAX). This is operated by its A350 aircraft, featuring the Upper Class cabin with The Loft, and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline’s exclusive Meet and Greet service is available at both airports. Virgin also operates thrice-weekly services to LA from Manchester, via New York JFK. virgin.com

Alternatively, you can book your next trip to Los Angeles with fellow SkyTeam carrier Delta Air Lines. Delta operates daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles International (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR), operated by its A330-900 neo aircraft, which features the carrier’s new Delta One Suites, and the enhanced Delta Premium Select. delta.com

Words: Lindsey Galloway

Los Angeles: Theatrical Times Logo
The cover of the Business Traveller May 2024 edition
The cover of the Business Traveller May 2024 edition
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