Two major dramas and a feature film have already pulled the plug on lucrative location shoots in the county.
And with little sign of any agreement on the horizon, it is feared the county could be counting the cost well into next year.
On a good year, the county normally benefits from up to £8 million being pumped into local economies when big TV or film productions use Kent as a location for filming.
In recent years these have ranged from the likes of the Avengers: Age of Ultron shooting in Dover to director Sam Mendes taking over Margate seafront for several months to film Empire of Light, starring Olivia Colman.
Empire of Light, released in January 2022, saw some £4 million injected into the local Thanet economy alone.
But the Kent Film Office, which facilitates much of the activity for productions, says this year it will “be lucky if we make £4m”.
It is a far cry from a remarkable – and record-breaking – 2022. Benefitting from a backlog of shows put on hold due to the pandemic and a host of new productions, it estimates the local economy saw around £12m injected.
The money is generated by large crews coming to towns, often for weeks at a time, renting houses and hotel rooms and spending in local shops and restaurants.
Gabrielle Lindemann, Kent Film officer at Kent County Council, says while the writers’ strike – started in May – had little initial impact, when the performers walked out too in July, it was immediate.
“It’s had a huge impact,” she explained. “It’s not just us, it’s the whole of the UK.
“We had a couple of drama series planned for early autumn and they've gone - and another film which was going to be filming now for eight weeks. That's also disappeared.”
And the studios behind those productions – which the Kent Film Office is sworn to secrecy over their identity – have not given any hint as to when, if ever, they’ll return.
She adds: “Also, a couple of productions had finished filming with us before the strike kicked in, but they were still in early production stages. We don't even know if they're going to be completed which means even though they filmed here we don't know if it will ever see the light of day.
“Britain had become the go-to place for the big streaming networks and movie studios as we have all this amazing talent and with tax breaks available to encourage productions to come here, it made it for a really good proposition.
“But the problem is, if you start to rely on that sort of economic income, events such as the strike will affect us much more.
“However, what they are striking about is an important thing.”
The writers’ strike began in Hollywood in May.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents 11,500 screenwriters, told its members on May 2 to lay down their pens as part of an on-going dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
They were then joined, on July 14, by The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTA) – a union for actors.
At the heart of the dispute are calls for higher payments for shows on streaming platforms – such as Netflix and Amazon Prime – and strict rules and restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to generate content – be that through writing or recreating the likeness of actors.
Without the actors or writers, Hollywood has effectively ground to a halt. The same goes for productions featuring US actors or writers, or those co-funded by US studios, being filmed elsewhere. Stars have even boycotted movie premieres.
It is the implications of that which is now being felt in the county.
Among those most likely to feel the pinch are popular ‘heritage’ attractions which have come to rely on the income.
Among those are Chatham Historic Dockyard. Its historic buildings and large spaces have made it a popular destination for film crews. It has emerged as the county’s most popular filming spot.
Explains a spokesperson for the site: “We are a charity so anything we do for a commercial purpose goes back into feeding our charitable purpose, which is around protecting the dockyard and buildings. It just means we have to re-jig things as we do rely quite heavily on commercial income and filming is one of those big streams for us.
“As a charity which gets no support from central government, every penny we take is really important to us.
“We would normally see forward bookings for up to 12 months - but we're certainly not seeing any of that at the moment.
“We've been chatting to others in the industry and it's certainly not just us. I don't think there's any hope of seeing anything big for the remainder of this year. But fingers crossed it will pick up again in 2024.”
Recent films shot there include the latest Mission Impossible movie, starring Tom Cruise, while it’s also hosted crews over recent years from everything from Downton Abbey, The Crown, The Muppets to the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables.
Adds Gabrielle Lindemann from the Kent Film Office: “The actors are the real powerhouse of the entertainment industry.
“People think there will be a huge surge when the strike lifts - but I don't know. I think the interruption could last some time.
“Even if they come to an agreement before Christmas, it will take another six weeks, at least, for things to go back into the planning state before anyone can go out and do anything.
“I think Kent is unlikely to see anything else major coming in this financial year.
“We have a few attractions in the county that count on an income - particularly heritage ones - that filming brings them each year.
“They're not going to hit that target - so they'll have less money to maintain those properties and the staff that run them.”
Filming does continue in the county – albeit restricted to non-US backed domestic productions, commercials and photo-shoots. Chatham Dockyard confirmed it was still hosting UK productions.
Adds Gabrielle: “Even a lot of BBC and ITV productions have co-funding from America, or American stars or writers - so that's a problem.
“Very few of the large TV or film productions are entirely financed in the UK.”
Interestingly, however, she adds there are growing concerns within the industry that the use of locations could be at risk too.
By harnessing the latest AI technology, productions can now scan a building and use special effects to give the impression the actors are moving within it.
She adds: “That could be very bad news for Kent. Many locations are saying they won't allow these scans or that they have something in writing which says it is only allowed for one production.
“If a small team comes and scans the building for, say, £500 - then they have the whole of the location available forever rather than having to come for eight weeks. And that, for the location itself, can generate anything up to £100,000.”
For now, though, the county will continue to count the cost of a dispute centred across the Atlantic – while cinema goers brace themselves for a dearth of new releases.