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Counting the $400M cost of an Oscars no-show

  • Story Highlights
  • Oscar cancellation would have cost the industry an estimated $400m
  • Limo drivers, caterers, make-up artists would be among worst hit
  • Jewelry designers like Chopard generate $1m in publicity on Oscars night
  • Films which achieve success on the night can expect box office cash injection
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- At a time of economic uncertainty in the U.S., the writers strike cast a dark cloud over the eternal sunshine of the Californian mindset and its most glittering awards ceremony.

Oscar winner Helen Mirren

Oscar winner Helen Mirren dazzled in Chopard diamonds last year and gained masses of publicity for the jeweler

Up until a fortnight ago, the million dollar question was whether the Oscars would go ahead as stars refused to cross the picket line.

Make that the 400 million dollar question.

According to the pundits and bean-counters, that's how much the strike would have cost Los Angeles and the industry if Hollywood's most glamorous evening had been cancelled.

Not only would the stars have been robbed of their moment to shimmer along the world's most famous red carpet, but a whole hinterland of ancillary trades would be affected.

Limo drivers driven to despair, caterers with no-one to cater for, make-up artists struggling to make up lost earnings and security teams facing an insecure future -- and the paparazzi would have no-one to focus on.

But it's not just the little guys who would have lost out on the Oscars millions.

Big-name jewelry designers like Chopard traditionally dress the stars. Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank are among their successful models at the Academy Awards.

Last year, Helen Mirren wore a 55 carat diamond flower bracelet along with a 62 carat diamond brooch worth $4m dollars to accept the Best Actress gong. It is estimated that having a celebrity pictured in an item of jewelry or an outfit can be worth $1m in publicity for a jeweler or fashion house.

With hundreds of celebrities strutting the red carpet on Oscars night, the scope for generating revenue is seemingly endless.

But even Chopard's famous sparkle was tested by the uncertainty surrounding this year's event.

"Leading up to the Oscars business for the whole of Rodeo Drive was a little sketchy. Everyone was thinking, what's gonna happen?" Wes Carroll, Chopard spokesman, told CNN. "We felt for the writers, we felt for the studios and we wanted a great outcome for everyone. We would have been very disappointed had the Oscars not happened."

Films which achieve success at the Academy Awards can expect a new injection of cash with a boost in DVD sales and renewed interest at the box office.

Robert Buchsbaum, a Los Angeles theater boss, told CNN, "It's not just the studios who are affected by the Academy Awards show. It's theater owners. As a single-screen theater owner, my whole year is based on how well films perform from November through March through the Academy Awards. It's the busiest time of year for me."

"We really try to figure out, not just what the big Academy Award film is gonna be -- the Best Picture -- but also the smaller films, the independent films which might get the edge like Juno and There Will Be Blood, films which will have a lot of legs to them once they get the nomination," he continued.

"It usually means between 25% and 75% in box office revenues alone."

The prime candidate for a new lease of life at the box office is the Coen Brothers' film, "No Country for Old Men." On the opposite side of the U.S., New York critics are expecting it to yield a decent crop of Oscars after taking their own awards night by storm.

Stephen Whitty, Chair of the New York Film Critics' Circle, told CNN, "It won best picture because the direction from the Coen brothers was really assured. They were completely in control of the mood throughout that film.

"I think the screenplay, also by the Coens, while being truthful to Cormack McCarthy's book, managed to turn it into cinema," he continued. "It made it consistently visual and imparted its message and its mood through images. The acting -- and again, Javier Bardem got the fourth of the four awards we gave it -- I thought the acting was spot on throughout."

Will the rest of the results be equally clear cut? If so, the tips are Daniel Day Lewis and Julie Christie for Best Leads, Diablo Cody for Original Screenplay for "Juno," "Atonement" for Best Score, Mike Moore for Best Documentary for "Sicko," and in the Year of the Rat, Best Animation is marked for "Ratatouille."

But of course, no one can really be that certain. Just ask producer Graham King, who seemed set to take Best Picture for "The Aviator" after it won virtually every award except the Nobel Peace Prize. But it wasn't to be, after Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" pipped him to the post.

Then a year ago, King finally won the big one with "The Departed." One year on from winning the Oscar, he spoke with CNN's Quest team about how his life changed.

"I think for a good few months after the Academy Awards I was floating on air," he said. "It was really hard to come down from it and it was hard to realize that you'd achieved the goal that you'd set out to achieve many years ago. There it is: in one night, you've got it."

And as King explains, even Oscar-winning Hollywood producers are prone to attacks of the jitters too.

"It was a year where I just took stock and decided what I wanted to do next and what kind of movies I want to make," he told CNN. "Then, bam! We get hit with this strike, which was horrendous. I felt like I was unemployed ... your phone calls go from 60 or 70 a day to three and emails were not coming in and I felt really insecure about it."

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For producers like King, the end of the writers strike is crucial for their business -- far more important than whether the Oscar ceremony takes place. But imagine being producer of the Best Picture in the one year when the ceremony was cancelled. And it's inconceivable to think of Hollywood without the Oscars. Picture Rio without its Carnival, London without the Queen, New York without the Statue of Liberty.

The famous statuettes of Los Angeles may be somewhat smaller, but their presence is felt far beyond the Hollywood hills ... E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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