This week’s broadcast of “The Business” (a weekly half hour radio show about the film/television industry on KCRW 89.9 FM) featured three guests with a wealth of experience working below-the-line: a veteran film and television gaffer, a director of photography, and an agent who represents those elite below-the-liners who actually require such services.*
A half hour – actually twenty-five minutes or so, once the preliminaries were out of the way – is not nearly long enough to fully articulate the many woes afflicting Hollywood’s below-the-line community these days, but those three guests did a nice job sketching out the basics. Much of this has been covered here in some detail – runaway production due to tax subsidies luring work from Hollywood to other states and countries, the steady erosion of “union scale” work thanks to the profusion of sidebar deals with the Devil... er, cable, and the constant struggle of free lancers to find work as the pool of available jobs continues to shrink -- but in the little time he had, Kevin Brennan (the gaffer) explained how this new reality has impacted his own working life, and not for the better. Like a big overcoat, the basic outlines of his story could probably fit most of us.
The cameraman had some interesting things to say as well, but it was the agent (why am I not surprised...) who cast a dark pall of gloom over the whole show with her prediction of Armageddon coming in two short years. Hers was a good news/bad news scenario: 18 months of balls-to-the-wall production as the studios and producers stockpile "product" in anticipation of the Mother of all Strikes. Yes, SAG finally signed their new contract, but in that deal lie the seeds of a potentially disastrous confrontation with the producers when that contract expires in two years, along with the contracts of the WGA and DGA. Winning this two year deal (rather than the usual three year contract) was a major coup for the actors, who will finally have the opportunity to unite with the rest of above-the-line Hollywood in demanding more from the producers -- probably a lot more -- in the arena of New Media and the Internet.
I’m guessing the producers won’t want to give any of them more, and if they can’t cut a satisfactory deal beforehand, we could well face a complete industry shutdown by the summer of 2011. That cuts both ways, of course: the mere threat of such a Hollywood Armageddon might scare the producers into offering enough concessions to make a deal and avert disaster -- but it could just as easily lead to another pig-headed game of chicken in which those of us who work below-the-line end up the real losers.
This is hardly a cheery half hour, but whether you’re a veteran of the biz or just a young wide-eyed wannabe, it’s worth your time -- and you can listen to it right here.
*Needless to say, this category does not include juicers. If you make a minimum of four to five thousand dollars a week (like a DP), then you might need an agent. That's one thing gaffers, best boys, and juicers don’t have to worry about...