Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Dirt Beneath their Feet

                          Forget something, boys?

The Oscars have come and gone, so Hollywood can relax for another year.  I tuned in here and there for a minute or two at a stretch -- taking an hour out to watch "Walking Dead,"of course -- and found very little of compelling interest.  No surprise there.  I didn't see any black ribbons, partly because there weren't many to be seen, but mostly because I couldn't bear to sit through a four hour parade of giddy celebrities and endless commercials.

I learned the next day that a few in the audience (and on stage) did wear those ribbons, and that was very much appreciated by me and everyone else who works below-the-line... but as is glaringly obvious from the photos above, two of Sunday night's big winners just couldn't be bothered. Although (as any of my ex-girlfriends can attest) I'm sartorially-challenged when it comes to any sense of style, it seems to me that a little black ribbon would have looked awfully sharp on those crisp white tuxedos.  They'd also have  reminded everyone, above and below-the-line, that the people who do the heavy lifting -- the seven-eighths of the Hollywood iceberg whose invisible, tireless labor below the waterline makes it possible for the actors up on that gleaming one-eighth of ice to really shine -- actually count for something.  That we matter too.

That Sarah Jones mattered.

But they didn't.  So thanks for nothing, Jared and Matt -- you didn't remember or care, and we won't forget. That goes for the rest of the actors in the room Sunday night, too.  This blog has been very supportive of actors over the years because they have a very hard job (one I sure as hell couldn't do) and because I love to see a great performance up on screen.  Without them, there are no movies.  I always assumed this respect went both ways -- that the actors understood what we do for them -- which is why I find it extremely disappointing that not a single actor at the Oscars was willing to put on one of those tiny black ribbons.*  This speaks volumes, and what it says isn't good.

It's abundantly clear that when Bette Midler warbled "You are the wind beneath my wings" after the memoriam segment, she was singing about her fellow thespians and nobody else.  Apparently the rest of us really don't count -- we're just the dirt beneath their feet.

Now we know.

But at least the Academy bowed to a tsunami of pressure from the below-the-line community and acknowledged Sarah Jones, however grudgingly.  They didn't just ignore us.  It wasn't much, but it meant a lot.

And at this point, I guess we just have to take what we can get.

* If I'm wrong about this -- and I sincerely hope I am -- please correct me.


Jeff said...

I'm a crew member myself, and I too was disappointed to see a lack of black ribbons, but I think some of the rhetoric in this post is too harsh.

After all, to the best of my knowledge, none of the producers, directors (with the exception of doc director Malcolm Clarke), and DPs were wearing ribbons. Why not take them to task?

I don't think it's fair to assume, or assert that a lack of a ribbon equals apathy.

Michael Taylor said...


You have your opinion, I have mine. I don't excuse the others who failed to acknowledge Sarah Jones, but let's face it -- the actors are ones who get the press. If an Oscar-winning actor wears a ribbon, everybody notices -- if a director or DP does, only a handful will care. We work with these actors every day on set, and for them to totally ignore this is -- to me -- inexcusable. If you want to cut them some slack, that's your business.

But tell me -- if this didn't demonstrate apathy, then what is it?

Mike G. said...

Most actors look through you on set, why would they choose to acknowledge you at the Oscar orgy? I don't see why the surprise. Actors want attention. It's all about them. Hence the glitter and self worship. Another reason they do the technical awards on a different date at a different venue. Plus Sarah's death was not an accident. It was criminal neglect and someone is going to jail. Will stir the pot with this comment but here goes. The crew had some involvement here. Why didn't anyone call the local and ask about the safety issues? Why did they just take marching orders? No one said No. Because we are all led to the believe if you say no you are not a team player, will be blacklisted, etc. So let's all think twice next time you are told to put that condor up next to the power transformer or pushing heavy set carts in unclosed lanes of traffic.

Michael Taylor said...

Mike G --

I wasn't surprised, just disappointed. I expected the Academy would blow us off, but that least a few actors would wear a black ribbon. I didn't expect them to make a speech or anything, just wear the fucking ribbon. I was dead wrong.

You answered your own question -- "No one said "No," for all the reasons you list. And you're right -- we all have to think twice before doing something dangerous. If we don't look out for ourselves and each other, nobody will.

JB Bruno said...

I have no way of confirming this, but someone who claims to have worked on this and similar programs in the past said that performers have some sort of contract stipulation that they can't do something like this (I guess to prevent awkward political 'messages' from the past). I don't know if it's true, but it sounds possible.

My own disappointment was with the number of technical winners who did not wear one (though many did), notably Best Cinematography winner Lubezki. It's his department, his union.

Michael Taylor said...

JB --

I haven't heard of any such stipulations in regards to the Oscars -- it seems odd that actors would be proscribed from such low-key activity while the other winners aren't -- but that doesn't mean your friend isn't right. Still, given all the press on this issue here in Hollywood, I think it would have come out at some point in the discussion.

You (along with previous commenter Jeff) make a very good point re: the winner of the Oscar for cinematography -- if anyone was to stand tall for Sarah Jones, it should have been him.

Anonymous said...

Really where this fish is rotting is the head, but not just with the actors but the IA as well. I've watched 'who needs sleep' and I have to say our IA president(not local, international) seems to be an oily bullshit artist producer lackey with no real interest in helping the people he serves. If we want change we have to force it down the leaderships gullet.

Jeff said...

"...if this didn't demonstrate apathy, then what is it?"

Honestly, Michael, I don't have a good answer for you, and I've thought a lot about it.

I could easily write a super long comment about my opinions on the matter (though, for everyone's sake, I won't), but I do think it's unfair to characterize the attitudes of actors as a whole, based on the actions of a few.

Ultimately, it may be that I simply wish it weren't apathy, that my optimism is born of naiveté, and that I want to believe that the actors understand and respect what the other seven-eighths do, and that the lack of black ribbons on the red carpet wasn't a sleight, but rather, an oversight.

All that said, perhaps it was apathy.

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

I haven't yet seen "Who needs Sleep," and wonder if the IA head in the film was Tom Short -- a former baseball bat-wielding union enforcer, so I've heard -- or Matt Loeb?

Either way, I don't suppose it matters. The IA has been selling us down the river for years now, and I don't expect that to change.

Jeff --

My intention was to slam the actors present at the Oscars, not "actors" in general. Perhaps I didn't make that clear in the post... but I was pissed when I wrote it. Like all of us in this industry, I've had some very good experiences on set with actors, and a few not so good -- but all in all, I like actors, and have a lot of respect for them.

Given the hot spotlight on the Oscar ceremony, a black ribbon on just a few of those tuxedos and expensive dresses would have meant a lot to me and many other below-the-liners -- and it didn't seem like much to ask. Maybe JB is right, and the actors are contractually barred from wearing any such symbols during the ceremony, but if not, then I don't know what to say. Oversight or apathy, these very prominent actors had a golden opportunity to stand with us in demanding that something like the Sarah Jones tragedy never happens again.

But they didn't... they just stared lovingly into the mirror all night long. Apparently I was guilty of optimism in the third degree, and should have known better -- as Mike G. said, "Why the surprise?"

Why indeed...

Thanks to everybody for tuning in.

dougR said...

I'm a little late to this party, but I've been thinking about the lack of response to Ms Jones' death at the Oscars, and I just haven't got a clue. I've done plenty of extra work (film, tv) and the crew has ALWAYS been at least as good at what they do as I am at what I do--and often orders of magnitude better. I've also worked with plenty of PA's, ad's and camera assistants who could have been Sarah Joneses, and they sort of light up the joint with their 'try,' their good cheer, and their care. Of course, I'm not even at the day player level in the biz, so there may be career concerns I'm not aware of among upper-level actors about not offending producers, blah-blah-blah. I would hope not, I would hope human decency and mutual care would rule. And a damn ribbon would have been easy enough to do, I woulda thought.

Michael Taylor said...

DougR --

Agreed -- "a damned ribbon would have been easy enough to do."

I've asked around since this post went up, and nobody (including the senior film critic for a major West Coast newspaper) has heard of any Academy rules preventing actors from wearing ribbons or other symbols to protest or draw attention to a cause.

So it appears that either none of the actors at the ceremony were aware of Sarah Jones and the black ribbon -- which is very hard to believe given the coverage this received in the industry trade papers and social media -- or they just couldn't be bothered to look beyond themselves for just one fucking minute.

It looks like the latter to me -- which will be something to remember the next time the thespian community starts looking around for support.

Thanks for tuning in...