So it’s VES Awards weekend here in El Lay — among other things — and this seems a germane time to run this excerpt from the current Union Roundup column in the paper — especially given the still-brewing scuttlebutt that the strike is more or less “wrapped up:”
But even when the strike does end — and Hollywood can once again “means test” the old theory that showbiz is immune to recession, or even depression, as Bush-spawned economic chickens come back to roost with the ferociousness of sparrowhawks – not all will be well or happy here in Lotus Land.
We rang up a renowned visual FX supervisor of our acquaintance, who was busy doing post work on an upcoming tent pole production. What, we wondered, was the reaction of the FX community to the strike?
Certainly, our supervisorial friend said, the FX community wished the writers well, and all hoped they received their fair share of the entertainment biz’s gilded pie. But would the writers cease working — as many crew people have – to support an attempt on the part of FXers to organize and flex some union muscle?
What our friend was getting at was that FX supes have no collective representation at all (individually, some might find themselves in the camera operators local, or with the editors, or occasionally repped as an AD). He’d tried to organize one himself, even approaching the aforementioned Mr. Short himself, only to be told, in no uncertain terms, that while room might be made in an existing, somewhat related local, the IA wasn’t interested in forming a new local, comprised of FXers, at all.
“We’re treated worse than PAs,” said friend observed, without the expected laugh at the end of the sentence. “(Producers) want us when they want us, but have no respect for us: ‘Anyone with a Mac can do what we do.'” (Perhaps analogous to the anyone-with-a-keyboard can write a good script, argument. Now, if only the good scripts were the ones in active development…)
He cited Dennis Muren as an example of how wrong the anyone-with-a-Mac notion is, mentioning Muren’s extensive background in art history, how conversant he is with camera gear, and how his sense of geometry comes into play every time he sets up a shot to be green-screened later.
In fact, the very next day, a grip was recalling to us how clearly Muren once explained the specific reasons a set had to be constructed a certain way, ending at a certain point, so that he, Muren, could fill in the rest, digitally, in post, and what sort of depth and angles he needed for the best results.
On top of all this, our FX pal went on, effects supervisors now routinely oversee “60 – 70% of the creative aspects” of filmmaking in our brave new digital world, and are oft responsible for upwards of “70% of a film’s budget,” especially with those tent poles.
To put it another way, he said, while it’s clear that the digital art represents much of “the future of Hollywood entertainment, we (still) don’t deserve health insurance.” There was a bit more of a laugh after that sentence.
Presumably they’d have that insurance with a union.
Then again, this is America, where apparently no one deserves health insurance unless the insurance companies themselves can profit massively from it. But we digress…
“We’re the collateral damage,” in all the other labor battles, our supe friend opines. Yet are “all the crafts people, the writers, actors and directors going to support us? We wish they would share with us.”
The idea of a union card, at least.
To quote the great LA punk band, X: “More fun in the new world.”
In other words, one of the post-strike questions the writers may be hearing more and more is: “do you have our backs?”
of course, the writers will have their own questions in the big weekend meetings for WGAe and WGAw: One strike-involved writer of BTL’s acquaintance has been hearing that people will be going “back to work” next week — this from a writer higher up on the TV staffing chain.
Well, that will only happen if there’s “settlement language” presented to the members they can agree on — though no one is expecting to have to actually vote on something before they’re allowed to leave the Shrine Auditorium…