I was on the set of a major motion picture several months ago and the first thing that crossed my mind was how interesting it was that dreams hopefully were going to be produced from an essentially unprepossessing workplace. On this particular massive soundstage—or, to be more precise, a tiny sliver of a mammoth structure—a fantasy world had been created.The set itself had been masterfully realized to the tiniest detail. It was a work of art but would nonetheless be enhanced by digital and optical effects later in postproduction. It was also a little bit of a Day of the Locust moment. As one pulled back, the artifice came into focus and the forced reality crumbled. The edges were incomplete and propped up by mortar and plywood. As it receded even further from view one could see the people responsible lingering on the sidelines, and then there were the swatches of material, the designs and prototypes that had obviously been the inspiration for what would look like something plucked from reality when it eventual arrives on a big screen in a multiplex.The memory of the set visit was triggered by the current exhibition of designer concepts on view at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The lobby area is festooned with artist renderings that provide a valuable insight into the process of turning ideas into movie realities and if the opportunity arises one should definitely take a gander.Meanwhile back on the set it was lucky enough to be a quiet moment. The camera and lighting crew were in the midst of new setups and various departments were quietly going about meeting new challenges. Those that were waiting to be called—including some of the cast and assistants—were in repose or sitting at a table playing poker. It was an unhurried atmosphere and that moment in production when things seem to be moving apace efficiently and without undue pressure. There were perhaps a hundred people milling about and another hundred close by sorting through props, fixing costumes or waiting to do makeup applications. It was still early enough in filming that people weren’t worrying about their next job.In its own quiet way, it was a Norman Rockwell image of a well-run, pleasant working environment. People knew their jobs and appeared to be working in unison to produce a top-quality product.So, just for fun it crossed my mind to draw a line in the sand and count the number of above-the-line types that were contributing to this idyllic picture. There was the director talking to an operator about camera movements and there was one of the four principal performers sitting on a chair either in deep thought or the arms of Morpheus. It was difficult to be certain as he was in full makeup. The producer was back at his office and one of the other actors might have been in his trailer; the others weren’t filming that day.It crossed my mind that it wouldn’t take a great deal of effort for the rest of the crew to seize control. Then, of course, the question became: to what end? Could they hold the production hostage and demand better health care? Or a larger percentage of profits from future exploitation? It was just a fantasy scenario but nonetheless compelling. On the one hand the physical disparity was staggering. It does take a village to make a movie but when it comes to enjoying the fruits of the labor, a very small percentage carve up the harvest. And to continue the metaphor, while it stands to reason that some by dint of contribution or position arguably deserve more, does that at all equate to others getting their fair share?If the answer to the fable is “yes,” then we can only go home and live happily ever after. However, if the opposite conclusion has more credence one has to ask not only why not but what can be done to set the balance right. It is granted a lot of hypothetical musing and it only takes a pinprick to burst a bubble. In the real world such things are unthinkable and working men and women do not stand by and accept less than their worth and dignity.
Written by Len Klady