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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

HomeColumnsI Walk the Line

I Walk the Line

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If you suffer from a degree of paranoia (and rest assured you’re in good company), you’re apt to believe that L.A. is a town that thrives on divisions.
It’s not simply a case of the haves versus the have-nots. There are also serious rifts betweens the haves and the have-mores, the have-nots and the have-nothings, and the have-somethings and the want-something-elses. The charitable perspective views all this as a natural component of life within a community that strives to create a product that cannot be preordained good, sound or worthy. It goes hand in glove with the frustration of doing superior work that sometimes goes unnoticed or isn’t appreciated within the larger framework of a movie.
And that’s simply the rosier picture or a dark dilemma.
The responsibility of making movies is structured in a vaguely pyramid shaped configuration. Or, to be more accurate, a series of pyramids that co-exist somewhat like nesting dolls. The outlines of power differ from stage to stage as a project is developed, filmed and marketed, but during each of these steps and all the stops in-between there’s the notion of everyone working for the greater good of a picture in the sort of naive fashion of altruism Mickey and Judy put on at shows in the barn.
People like to refer to moviemaking as a collaborative art form, though I’ve yet to hear it called a collaborative business model. Truer to the day-to-day reality is a comment apparently made by a film director that “collaboration is getting a lot of people to do what I want.” And while suasion itself can be an art form, the preponderance of people that employ it, tend to be hacks.
The invisible line that separates those deemed above and below was created for accounting purposes, to segregate costs that were fixed from those that had to be negotiated. It was conceived at a time when studios were factories and most who worked in the movie machines had contracts. The “us” and “them” broke down to everyone versus the moguls and their coteries. As the studio system devolved the line floated. Free agents with good agents—mostly marquee performers—became the aristocracy and any others that could slice off a piece of the profits were on one side of the divide while the majority often felt like chattel.
The history of separation has largely related to monetary compensation and, secondarily, artistic power. However, it’s possible to have a degree of the latter without either the fabulous paycheck or an ascendant position.
There’s no question that quite a number of cinematographers and production and costume designers have star status by dint of years of hard work and achievement. Appropriately, neophyte filmmakers lean on their experience and benefit in all manner from the contributions of more seasoned artisans. The professional rewards for such collaborations are invariably skewed and inappropriate and belie all those that would proffer that making films is a meritocracy.
It’s little wonder that such an environment breeds resentment. But the danger of this sort of caste system is that anger and frustration tends to be misdirected. In this instance the have-a-littles feel the wrath of the have-a-little-mores. Department heads tread heavily on the psyches of underlings sometimes simply because they can. The pitfall is that the framework allows for a third power class or yet another line to cross over at one’s peril. The prospect that more and more wrinkles could fester below the line ought to fill everyone with horror that the dignity and respect of the profession somehow got lost in a maze.

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