It seemed to be a case of “Et tu?” Below the Line, which has always given pretty fair coverage to FTAC (the Film and Television Action Committee), found itself the subject of an informational picket by that very group. Of course, the “Et tu?” ran in both directions: FTAC was there because we were showing Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man as part of the paper’s new screening series round—the film’s first US showing outside the press-screening circuit.FTAC’s gripe was with Cinderella Man itself: The film tells the story of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock, a working-class fighter from New York who found himself nearly washed up before rallying to win a series of bouts that eventually landed him the heavy championship when he upset Max Baer, and earned the very sobriquet that now titles the movie.The problem, according to the open letter on FTAC’s website (and reiterated in the orange flyers they were handing out at the screening), is this:“Bringing back to life this great American hero now when American workers are suffering from the loss of millions of jobs to foreign labor is praiseworthy. But instead of taking this opportunity to support these American workers and maintain their standard of living, you caved into corporate greed and decided, with Universal and Miramax, to film in Toronto. By exporting the work to Canada in exchange for Canadian subsidies you are actually destroying the jobs and lives of American workers.”And to add to the irony, one of the jobs Braddock worked while waiting for his break as a fighter was as a Teamster!The evening was decorous though, and the subject didn’t come up again until the Q&A afterwards, where BTL moderator Bruce Carse held forth not only with Howard, but film editor Daniel Hanley and production designer Wynn Thomas as well.An audience question—not from FTAC—was then put directly to Howard, about the controversy over Cinderella Man’s location, and his reasons for filming a story about American inspiration in foreign locales.“We were never pushed in that direction, or told the movie wouldn’t get made,” Howard said, wanting to make clear there was no studio pressure about where he “had” to film. “My initial hope was that this would be made in New York.” After all, he allowed, “I live in New York, I shot A Beautiful Mind in New York.” And after all, Braddock’s great triumph occurred at Madison Square Garden.And precisely because it did, Howard decided to shoot in Toronto.Not only because the 1925 version of the Garden was superceded by the current 1968-built edition, but also because, as Howard explained, the production had “to have the flexibility of a large building at our disposal,” one where re-shoots could take place, and one not booked year-round with sports events and concerts.Thomas said Philadelphia made the list of finalists, but ultimately, the production moved north to Maple Leaf Gardens, former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (who have moved to newer digs), which is not only empty, but was built, as Thomas noted, in 1929, and thus provided similar architectural features.The location, Howard added, was “a huge breakthrough” in being able to schedule the production, and not worry about any downtime if something went wrong—for example, somebody got injured—during the boxing sequences.So Cinderella Man’s main issue was one of location, as opposed to budgets. Howard also took his department heads and keys with him, and posted “back on the USA,” as Chuck Berry once sang, as well.But then again, that may be the exception that proves the rule. After all, Warner Bros.’ latest Superman movie—the filmic chronicles of that defender of “truth, justice, and the American way”—was shot in Australia, and not because the land down under evokes either Krypton or Metropolis.As for how job flight issues might be solved, Howard offered that “a thing like that has to be legislated. It can’t be defined on a project by project basis.” It’s not that productions are necessarily told to go to Canada, he added, it’s just that that producers are given budget ceilings, and Canada, with its subsidies, provides a way for a lot of his colleagues to stay at, or under, those ceilings.Of course, more and more American states are getting into that game. South Carolina’s governor, Mark Sanford, just signed a film/TV production incentive bill his office calls “second only to Louisiana” in its generosity. (15 percent labor and local supplier rebates, with additional sales and accommodation tax rebates.) Sanford, a conservative Republican, doubtless is anti-Hollywood on the “culture war” front, but will put that aside, one assumes, if it means jobs.Sanford is also feeling some heat in his home state for vetoing spending items that cut funding for a lot of that state’s two-year colleges, “institutions,” according to a local Democratic press release, “which serve a crucial role in training South Carolina’s work force.”Hopefully, there are enough veteran crew folk from previous South Carolina productions that lack of training won’t be an eventual issue; and Sanford must surely be counting on an uptick in jobs to assuage anyone ticked off that classes are closing at the same time subsidized productions are rolling into town.Meanwhile, another local politician benefited from film worker support—local in the “right here in LA” sense. That’d be victorious mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, who defeated incumbent Jim Hahn. Hahn had the support of most of the local AFL-CIO unions, though not, as previously reported, the IA, which endorsed the challenger.Villaraigosa called film and TV production “the bread and butter of LA’s economy.” After IA broke with the pack to endorse him, they’ll be expecting him to deliver on that observation. UR will be there to let you know how it goes.
Written by Mark London Williams