November 15, 2012

"But, Mr. Lincoln, sir, everybody knows that paying the lowest wages possible is good for the economy"

I'm walking down Ventura Boulevard and see a big "Paramount Studios" truck parked in front of a rented boutique. A half dozen crew guys, probably the first wave of what will be 50 or 100 workers who will arrive soon and work all night to film a minute or less of a  movie, TV show, or commercial, are setting up equipment to convert it into a location set.

They're working quickly and surehandedly, carrying on a variety of technical conversations about how they will perform their next steps while they're finishing their initial tasks. They're not a NASCAR pit crew, but they're veterans who know that while making movies involves a lot of hurry up and wait, the hurry up part is what keeps them getting hired.

Now, some Hollywood crafts unions don't have a good reputation. From The Simpsons' "Radioactive Man" episode:
Homer: You guys work on the movie? 
Teamster: You sayin' we're not working? 
Homer: Oh, I always wanted to be a Teamster. So lazy and surly... mind if I relax next to you?

But the Teamsters are close to being the exception that proves the rule that members of these specialized unions tend to be competent and cooperative. 

Not surprisingly, I made sure to check the demographics. The uniformed security guard who was there to stand around making sure passer-bys like me didn't walk off with a Red video camera was a young Latino. The five technicians, however, were blue collar white guys in the 35 to 55 age range, a demographic you don't see much of in L.A. anymore, except on movie sets.

They had beer guts and the kind of facial hair that guys who own Harley-Davidsons (maybe two or three) espouse. They look like the kind of tough guy craftsmen with high five or low six-figure incomes who, if the Oakland Raiders announced they were moving back to the L.A. Coliseum tomorrow, would shell out for season tickets the next day.

When Tom Wolfe came out to North Hollywood 49 years ago to check out the Kustom Kar scene in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, he reported that the post-WWII profusion of broad wealth in Southern California was inspiring all sorts of strange and rather beautiful blue collar creativity

Later in the 20th Century, Los Angeles pioneered the current national dogma of driving down wages via immigration "for the good of the economy." And "diversity," never forget "diversity."

One major exception, however, has been Hollywood. Sensitive artists with large but fragile egos don't take well to cost-cutting among the people who are supposed to make them look good. 

To illustrate this, I think a good sketch comedy scene could be set on the set of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. As you've no doubt heard, the delightful English eccentric Method ham actor Daniel Day-Lewis insisted upon staying in character as Honest Abe throughout filming. Spielberg dressed in a suit to direct for the first time in his career and always addressed his star as "Mr. President."

I'd like to see a sketch in which, halfway through the shoot, Spielberg, as producer, fires his expensive crew of American veterans and replaces them with minimum wage Mixtec-speakers who not only don't know that they have to address Day-Lewis as "Mr. Lincoln," but don't know who "Mr. Lincoln" was, and thus don't see anything odd about it. Miffed, Day-Lewis complains so irately to Spielberg over dinner that he punches his hand through his stovepipe hat. Spielberg then has to explain to his sensitive star / Free Soil Free Labor President that firing Americans and replacing them with lower paid foreigners is just being "good for the economy."

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you forgetting the running gag in "Bowfinger" where Steve Martin's small time producer vows to get "the best crew money can buy," then promptly shoos up a bunch of illegal aliens into the back of his van. Over the course of the movie, the Mexican crew assimilates and becomes more jaded. We see them at the end of the film, dressed in Hollywood casual and reading Cathiers du Cinema or something like that.

Anonymous said...

"One major exception, however, has been Hollywood. Sensitive artists with large but fragile egos don't take well to cost-cutting among the people who are supposed to make them look good."

I'm not so sure about this. I was in Los Angeles and met up with my cousin who is a union grip. He said that since so many major stars are now producing their own movies and having to deal with the costs of union workers that they're attitudes towards the set crew has changed noticeably. This filters down to the other actors of course.

For the record, the coolest actor to supposedly work with is Daniel Craig, followed up by Tom Cruise (this surprised me).

elvisd said...

Steve, seriously, that's brilliant. I really hope someone films a comedy sketch of this idea and puts it on youtube.

elvisd said...

Steve, seriously, that's brilliant. I really hope someone films a comedy sketch of this idea and puts it on youtube.

Anonymous said...

I admit I have not seen this movie so I could be wrong, but I would bet it will portray Abe as a pro-diversity, liberal type.

In reality Lincoln wanted to transfer all the freed slaves OUT of America. Panama was one intended destination. Will the movie show any of this? I doubt it.

DaveinHackensack said...

"For the record, the coolest actor to supposedly work with is Daniel Craig, followed up by Tom Cruise (this surprised me)."

And the least cool actor -- Christian Bale?

Luke Lea said...

"In reality Lincoln wanted to transfer all the freed slaves OUT of America."

His reasoning, if I recall, was that they would never be able to achieve "social" equality.

Anonymous said...

Let's tax Hollywood. 20% excise tax on the gross movie like in the 1950s. Stick it to the rich!

Paul Mendez said...

Maybe, instead of shelling Ft. Sumter, the South should have hired a bunch of Republican economists to convince Lincoln that slavery lowered consumer prices and made the nation more competitive in a global economy.

Yeah, that's the ticket!

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece.

Sadly, it seems as though 'beefmen' (ie tough, wiry, blue-collar nordic type works who built America) cannot co-exist in the same ecological niche as the greater spotted oompah-loompahs (it's really a battle between the universal soldier and the universal slave, beefmen , having the pride of the Devil, steadfastly refuse to become oompah-loompah manques, they'd rather die than do that).
It's jus like that general law in biology in which two subspecies of the same mammal never coexist in the same environment.

Just out of curiosity, are porn crews (SoCal pumps thousands out of linear feet of the filth each day)beefmen or oompah-loompah, are just general perverts?
Methinks that the 'talent' would be disturbed by the sight of the little trolls behind the cameras.

Anonymous said...

OT, but Ann Coulter goes there...

http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2012-11-14.html

Anonymous said...

The film business is extremely unionized. That applies to the top talent and it filters all the way down to the "grip" and "best boy".

(There must be interesting stories to explain how some of these job titles came to be)

Anonymous said...

Sadly, it seems as though 'beefmen' (ie tough, wiry, blue-collar nordic type works who built America)

Jocks

cannot co-exist in the same ecological niche as the greater spotted oompah-loompahs

Wannabe-jocks

So let's be like Japan and replace both with nerds and their robot slaves.

local yokel said...

I don't know about competence but film crews have certainly gotten smaller in my lifetime's experience. For tax incentives as well as the barely-serviceable "urban scenery" I would see them often working in the alleys near my office building on Wilshire downtown, late 90s era. I don't see the giant convoys in the city center any more, methinks because the industry is hemorrhaging. However I was driving past Lankershim at night a few weeks ago and saw half-a-dozen large trailers, not just vans or SUVs, for some moderate-to-major catering & production work on the TV show "Shameless." They had all their flood lights turned on but I couldn't see any actual personnel anywhere in the park.

Anonymous said...

Your sketch idea sounds a bit laborious, har har. Maybe some paleocon comedy investor will take it up though. I can't believe somebody actually took this opportunity to ask after the character of "porn crews"

Anonymous said...

For someone who's got his very unique oblique style of film criticism (Materialist At The Movies?) I'm surprised to have never read your commentary/Econ 101 survey on the biggest change in H'wood revenue since cable TV in the 70s: namely, that the target-rich demographic of teens takes it perfectly naturally now never to pay for their entertainment. I bet the children of those hyper-competent blue-collar union guys are the same way. Hell, maybe the grips are stealing downloaded flicks during their own downtime.

Jeff W. said...

Americans should know the three legs that prop up the "invite the world" political stool.

1) Employers seeking cheaper workers.

2) Democrats inviting new Democrat voters.

and that still might not be enough to amass the political support needed to destroy the U.S. job market, which was once the envy and marvel of the world, but you also have...

3) The money printers and those who rely on newly-printed money to fund government spending. The money printers watch inflation statistics the same way as Scottish engineers in a ship's engine rooms used to watch the steam pressure gauges. They are always on the edge of saying, "She canna take anymore, Captain! We're giving her all we can!"

These money printers, who are at the apex of American society's food chain, are always trying to keep inflation down so that they can print more money without causing inflation. One key element to their success in doing that has been open borders immigration.

Peter said...

As I understand it, unionized film-crew jobs pay very nice hourly rates, however work can be very scarce during many parts of the year. The main reason why members of film crews belong to unions is that they get health insurance and other benefits through the unions, provided they work a certain number of hours. Getting benefits through employers isn't an option because a typical crew member will have several different employers during the course of a year, for example six weeks with Disney, then a couple of months with CBS, then a month with Paramount, and so on.

anony-mouse said...

Er, if it wasn't for the number of immigrants coming to Union states, 1861-65, wildly exceeding the number of immigrants coming to the CSA this Mr. Lincoln fellow may not have been in a position to push through the 13th amendment.

And then-no Lincoln movie employing anybody.

Anonymous said...

I'm in Cali too and there's a major city project going on right by my house and all the workers are blue collar white guys while the guard is latino.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Maybe, instead of shelling Ft. Sumter, the South should have hired a bunch of Republican economists to convince Lincoln that slavery lowered consumer prices and made the nation more competitive in a global economy.

I think you'd be surprised at how many of the rationalizations for mass immigration in the U.S. today mirror those of the slavery apologists in the 19th century. According to the script, slavery was good for business and good for the slaves, who got a better life out of the deal (christianized, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Steve what do you think of the possibility that DDL portrays Lincoln with a hint of Reagan? I've only seen the previews, but the way he smiles and hesitates between lines seems kind of Reaganesque.

Steve Sailer said...

"DDL portrays Lincoln with a hint of Reagan"

That didn't occur to me, but now that you mention it, I can see it.

Londoner said...

Sounds like he's going to be portrayed more like Abe Foxman than Abe Lincoln.

beowulf said...

Yeah, Lincoln does sound suspiciously like Eugene Debs (but then so does Teddy Roosevelt).
"There is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government... Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration"
http://www.infoplease.com/t/hist/state-of-the-union/73.html

That's from his 1861 State of the Union (back then, it was submitted in writing)). The end of the SotU is interesting, "There are already among us those who if the Union be preserved will live to see it contain 250,000,000."

Considering the US didn't hit 250M until after the 1990 census Lincoln was wrong about that but it gives a sense of how fast the population was growing (by immigration presumably) if 250M Americans were anticipated within in the lifetimes of those alive in 1861 (the outer limit of that span, say, the 1960 Census, US population was 179 million).

barely remember it said...

Reagan always seemed kinda "plain Midwestern" to me (obviously critical to his career advancement, in both careers) so this could be one of them existence/essence deals

David said...

"The post-election chatter has been dominated by demographics, Latinos, women, and the culture war. But economics played a strong and even pivotal role in this election too"

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/13/michael-tomasky-on-how-mitt-romney-finally-killed-reaganomics.html

Anonymous said...

Lincoln was big on immigration though. I don't know how he reconciled that with the otherwise pro-white working class reputation of the then-Republican party but I guess it had something to do

I dont really get what the problem would be in Steve's skit. If an employer told the migrants to call some guy "Mr. Lincoln" why wouldnt they? They'd find it less pretentious (since they wouldnt get it) than the white crew members.

Steve Sailer said...

That's assuming that Daniel Day-Lewis wants people not to notice that he's staying in character for months on end by carrying a flintlock musket around or butchering his own meat or whatever. Most great actors like attention.