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Gristmill: Strike, Hollywood, Strike

Thu, 10/14/2021 - 09:32
The venerable Hollywood Center Studios (now Sunset Las Palmas Studios) has seen production ranging from "I Love Lucy" to "Jeopardy!"
Wikimedia Commons

Other than assorted Trappist monks and a few backwoods survivalists, every American has skin in the game with the looming, and potentially huge, Hollywood strike. We watch more than ever, the beast of TV and movie production demanding to be fed ever more “content” to be scattershot across endless cable channels and multiplying streaming outlets.

So how about the worker bees getting their due for a change?

Personally, as a cable-cutter, I feel implicated, because the recent explosion in streaming is high up among the contentions of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees: that is, what the crews get paid by giant tech companies that have transformed themselves into producers of entertainment, and entirely successfully, if you count out the quality of line-by-line writing, which is clearly stretched thin. But, what’s it been, a dozen years since the last negotiations? Things have markedly changed.

Yet more personally, I have an older brother out there on the West Coast who happens to be a Teamster — he transports sets, staging, props, actors too — and in all likelihood will be out of work in solidarity in short order. He’s not even in famously union Hollywood, but up in Portland, Ore., where, weirdly, there seems to be no shortage of entertainment-industry driving jobs.

Ever, really. Those B-television shows with creatures and vampires that require lots of dense green foliage in which to do evil deeds? Check. Car commercials that feature S.U.V.s modeling the irresponsible destruction of off-road ecosystems with tall evergreens as backdrop, the brainchild of a 30-something ad bro in some glass tower in San Francisco? Check.

Again weirdly, I too did time behind the wheel of a nondescript Hollywood straight truck, as in a different life I was the possessor of a commercial driver’s license. But that was distinctly non-union; in fact, jobs materialized only because we were the opposite of organized. I recall an NBC Olympics promo shot out in the salt flats, and a craft service tray passing by, its ill-considered sushi exposed to the beating sun. Or remember the “Whassup?” guys Budweiser commercials? I was on location for a quick shoot on the Las Vegas Strip.

Doing what? I can’t say for sure. It wasn’t for me.

My brother, a former independent record store owner who one day decided it was time for a career change, had a better, more sensible approach — focus, specialize, unionize.

Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living.


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