Saturday, December 18, 2010


Every production assistant, intern, receptionist, runner and/or other member of Hollywood’s aspirational poor can rejoice today as Bourne franchise and United 93 director Paul Greengrass held forth on the biggest unresolved scourge afflicting the film industry today. No, not piracy. No, not the Golden Globes. Greengrass has it out for the exploiters who are “raping and pillaging young people” for the sake of a few budget savings here or there. Bold!

[. . .]

The filmmaker participated in the Dunhill conversation series opposite actor David Morrissey who elicited the following response with a simple inquiry about Greengrass’s early days in documentary:

One of the problems we have in our industry is that young people in our industry are being exploited. There are companies in London, sadly, that are making very good livings on “work experience” — which really means people being expected to work for nothing. And if we — we in the industry who’ve had good livings think that we are creating a sustainable industry by raping and pillaging young people, then we’re very, very sadly mistaken. And if I were to point to a single issue in our industry that is not being dealt with and offers the most profound threat to the regeneration of our industry, it is the way we exploit young people.

Preach it! Or… not? I think we all know the difference between low- or no-pay and pure exploitation — the former offers exposure to professionals and actual work experience on a film or TV set, while the latter amounts to cleaning and coffee-fetching with little if any access to the happenings either behind or in front of the camera. Sometimes the job descriptions blur. But as someone who’s worked an unpaid internship or gopher role on more than a few sets and offices over the years, opportunity is more often than not in the eye (and initiative) of the beholder, and making smart decisions about certain gratis duties and jobs and employers (especially employers) can entitle rookies to a little more experiential leverage than a paycheck gets them. (S. T. Vanairsdale, “VIDEO: Low-Wage Hollywood Has a Champion in Paul Greengrass,” “Movieline,” 16 Dec. 2010)

Re: "But as someone who’s worked an unpaid internship or gopher role on more than a few sets and offices over the years, opportunity is more often than not in the eye (and initiative) of the beholder, and making smart decisions about certain gratis duties and jobs and employers (especially employers) can entitle rookies to a little more experiential leverage than a paycheck gets them. And what’s worth more?"

This Horatio Algeresque response -- make most of your opportunities, be smart with your resources, and you'll succeed where others failed -- has me thinking of this bit, from Morris Dickstein's book about the Depression, "Dancing in the Dark," about why power-differentials stood unchanged throughout the period:

As one psychiatrist who had trained with Freud later told Studs Terkel, "Everybody, more or less, blamed himself for his delinquency or lack of talent or bad luck. There was an acceptance that it was your own fault, your own indolence, your lack of ability. You took it and kept quiet." Thanks to this "kind of shame about your own personal failure . . . there were very few disturbances." (220)

Why must you always come up with the most vague, nonsequitur ways of making your arguments? All I'm saying is if you try to build an instinct for good opportunities, and then make the most of them when they occur, then that can add up to a fairly priceless investment in yourself.

Will it always work? No. And it's not for everybody. In a perfect world everyone would be paid what they're worth. But until they are you've gotta determine what sacrifices are worth it -- and then follow through as best you can.

Paul Greengrass is saying that abuse of youth by the film industry is cruel, and will amount to the degeneration of the industry. If youth mostly only encountered this wasting here, then your drawing them to make use of what resources are available to them is apt, and maybe very helpful, because they still have said resources to draw upon and continue to expand / cultivate, and so learn to manage best, and perhaps very profitably, this non-idealic "situation." However, if what he is saying is true of what society AS A WHOLE is doing to its youth -- and how can we not fairly from "here," "go there"? -- more making use of them than at-all properly developing them, then it's just not much use to point out that opportunities really do continue to exist if they could but school themselves to make use of them (since most of them are now by constitution doomed to be those who readily, even masochistically deliberately, fall into traps, whatever flag waved to forestall them), but a bit cruel too, as it actually plays to the sick part of how they're constituted in need of no further encouragement -- the voice in their heads, that is, that reminds them over and over again, in every unfair situation: "Quit complaining! Stop denying it: you know if you don't succeed, that it's mostly YOUR fault, you lazy buthole ... Things are tough. So what? -- And just what do you think should fairly be meted out to those who just expect life to hand things to them?"

I fully agree, though, that there remain opportunities, and people should not be too quickly discouraged; but am perhaps mostly not too much concerned about those who will make use of them so long as -- for instance -- every now and then they're reminded of others' successes in similarly trying situations. Rather, my mind is on the much larger crowd of youth who can only be saved if less-run-down / ruined elders think more in terms of systematic change than encouraging more one-on-one pep talks or broadly broadcasted fireside chats.

Sunnydaze mentioned the "rich kids." I see these people all the time doing "for experience" work, and I just know they'll do fine, that they'll be noticed and often-enough ushered ahead, that they're on their way. They'll never really be used, their experience of interning will be of it as a necessary, sometimes distasteful, always hard but all-in-all still encouraging and illuminating first step -- what the experience is supposed to be like -- not just out of resources and resourcefulness, that their advantaged parents / schooling gave them sufficient skills and "get up and go" to succeed, but because they don't so much draw out the more sadistic impulses of those over them. Their societal role now is to just succeed, to live life near as if nothing truly averse is happening -- everybody is beginning to now really feel it -- and so make clearer that a class of human beings is supposed to exist that is simply to be served, and so thereby everyone else of a class that is just supposed to suffer, that we are determined to make suffer, waste away, and yet still blame themselves for all of it. Stand in the way of this "due course," at your considerable peril.

That was the situation during the Depression, where the full consequences of the running-down of a whole generation that Greengrass fears (the next flappers weren't seen until the '60s, with the hippies) is on its way was actually effected, and which I do think we're right now once again stepping into.

Link: VIDEO: Low-Wage Hollywood Has a Champion in Paul Greengrass (Movieline)

Appendum: Sunnnydaze’s response:

The problem isn't just with young people. The attitude in this biz is that you are so lucky, so blessed to be involved why on earth would you expect to get paid? This for any age of individual. Makes some sense when a person is new to the industry but when you are 35 and have been in your craft for 20 years being asked to "volunteer" is an insult. It also creates an environment where the "rich kids" have all the fun and success while people who actually need to work for a living fall away and into other fields to survive.

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