Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The beginning of the end, maybe?

This past weekend was a real eye-opener for me. I knew the industry was slow here in Los Angeles, but when I sat in a continuing education classroom at Contract Services with a bunch of guys who are usually always busy (and I mean always), all anyone could talk about was  how thin work has gotten around here.

Yikes. If the heavy hitters aren’t making ends meet, what hope do the rest of us have? I’m currently getting enough work to keep the wolves at bay, but that, of course, can change at any time.

For those of you not familiar, over the past few years several other states (and countries) have been handing producers suitcases full of cash in order to lure film production away from California. I think the technical term is incentives, but really it’s a bribe.

And it’s worked very successfully.  There is currently almost no production in California, but Louisiana and Georgia (the newcomer to the world of corporate kickbacks) are hopping.

I love my job and I’d like to keep doing it, but I’d rather drink poison than move to Georgia or Louisiana (nothing personal, you understand), so the question is how long I can hang on. An added complication is my being  well past the age of being able to snag a rich husband.

Note to parents of girls: Look at my life. This is what happens when you teach your daughters self-reliance. They end up alone, without  Botox, veneers, or overpriced sports cars and worrying about how to pay the bills.

I just have myself and the cat, so as long as I can get enough hours to keep my health insurance, I’ll tighten my belt and soldier on.

But what about the people with families?

One state ends their sop and another starts up. Since most of these subsidies actually cost the states money (currently for every dollar of film revenue that Louisiana brings in, it spends $7.30*), it’s baffling that they keep doing it, but I’m certainly not one to underestimate the capability of humans to not in any way, shape or form learn from our mistakes.

Most of us who have spent our entire working lives in the film industry have skills that don’t easily translate to the real world, and even if we do decide to branch out, we have resumes that are confusing and frightening to anyone not familiar with the transient nature of film production (“No, it’s the same job, for the same people.. just with a different name on the letter head”).

So Wednesday, I have a career counseling appointment at The Actors’ Fund to see if I have any chance of any sort of work at all once production in California dries up for good.

Or, even better,  if I can manage to start some sort of business that legally appropriates taxpayer money just like the studios are doing.

I suspect not, but we’ll see.


Filed under: cranky, life in LA, rants, , , , ,

18 Responses

  1. boskolives says:

    Over the past 30 years or so I’ve had overlapping careers as a still photographer, a cinematographer, and a sound mixer.
    I had always said if I lost my vision I could still be a sound mixer, if I went deaf I could still be shooting stills or movies, and if I became blind and deaf I could be a producer.
    Well, here I am, not able to be hired as a stills guy because I aged out since I don’t speak hip-hop and I can’t pass the entrance exam from the average 23 year old publicist, and I can’t shoot movies because I can’t compete with a kid who got a 5D for a high school graduation gift and lives with his / her parents so they can work for meals, credits, and a DVD copy of the epic. Besides that, Fuck video….
    So, I’m still getting work as a sound mixer, with an equipment package of 10 wireless mics, a multi track digital recorder, and a ton of other stuff making (adjusted to 2012 dollars) about 1/10th of what I made 25 years ago when I had just a Nagra 4.2, a Sennheiser 415 and boom, and two ECM-50’s.
    Lately I’ve been checking out the spots under freeway overpasses, making notes on which have the best flow through ventilation and might make the best base for a new and simpler life style as I may need to stretch out my social security income if Rmoney gets into office.

    • Peggy Archer says:

      We have got to figure out a way to scam other states out of taxpayer money. What’s good for the goose, right?

      • lighttech says:

        you may have a good Idea there peg –lets all get on this and “make” a fake film and just make up some fake billing to show the other state and pocket the cash—kinda like a Saturday night live skit I saw on college funding –” get your parents to pay us ( the college) show up for parents week –we give you a diploma in basket weaving –and we split the cash 50/50 –does this work? a student asked? –yep says the college recruiter–most of your teachers went to our college !!!!!

  2. Max says:

    I take it that all is not well considering you haven’t updated in months? I guess you can always sell your soul and start filming stock footage to sell to the production companies that need clips for documentaries and such. It’s not a great earner, but it’s an easy way to supplement your income if you’re in dire straits.

    Best of luck buddy!

  3. As an Atlanta resident seeing the sudden boom and excitement over filming all around the city, knowing your situation puts it all in perspective. I’ve followed your blog for several years and it was noticeable that right as the movie business got big here, work started to get sparse on your end. What has been great for the state of Georgia is hurting people like you and that’s hard to take in. I really do hope things work out for you. And please know that Atlanta is a wonderful city if you should ever visit!

    • Peggy Archer says:

      Thanks! My sister lives in Atlanta, so I’ve been there before and there’s nothing wrong with it, I just don’t want to live there, but I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I may not have a choice. The problem is that as soon as Georgia figures out exactly how much the subsidies are costing the state, they’ll end them and then some other state will start getting all the work.

      • The subsidies have become a shell game in the “race to the bottom,” a situation where now you’ve got it, now you don’t. In this game, the Big Boys above-the-line will always make out fine as they follow the easy money from state to state, country to country, while those of us who do the heavy lifting in the trenches drown in a sea of red ink.

        If our governor doesn’t sign the authorization to continue California’s own anemic incentive plan (a lottery system to disperse a hundred million bucks/year worth of tax breaks for two years), we’ll go down the toilet all the faster. There are lots of people yelling at the gov for even considering tax breaks to “Hollywood fat cats,” but without that paltry incentive plan, the workers of Hollywood are in deep shit.

        Although I’ve been fortunate enough to stay fairly busy, I’m making roughly 25% of what I was bringing in twenty years ago, in dollars adjusted for inflation. To a certain extent, that’s a measure of how good things used to be — but it’s also a sobering reality check on how bad things are now.

        Bad, and getting worse…

        • lighttech says:

          I have a sobering article around here somewhere from a CineFX magazine –its about a get together talk that a bunch of the FX gods did that month and one guy spoke on that he felt that US production was doomed when he heard that in China a person was cheaper to rent to hold a “flag” all day than a C-stand —he said once the big$$$ hears that and finds it true WE ( US workers in the movie biz) are done!!!!

  4. ironrailsironweights says:

    It seems as if television is becoming one endless array of reality shows. How does working on those shows work out for people in your end of the business?


    • lighttech says:

      all I can say is for most “we” don’t — all they use is a camera guy with light on camera and a sound guy and maybe one “boom” mic guy — then some editing and DONE

      they (the producers) love these shows –no crew –no stage – no equipment to rent– to transportation stuff to get — no trailer/makeup to rent — cheap cheap cheap

      just remember every time you turn one of these on your voting that you like this crud and are putting lots of real people on unemployment and IMHO not getting a real show to watch that has a real story and script with actors in it

    • Jesse says:

      What lighttech said. Reality TV has been the only work I’ve gotten, and they’re so cheap it’s truly sickening. I honestly feel it’s one step above porn.

      Usually they hire a few PAs at each location to do lunch orders/drive vans, and in lieu of a lighting department they might bring on one “Utility” person. Which takes full advantage of the vague title to make this poor sap do anything and everything from AC to boom op. And the pay is little if anything above PA wages.

      Some of the bigger shows – talent shows, competitive cooking shows – have full sets, complex lighting arrangements and will employ a full grip, lighting, and art department. But you won’t get that on your average freak show reality production.

  5. Steve says:

    I left the City of Angels for Louisiana and when it slowed there (09 strike threat) got asked to move the Atlanta (I work in production support). I loved 20 years in LA but really find Georgia (and the south as a whole) to be fantastic. The ripple effect of the money and how it has boosted the local economies is apparent all over the area… hope it goes another decade!

    • Peggy Archer says:

      I certainly do not hope the Georgia subsidies go on for another decade, as I’d like to be able to work enough to pay my bills, but I’m very glad that you’re enjoying the benefits of my suffering, Steve.

  6. Steve says:

    I certainly don’t care to benefit from others suffering, I don’t want that at all. I had to move to work as LA had dried up for me. I was a Studio casualty to tell the truth. But I knew that I had a wife and two sons who depended on me and I went where the work was. Call me a mercenary – but life can be an evil bitch and you have to punch back and re-load sometimes! Best of luck – I am pulling for your success!

  7. Prodgal says:

    I totally understand. I am in the same boat, I work in production as a LP/PM and am feeling the pain of my career tapering off, and breaking my heart. Life on the set is a very unique and specific type of work. You move fast, adapt to different places ,work with all kinds of people, think out of the box, problem solve, create,it is physical and cerebral at the same time, then you tear it all down, and poof it is gone, like you were never there except when you see it the end result on the screen. It also allows you to be who you are, dress the way you want, express yourself in a way that doesn’t exist in the private sector. People who don’t work in film don’t understand, they think getting a 9-5 job is sensible and not suffocating.
    What also spoke to me was I am also a super self reliant gal, and suddenly now beyond the age of landing the sugar daddy, because I have always been my independent self pushing through with my career, that I have worked so hard for.
    I am just hoping the winds of change blow and production comes back. Sadly, we don’t work in a very loyal field, film will follow where the money goes,where they can stretch the buck. This has been happening for years, and California has just let it fly away.
    Please know you are not alone in what you are going through, I know it hard in our industry because you always have to put on a brave face being freelance, because we always have to have something in the works whether it is real or not because we work in Hollywood.

  8. There is some nascent film work around the bay area-sh. With somewhat routine filming in my town. They’ve filmed a couple of commercials and a movie this year. I think I remember reading you had family up north. It might be an option for you. Send me an email. I don’t know if it will help you at all. BUt all of a sudden we are starting to become a hub.

    California has one of the worst business climates in all the states. This is why other states are luring film crews away.

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