New Series of Articles from TheWrap Puts Spotlight on Hollywood Jobs Picture

Posted on October 27, 2011 by


Last week,  TheWrap began running a series of fantastic articles about Hollywood and the jobs crisis.  The articles do not paint a very pretty picture for those working in California.  In TheWrap’s  lead article in the series, UCLA film professor Howard Suber describes the jobs situation in terms of supply and demand:

“It’s the worst it’s ever been,” Howard Suber, a professor of film who offers a popular class on breaking into the business at UCLA, told TheWrap. “There’s an oversupply of creative people … The market is getting smaller and smaller, the films are getting bigger and bigger, but the number of films released are getting smaller.”

Suber’s observations were echoed by USC’s Micheal Taylor, who added that some of the oversupply of people trying to break into the entertainment industry stems from a proliferation of film departments popping up at colleges and universities across the nation:

“It’s always been a relatively small industry, and it was always competitive, but there are many, many more people trying to get in today,” Michael Taylor, chair of USC’s Division of Film & Television Production, told TheWrap.“It wasn’t that long ago that there were only a handful of film schools in the country, but today it seems like every single college or university has a film department.

“There are tens of thousands of people flooding into an industry that doesn’t have the capacity to absorb them.”

Several articles in TheWrap’s  series focus on people working in the industry from a variety of above-the-line and below-the-line professions.  One article features a struggling screenwriter, wishing to remain anonymous, who says that  as the number of shows and films getting produced has contracted, the challenge of finding work has become even more difficult as even “super A-list writers” are forced to compete for B-list projects:

“A lot of the jobs I used to go up for, A-list, like super A-list writers are going for those jobs right now,” he said. “In the past, they wouldn’t have. There was enough of every level to go around.”

Now, he said, with studios cutting back on the number of movies they make, it’s a tougher world.

“They used to make films in the 5-to-10 million dollar range,” he said. “Now everybody wants to do either the super micro-budget stuff, they want to make remakes or sequels, or they want to make tentpoles. A lot of those middle-ground movies that filled the marketplace, those assignments are gone now.”

In another article, a production manager, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said government support has been a critical factor in other US states and in places like Canada to building up their respective film industries:

Various states that have put together programs to lure production money from motion pictures to union production centers, and the state governments have invested in their labor force the same way Canada did,” he told TheWrap. “The entire nation of Canada would not have an entertainment industry without its government; it wouldn’t exist.

As other states and nations have attracted the  majority of  big-budget productions away from California over the last decade (which was bad enough for the local economy) they are now causing a brain drain as top talent has begun to relocate as well:

That, he says, has led to the emergence of an increasingly adept labor pool in other locales.

Louisiana, for example, has local unions with hundreds of members, he says. “Right now in Shreveport there are five pictures prepping or already shooting. In New Orleans, there are eight pictures prepping and shooting. New Mexico is a huge center, Atlanta is a huge center, North Carolina is a huge center. That’s where the incentives are — you’re dealing with 25, 30, 35 percent back on the dollar — and that’s why you go there.”

According to the unnamed production manager, union contract restrictions for many California-based film crews place them at a competitive disadvantage with their out-of-state counterparts, which could exacerbate the brain drain problem further:

At the same time, union restrictions keep his long-trusted Los Angeles crew pros from joining him in another state to work there at reduced rates.

“I’ve got a relationship with a sound mixer, who’s saying, I’m dying to work. I will come to Louisiana, and I will work for you at any rate that you want, but he can’t. If you are tied to a West Coast local you cannot go to another place and be hired as a local. Your contract will follow you, and that contract reads that you must be on a distant location rate and you must get hotel and per diem, and you must work at the minimum rates provided for in your local contract.

Finally, in an article about a post-production vendor, TheWrap calls “Larry” (to accommodate another request for anonymity), the focus is on what having fewer film and television projects produced means for vendors in Southern California already strained from years of rampant runaway production:

“We got through a couple of years, and then it hit,” he said. “Fewer films were being made, and that ended up meaning less business across-the-board to a lot of different people.”

An additional impact for his Southern California-based business, he said, came with the migration of a good chunk of production to right-to-work states like Texas, Michigan and North Carolina.

“The marketplace for any kind of post vendor is tough,” he said. “You have to hang onto the jobs that you have, and then hope you get referred if you want any new jobs.

“Because you’re not welcome walking in the front door and asking new companies to take a look at what you can offer.”

His staff, he added, is “not quite a skeleton crew, but it’s getting down there.” (Most of them work on a per-project basis.)

Larry finds some reason for hope in the amount of television production, in which he said he’s seen a slight rebound. But at a time when the studios are making fewer movies and squeezing vendors on the ones they do make, he is not optimistic about business ever again looking the way it did before the recession.

“You have to make do with less,” Larry said. “It’s a tighter ship, man. How people are making money, I don’t know.”

Hats off to the folks over at TheWrap for this fantastic series of articles.  Film Works encourages everyone to read all articles in this series.