As I write this it is Oscar night and Hollywood royalty will be out in force. The Artist is widely tipped to do well and by the time you read this you'll know if it did well or not. I haven't seen it myself; reports from friends have been mixed so I'll wait for it to come out on DVD. I also have issue with it being called a French film. Inception had more British crew than The Artist had French but no-one called that a British movie. I think it's just a marketing ploy really and would explain the director's reticence to be the poster boy for French film making. If it does get Best Picture, it will be the first silent film to win since the very first Oscars. If Jean Dujardin wins Best Actor, he'll be the first French man ever to win. And I like him so I hope he does.
It's quite likely that The Artist will win though because, not only is it about Hollywood, but it's actually shot there too. Not so unusual you might think but you'd be wrong. Last year, only two big budget films (that's films with budgets over $75 million) were filmed in Hollywood. Yes, just two. Ten years ago, the number ran to hundreds. So what's changed?
Well, it's the unions. They have long exerted a stranglehold on filming in Hollywood and not just in Hollywood, the situation in Ireland is similar. The Husband used to work in Ireland all the time. He's not worked there for quite a few years now because the Irish unions have strict quotas of 'foreigners' who are allowed to work on films there. In the old days, a canny producer would drag a couple of guys off the street to sweep up the stages but they can't get away with it now.
One the one hand it's good to ensure that your own people are looked after. On the other hand, it's killing their industry slowly because they don't have the crews with the right experience. As a result, more than one production has folded or decided not to return because the lack of experience in key areas, particular in the Art Department, has led to a poor quality end result.
The last production which the husband worked on in Ireland was taken over for the subsequent series by someone who had worked as his work experience assistant as the unions refused to sanction his employment. It was a disaster. He ended up fielding dozens of calls every day as his replacement struggled to do the job. It was unfair on him and unfair on her. The end result was atrocious, the lead actor refused to return for a further series and it was shelved.
In Hollywood, the state government has taken away many of the tax breaks and together with the over-zealous unionisation of the industry, production in Hollywood itself has reduced dramatically. Producers prefer to film elsewhere; other states, the UK, Eastern Europe.
The flip side of this particular coin is that producers are now filming out of the reach of the unions on contracts that would make your eyes water. I thought I'd share a few of the highlights of The Husband's contract on a $100million Hollywood movie he worked on last year.
1. You are contracted to work any hours which are required by the production
2. You are entitled to one rest day at the company's discretiion
3. You have no entitlement to any holiday or holiday pay
4. Your contract may be terminated by the company at any time with one days' notice
5. You have sold your body and soul to us to do with what we will (OK, I made that one up but it would probably fit in quite nicely with the sentiment of the rest of the contract.)
And this was in an EU country!
In the UK, the film and TV unions have been pretty much emasculated. When The Husband first joined, you had to be proposed and seconded by a current member in order to be accepted. It was almost as hard as Equity to get membership. They have worked hard to promote the industry, keep pay rates set at decent levels and name and shame those who use and abuse their members. But in an industry with the 'glamourous' tag, and hordes of eager youngsters willing to sell a kidney for a work placement, it's fighting a losing battle. Now, membership is easy to come by but then hardly anyone joins. That way they can undercut the union pay rates. All good news for producers, less so for their crews.
And with productions being more and more judged on their ability to bring the job in under budget rather than produce quality work, it's difficult to know where it will all end. The Husband is working on a fantastic series at the moment. It's been a while since he's been so excited about a project. Four weeks in, and his budget is shaved on a weekly basis until what is left is just a pale imitation of what it could have been while the producer literally jumps up and down squealing in production meetings when something comes in under budget. He's considering a capital offence!
So what's the answer? Where is the middle ground between unions legislating their industry out of existence and producers handing out contracts that probably violate just about every employment law going. Damned if I know.