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Samizdata quote of the day

After a brief pause, he relayed a recent anecdote, from the set of a network show, that was even more terrifying: The production was shooting a scene in the foyer of a law firm, which the lead rushed into from the rain to utter some line that this screenwriter had composed. After an early take, the director yelled “Cut,” and this screenwriter, as is customary, ambled off to the side with the actor to offer a comment on his delivery. As they stood there chatting, the screenwriter noticed that a tiny droplet of rain remained on the actor’s shoulder. Politely, as they spoke, he brushed it off. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an employee from the production’s wardrobe department rushed over to berate him. “That is not your job,” she scolded. “That is my job.”

The screenwriter was stunned. But he had also worked in Hollywood long enough to understand what she was really saying: quite literally, wiping rain off an actor’s wardrobe was her job—a job that was well paid and protected by a union. And as with the other couple of hundred people on set, only she could perform it.

This raindrop moment, and the countless similar incidents that I’ve observed on sets or heard about from people I’ve met in the industry, may seem harmless and ridiculous enough on its face. But it reinforces an eventuality that seems both increasingly obvious and uncomfortable—one that might occur to you every time you stream Fringe or watch a former ingénue try to re-invent herself as a social-media icon or athleisure-wear founder: Hollywood, as we once knew it, is over.

Nick Bilton

18 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • rxc

    Anyone who has ever been a member of a union and worked in a union-organized business knows this mentality. It hits home hardest when the company goes bankrupt and you are out of a job because the union rules made the product too expensive to sell, or the service is so bad that no one wants to come into the store.

    When the union involves government, thought, everything works fine, because the politicians can always raise the taxes on the public to pay for the jobs. Until, of course, the government goes bankrupt because it can no longer pay for the medical care and pensions that the unions demanded. Then, in some locations the taxpayers get to have their taxes raised even more, and their services cut, because their courts have ruled that the union benefits are absolutely protected from being cut, ever. In other places, the towns essentially die for a few decades, until the pensioners are all dead.

  • Mr Ed

    A fascinating article, with much information and it suggests that Hollywood is going the way of the Music Hall. The sheer sums of money involved (or not now involved, in Hollywood’s case) are starting to tell, it seems.

  • Bill S

    The flip side of that coin is, “That’s not my job.”

    A show I worked was in a union house one day, and I asked a stagehand to nudge an audio monitor that he was standing next to out of the curtain path, and he said “That’s not my job. I’m assigned to Carpentry today. You need to get an audio guy to do that.”

  • bobby b

    Bilton’s article is half requiem, half prediction.

    The predictive half make me think (to his credit) that he reads Neal Stephenson.

  • Cal Ford

    There’s a lot of this at the BBC. Luckily for them they have the UK governmenmt in their pocket for quite a few years to come.

  • Bruce

    It hasn’t quite got to that level of stupidity in Australia or New Zealand, yet. Hence the steady run of US-based productions being “off-shored”.

    It will come, as the huge money involved corrupts the power-hungry in the “organisation” biz.

    The tap will slowly turn off and then there will be the usual “bewildered and angry” types loudly wondering what happened.

    Robert Heinlein has some appropriate words:

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.”

  • Bruce

    My all-time favourite Heinlein quote is this:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    That last sentence is even more applicable today.

  • Malcolm


    A fine quote. But I fear I measure up poorly against the standard it sets.

  • Cal Ford

    Butcher a hog, yes, but when I do this the farmer next door complains to the police.

  • Paul Marks

    This is why in pre union Hollywood (and with 1930s technology) they could make good film in a week (yes a week) – and now it takes years to make a film, and many millions of Dollars.

    There is no production line any more – just vastly expensive vanity productions.

    Do the Hollywood types have any self awareness? No they do not – look out for the “Oscar” mess in a few days.

    The Oscars will be mixture of conceited self congratulations, and far left “Social Justice” politics – a bunch of very rich people denouncing the very rich. And screaming abuse at President Trump.

    Hollywood is finished.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Say, didn’t the print unions in Britain behave in this way? Pre-Murdock? So should we change the name from ‘Hollywood’ to ‘West Detroit’?

  • Bruce – I looked over the Heinlein quote. It says there are twenty-one things I should be able to do, and I can only manage about ten. But then, I can do things that aren’t on the list. And I suspect Willis Eschenbach can outdo both Heinlein and myself.

  • Cal Ford

    “I can do things that aren’t on the list.”

    Everyone can do things that aren’t on the list! Jeremy Corbyn can ride a bike, for instance.

  • bobby b

    “Jeremy Corbyn can ride a bike, for instance.”

    I see him as more of a “pitch manure” guy.

  • Andrew Duffin

    @N(UJ)G: Indeed they did.

    In a former life I once had a tour of a newspaper printing plant. We saw those great big roller things that are used in the actual printing process – they have the image of the pages on them by some sort of magic process; most impressive (Heh). But, in the act of pointing something out to a colleague, I nearly touched the big roller thingy with my finger; the guy showing us round practically screamed at me “No!”. I said, sorry, I suppose these things are really delicate, then? He said it’s not that at all, it’s that if you touch it, in any way, even for a moment, the print workers will be out the door and picketing in the street right away, and the paper might be closed for months as a result.

    He was not joking.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray (February 1, 2017 at 12:13 am): “didn’t the print unions in Britain behave in this way?”

    To this day, the Guardian is known as the Grauniad because, on the evening four (IIRC) decades ago when it went out with that typo in its banner-headline masthead, no member of the printsetters union was to hand and the large number of people who noticed during the longish period when it could have been corrected did not one of them dare to do so.

  • auralay

    Seen on a toilet wall in a failing factory:-

    *Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights.
    *Sorry, not my job!

  • auralay

    “Jeremy Corbyn can ride a bike, for instance.”

    According to Theresa May he can lead a demonstration. (While she gets on with leading the country, bless her little kitten heels.)