Reality Stings

Yes, many do become successful, famous and wealthy, but it's crowded at the top of that ladder. There's no guarantee you'll reach the top of that much sought-after pinnacle, and if you do, that you'll be able to stay there. And lest you think once you're working in this industry, you'll have a clear shot to easy street— think again. It's not always so easy!

Yes, you can make some good money in this business, but for the majority of freelancers who don't work all the time, that good money will sometimes have to last for quite some time. I bet this will surprise you: of the 118,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild, only 2% earn $200,000 or more per year; at any one time, 80% are not working (under a SAG contract); and 80-85% don't earn enough to qualify for the Guild's health and pension benefits, which require earnings of at least $11,000 per year.

The competition is brutal, and the demand for jobs has never been greater. For every opening, the line of people vying for that position is out the door and down the block (and sometimes, around the corner). Having recently spoken to representatives of two temporary employment agencies, each associated with a different major studio, both report on average that, of the approximately 45 to 50 resumes they receive each week, only one individual is placed into the studio's temp pool.

More colleges and universities throughout the country are offering industry-related studies than ever before, and 30,000-40,000 individuals are graduating each year with associate, bachelor, master and doctorate degrees in Broadcast Journalism; Radio and Television Broadcasting; Radio and Television Technology; Dramatic/Theatre Arts and Stagecraft; Film, Video and Photographic Arts; Communications, Communications Technologies and Visual and Performing Arts. Legions of these newly trained and educated, as well as individuals who have never been to film school but have always dreamed of getting into the industry, flood into film centers (primarily Los Angeles) every day. Linda Buzzell, author of How To Make It in Hollywood (HarperPerennial) confers by stating: "The entertainment industry is now more ruthlessly competitive than ever. The world's best and brightest in every job category—performers, directors, executives, technicians—are flooding into Hollywood in ever-increasing numbers."

At the same time, we're losing U.S.-based film jobs to other countries in alarming numbers; funding from the major motion picture studios is not as fluid as it once was; with the current popularity of Reality TV, the networks are producing less-expensive television shows with smaller crews; and there are fewer jobs to go around than ever before. What hurts the most is that even well-established, talented individuals who have been in the industry for years are having trouble staying employed.

The past several years, the issue of runaway production has been of major concern to our industry. This phenomena is defined as U.S.-developed feature films, movies for television, TV shows or series that are filmed in other countries for economic reasons. In addition to favorable exchange rates (which obviously tend to vary), several other countries offer attractive tax incentives and labor rebates, seducing U.S. productions by the budget reductions they offer. For several years, our country's shows were primarily running away to Canada, but currently, Prague, Australia, Romania and Mexico have also become prime shooting locations, creating a noticeable decline in Canadian production levels as well as our own.

In the June 10, 2004 issue of Production Weekly (a subscription-based listing of all upcoming film and television projects), of the 52 feature films listed, almost 50% were slated to be shot in foreign countries. And of the 110 movies for all forms of television and miniseries filmed under a Directors Guild contract in 2003, 55 were reported to have been shot in Canada, five in Australia or New Zealand, four in Europe, one in Mexico and four in South Africa. That's approximately 62% being shot outside the U.S.

A few years ago, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America jointly issued a report showing that the total economic impact as a result of U.S. economic runaway film and television production was $10.3 billion in 1998, up more than fivefold since the beginning of the decade. The report also estimated that runaway production cost U.S. entertainment industry workers more than 60,000 full-time equivalent positions from 1996 to 1999. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that, in 2001, between 22,500 and 36,000 jobs were lost. Jack Kyser, chief economist for The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, found a loss of 32,400 show business jobs in the L.A. area alone between 1999's peak employment figure of 146,000 and the final 2003 figure of 113,600.

In addition to runaway production, every few years we collectively hold our breath waiting to see if the Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild will be going out on strike. Should the membership of any one of these guilds vote to strike, thousands are thrown out of work for months on end and untold numbers of auxiliary businesses are adversely affected.

Suffice to say, the demand for entertainment jobs far outweighs the supply.

It sounds scary, doesn't it? Well, you should be scared. Knowing what you're in for is the only way you're going to be able to decide if you have what it takes to even give it a good try. And if this is to become your chosen field, you'll want to walk into it with your eyes wide open, armed with the tools you'll need to give yourself a good, fighting chance.

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