14 years ago I was fortunate enough to find employment in the Louisiana film industry. It’s under a lot of flak right now because of the tax credit scheme, which may or may not be robbing state coffers. It’s a convoluted program, so hard to tell, really. I can only relate to you my experience on the ground level.
When I got my first job, I felt like I had hit the lottery. In my early 20s, I found myself being paid a healthy hourly wage with a full host of benefits, from health care to a pension. It was interesting work, too. As part of the set decoration team, I saw a lot of cool locations and tons of crazy furniture. It was also a lot of fun to go into a place like Euclid and buy records by the linear foot because I needed to fill up some shelves for a set.
Over the years, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the industry. At times I’ve loathed it. I’ve worked on terrible productions for shitty people. I’ve worked insane hours. It can be a soul-sucking career for sure. You’re still there to make someone else’s dreams come true. You’re still there to make someone else rich. You’re still there to work.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to fair labor practices, the film industry stands alone. It’s one of the few job sectors left in this country that requires no specialized or formal education, yet provides a real-deal livable wage. It’s not exactly easy to break in, but if you are lucky enough, you can start in any department and work your way up to the top, learning a trade as you go. Could be camera, could be special effects, could be executive producer. You don’t need a high school diploma. Film crews are diverse—not necessarily perfect human beings or a utopia of social equality, but you’ll still see a lot of different types of people fulfilling all of the roles on set. And most important: film work is union work. And while the day-to-day of union business can suffer the same bureaucratic headaches as any other collective, I am convinced that without my union (IATSE), wages and benefits would evaporate overnight, as would safe working conditions. Unions, ultimately, are the only hope the working class have left in this country.
So yeah, I hope the tax incentives stay in place. For all the bullshit Hollywood South creates, at the end of the day it still provides decent work for decent pay (without completely destroying our environment), and that’s something New Orleans and Louisiana overall could really use more of. You can read more about the fight for low wage workers in this month’s issue. Check out Mwende Katwiwa’s recounting of the April 15th action initiated by the local Fight For $15 chapter. I hope wherever you work, you are treated with respect and dignity. And if not, I hope you are able to do something about it. —Dan Fox