By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A couple of weeks ago, the L.A. Weekly ran an article [“Heir of the Dogma,” August 9–15] about one of these groovy new film collectives where bohemian-looking digital filmmakers shoot their bowel movements and foist it on the public in their hip little screenings. This really got my Irish up. (Actually, it got my Jewish up.) I know this is the unpopular view in our digital age, and I’m probably showing my age (I’m a grizzled 36), but a movie shot on video is not a movie!It’s just video footage.
Does this digital moviemaking thing bother anybody except me? Look at some of these studio-backed digital pictures like Full Frontal and Tadpole. What do they cost — $1 million, $2 million each? Well, as long as they are going to put up $2 million, why can’t they raise an extra few thousand dollars and buy some fucking film? I don’t want to pay nine bucks to go to a movie theater and watch something that looks like my uncle’s shaky, grainy home videos of his fishing trip. Doesn’t anybody else miss the lush look that only properly projected 35mm film can provide?
My sincere wish is that DV — just like VD before it — will go away before it gets worse.
STOP ACHIN’ FOR IT AND DOSOMETHING
Re: Bobbi Murray’s “Canadian Bacon” [August 9–15]. What if they considered themselves economic actors first and Americans second? After all, when none of the apparent alternatives are acceptable, you have to start looking at the assumptions about what is off the table for a place to find your solution. This idea is actually more common around the world than we may think. People from every country come to the United States every day looking for a life, work and a chance for their families. Why should an American who loses his livelihood not do the same? Is there some inherent advantage to living in the U.S. that trumps food on the table? We are not talking about Timbuktu here; it’s Canada for God’s sake. Go there; be Canadian; be employed.
Regarding Bobbi Murray’s article on runaway production remedies for the U.S. film and television industry, as a crew technician who works on various films, series and commercials, I’ve experienced the loss of entertainment-industry jobs in the U.S. as a result of "runaway" productions shooting in Canada — and, to a lesser degree, in places such as Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.
The Canadian government has misused a provision of NAFTA regarding protecting their "culture" in order to justify many of its subsidies. What kind of Canadian culture is Chicago, Texas Rangers, Pasadena, American Psycho or Detroit Rock City? (As for Dudley Do-Right — another one shot in Canada — even though it was made by and starred Americans, I suppose one might call it an expression of Canadian culture. And since The Shipping News takes place in Nova Scotia, it gets a pass, too.)
I can think of very few household-name actors (or directors) who are willing to speak out on this matter. Ironically, many of them are more than willing to publicly decry the myriad injustices they see and hear in the largely cruel world in which we all share space, yet virtually none of them will do something to help the very people who make them look and sound like the stars they are. If Robin Williams had demanded it, Insomnia might have been completely shot in the U.S. — not in Canada (except for some aerial shots in Alaska); if Robert De Niro had demanded it, The Score might have been shot in the U.S., not in Montreal; if Arnold Schwarzenegger had demanded it, The Sixth Day might have been shot in the U.S., not in Vancouver. (This also applies to the upcoming Terminator III — for which Arnie is getting a record salary, and which was scheduled to shoot partially in Canada. It is now shooting entirely in the U.S., although this is apparently due to Arnie’s political aspirations, and to his fear of losing votes in retaliation for causing his fellow American film workers to lose jobs.)
On the other hand, I know of some actors who said "no" to Canada. Thanks to them, I got to work on some of their shows in the U.S. — and they’re not even big names. If they can do it, what excuses do the members of the multimillionaire club have?
Many of the jobs which do remain here often do so as a result of wage and benefit concessions, resulting in a lower standard of living for those of us trying to maintain a moderate lifestyle in the relatively expensive region in which we live. If you don’t already know it, most of the behind-the-scenes crew and office personnel working on these productions — and most of the supporting and bit actors you see and hear onscreen — are far from wealthy. When our income drops, so does our cash output, thereby negatively impacting the local economy. On top of that, with fewer productions shooting here, there are fewer permit and other fees going into the public coffers, along with fewer food, gas, laundry, hardware, etc., purchases made by said productions, thus further reducing the revenues circulating in the region.
With the exception of a sparse few truly independent and/or financially strapped production companies, most of the movies and TV fare we get is backed by deep-pocketed investors. Incentives or subsidies of any kind from any source — be they from California, any other state in the U.S., or any nation on the planet — are simply and unquestionably a reprehensible practice that lines the pockets of these already rich investors. They are amongst the last people on this planet worthy of government payoffs and union wage concessions for granting us the "privilege" of working on their productions, at the expense of our mostly less-privileged taxpayers.
Yes, I know that businesses work on a model of maximizing profits and cutting costs in any way they can, and that politicians are frequently willing to cut taxpayers’ financial throats in order to bribe employers onto their turf. But when it comes down to the fundamental ethical and moral positions regarding these issues, I don’t see how anyone can disagree that incentives are wrong.
Ironically, in addition to the creation of jobs in Canada and elsewhere, the pursuit of short-term cost savings by U.S. productions helps fund the development of a production infrastructure in these nations that will ultimately provide foreign producers the resources to compete with U.S. companies in the creation of movies, TV programs and commercials. Our producers are going to stab themselves in their backs in the long term. But U.S. companies have ignored the long term many times in the past, resulting in much financial disaster.
The myriad examples of corporate malfeasance we’ve learned about recently have opened many eyes to fiscal inequities; the general public should get a real treat when they learn about Hollywood’s accounting practices, which make those of Enron look simplistic in comparison. What could lead to such revelations? A basic investigation of the subsidies, via a 301(a) filing with the U.S. Trade Representative, which is being pursued by FTAC, a coalition of affected film/TV industry personnel (and the vendors whose services we use). This shouldn’t be challenged by anyone who’s honest and open, since no tariffs, duties or other penalties are involved. However, the studios are dreading such an investigation, as it would require them to open their financial books to government officials.
FTAC has evidence to show that the subsidies are a violation of our trade policies. If they prove to be illegal, the Canadians should withdraw the subsidies. If they refuse, the matter will be taken up with the WTO. Ultimately, if the subsidies are still not dropped, a duty could be imposed. This "countervailing duty" would be tailored to specifically target and equal the amount of the subsidies offered by the Canadian government entities (both federal and provincial), thereby nullifying them. This is not the same thing as a typical tariff, which takes a scattershot approach to trade problems.
A misinformation campaign regarding the potential duties, waged by Jack Valenti (president of the Motion Picture Association of America), Jack Shea (president of the Directors Guild of America), Bruce Doering (IATSE Local 600), Scott Roth (IATSE Local 876), Tom Short (president of IATSE, the primary crew union for both the U.S. and Canada) and their cronies, is inspired by their relationships with the financial powers behind the MPAA and IATSE’s own territorial and monetary greed. IATSE organizes inexperienced crews and raids other unions, taking over their membership, particularly in Canada. I don’t believe, let alone endorse, anything Short thinks or says about this issue, because he is a labor tyrant living in an ivory tower. (He’d probably take ivory traders into IATSE to build his tower if he could get them to pay the initiation fee and dues.)
I support unions, by the way. I’m a member of IATSE, but — like any old-enough, large-enough organization — the union is subject to corruption. As for the rank-and-file membership, despite what most of their leaders say, the members sign on to FTAC’s petition in overwhelming numbers (over 90 percent).
Regarding another union/guild: Even though the Screen Actors Guild has officially endorsed the countervailing duty petition drive, their president, Melissa Gilbert, suggested on KPCC 89.3 FM’s Air Talk that tariffs would instigate a "trade war" with Canada. Excuse me, Ms. Gilbert, but the subsidies Canada offers were what started this "war" — a subsidy war. If California offers 15 percent, what’s to stop Florida from offering 20 percent, and so on? Subsidies like these encourage a downward spiral of unnecessary corporate welfare. We’re simply trying to negate the subsidies, making for an even playing field.
As for Valenti, he is the studios’ long-standing, highly paid mouthpiece. That alone says enough about him. I read a comprehensive report (the Center for Entertainment Industry Data and Research’s in-depth study "The Migration of Feature Film Production From the U.S. to Canada" at www.ceidr.org). The supreme zinger here is the boomerang Jack Valenti threw back in 1976, which is coming back to hit him now: One of the arguments his pro-subsidy brigade uses against duties is that film/TV production is a "services industry" — not a "manufacturing industry" — and therefore exempt from said duties. However, on Page 5 of the report, we learn that Mr. Valenti, along with Lew Wasserman of MCA, persuaded "the courts, the IRS and Congress . . . that film should be considered as a tangible property" (not a service). Gotcha, Jack!
If you don’t want the entertainment industry to go the way of athletic shoes and other offshore-manufactured products, then you’ll do what you can to speak out on our behalf and support our progressive efforts — unless you like the idea of seeing movies made by virtual slave laborers overseas, which, considering our current trade relations with China, is actually becoming a possibility. Are you planning on seeing a movie that qualifies as a "runaway production"? Try this tactic: Buy a ticket for a U.S.-shot film (or a foreign film) showing at roughly the same time at the same theater, and sneak into the runaway instead. I feel absolutely no guilt about this tactic. The theater still gets its ticket money, and a more deserving film gets the credit for my purchase. This is better than an outright boycott, since you get to have your cake while the production company "eats it." (The only cases where this tactic won’t work are in a single-screen theater, which is a rarity these days, or for a blockbuster’s opening week, when the ushers actually check your stub.)
And while you’re at it, how about tackling the television version of runaway production? Start with Showtime, which makes the overwhelming majority of its original material in Canada. Drop them from your cable or satellite (if you have either), and/or write or call Showtime to say you won’t use their service because of this issue. Tell the respective networks carrying the following shows that you resent Dark Angel, Smallville, Witchblade and Andromeda being shot in Canada with largely U.S. funds.—John Hays
THEM IS US
Re: Marc B. Haefele’s "A Platter of Prejudice" [August 2–8]. I read your delightfully cranky piece on immigration. It sounds like Mr. R attended many American Independent Party meetings pre–Arthur Bremer with Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb in his hip pocket. I love arguments that fling statistics back and forth; it never convinces anybody, but it gives an aroma of truth to both positions. It seems to be true that we use statistics to argue when we don’t want a problem solved but do want an argument that can polarize people and energize political bases. Abortion, gun control, welfare reform and drug enforcement are classic examples of how the ground is plowed over and over again with the same stale arguments until people demonize their opponents and reach for their checkbooks to fund whichever party supports their superstitious, irrelevant and/or un-researched point of view.
From your arrangement of vowels in your name, I take it your pedigree on our shores is as brief as Ricci, Lopez et al. I don’t mean the assumption as an insult, but I think it underlines what I believe, that one’s attitude toward immigration depends on which side of the border one is standing on. The border in question isn’t a political border but an economic one. A fabulously well-paid scribe like you probably avails himself of the low-paid skilled labor by our most recent arrivals doing gardening, or dry-walling, or perhaps minding the kids. You may be a habitué of the colorful haunts of our Zolaesque underclass; you may even count advocates for their terrible condition as friends.
If my comic version of you is correct, you are entrepreneurial, intelligentsia and capitalistic by inclination — bourgeoisie despite your pay rate. I doubt if you have any friends in the construction trades who have to compete with the exploited underclass and see their property taxes going to provide a health-and-safety net (such as it is) for unwelcome, uninvited visitors. They are proletarians and rely on others’ capital to provide their crust; their only asset is their time, which they spend working. The immigrant makes them spend more time for less pay; meanwhile, he’sa victim of immigration. Poverty and powerlessness breed crime, which is endemic to the immigrant class, and your victim of immigration sees his personal safety eroded by, again, unwelcome guests. Think not? Rackets were originally extortion vehicles for Irish hoods of the Five Points. The word then described the organized Jewish and Italian mobs of the first decades of this century; now it applies to the Cosa Nostra or anywhere else the RICO statute is applied. New and exotic crime has always been the special purview of the immigrant; Mexicans, Russians and Jamaicans all have their Mafiosi. Whatever their names, the victim sees a class of people that threatens him, and he gets angry. There is truth on both sides of the line, although I doubt we are hearing it from the L.A. Times.
The U.S. has an ancient tradition of despising immigrants, with good reason. Immigrants stress the existing system, which eventually crumbles and is replaced by something newer; whether it’s better is something you have to decide yourself. The Indians — excuse me, Native Americans — still despise the whites for upsetting their apple cart. The Irish were virtual slaves until the Civil War ,employed to dig the Erie Canal because New York didn’t allow slavery, and Irish Catholicism was viewed with suspicion for years afterward. One of the reasons Mexico exists is because, although the South coveted the rest of the frontier for division into slave states, they didn’t want an influx of that many Catholics, so the American Army withdrew to the Rio Grande and we left Mexico to the Mexicans.
The Germans of the same era were considered thickheaded dunces and freethinkers who undermined Americanism; the Know Nothing Party was founded in reaction to their arrival. By the way, the Germans of 1849 were despised specifically because they were German and not poor and congenitally lazy; many were well-to-do and educated but fleeing vengeful aristocrats after the failure of the 1849 revolts. They were also thought to be bad soldiers, incapable of following the simplest commands and lambasted by that fine humanist General Oliver Howard, late commander of the 11th Corps at Chancellorville and Gettysburg, first administrator of the Freedman’s Bureau during Reconstruction and eponymous founder of Howard University.
One of the funniest examples of the virulent hatred Americans have for the recently arrived dates to the Johnstown flood. A writer for a Chicago paper reported on how the dirty Poles were looting the dead bodies. His story came back; the paper didn’t want to offend the Poles in Chicago. He filed again, calling the perps Serbs. Same reaction. He tried Hungarians; the same. He finally filed it claiming it was the dirty Bulgarians doing all the evil. The Bulgarians lacked the requisite clout, so the story ran.
The Emma Lazarus melting-pot version of immigrant history was dreamed up by socialist utopians of the 19th century who were fortunately rounded up and deported by Attorney General Palmer under that hero of liberalism, Woodrow Wilson. In reality, the country invented things like the Pledge of Allegiance and flag worship to let all the dagos, kikes and Polacks know what real Americans were all about. The country got back to normalcy and could again thrash Catholics, Negroes and immigrants through the Black Legion and the KKK. Until the Depression, FDR and World War II intervened. It was expedient then to invent a tolerant America, so the utopian malarkey was trotted out as fact. (The beloved and sainted FDR ran for vice president in 1920 on a Democratic ticket headed by an avowed white supremacist.)
We try to present this as a race issue, but it isn’t; it’s about economics. It’s about how much you are willing to pay for food, to have dry-walling done, to do gardening, to do the menial labor Americans don’t want to do. You either pay more or you import new Americans to clean out your toilets. I think it’s important to remember that we probably wouldn’t like our ancestors, or they us, if we met them on the street at the same relative social status.—David Heckman
Reading Mira Tweti’s “A Pet Peeve” [August 9–15], I am reminded of why it is that I do not shop at pet stores that sell live animals. I encourage everyone not to extend their business to the stores referred to that sell creatures that have been subjected to an environment that causes them great stress, and to the inexpert individuals “responsible” for their daily nutritional needs. Bottom line: If we don’t buy these animals from these stores, then they will eventually stop selling them. I encourage everyone, instead, to look for a rescue organization that specializes in whatever animal you are looking for. And there is a rescue for everything! Not only will these animals from rescue be healthier, but you will be happier in the pocketbook (and in your heart) too.
Also: Thanks for Nikke Finke’s Deadline Hollywood item in the same issue. I have never watched Fear Factor, and after reading your story, I think I will now eliminate NBC from my TV remote altogether.
Re: Johnny Angel’s “Butterfly Meets Bazooka” [August 9–15]. I say to Brian Robin: Surely you can’t be that stupid! Freedom of speech is irrelevant in a private message. If you had the bad judgment to phrase a public letter the way you phrased that message to Congressman Thomas, then you could have invoked the First Amendment.
What did you hope to achieve by sending such a message privately, anyway? I see your action as the same as those idiotic TV ä reporters who stick a microphone in the face of an accused murderer and ask them to incriminate themselves by admitting to the crime. (“Mr. X, did you kill your wife?”) You should have known, and by now you definitely know, that what you did was nothing less than shooting yourself in the foot.
CHOOSE THE MUSE
Recently, I read Gabrielle Idlet’s condemnation of the misdeeds of her late father, the poet John Thomas [“Hitting the Beats,” July 19–25]. It would be a true blessing if the L.A. Weeklywould emulate its sister publication the O.C. Weeklyby providing readers with weekly coverage of the poets and poetry in Southern California. This would be so much better than your current policy based, it would seem, on the assumption that your readers aren’t interested in poetry-related subjects unless they are tinged with sensationalism.
SEEMS LIKE NEW TIMES?
Re: Joseph Treviño’s “Sinner Behind the Saint” [August 2–8]. Why don’t reporters stick to facts? The article seemed to be merely a chance to bash the Catholic Church. Mr. Treviño presented what he wants us to believe Bishop Onésima Cepeda is like. Why not print an actual interview with the bishop, and let us judge for ourselves?
A FINE DAY FOR A LYNCHING
In her very good and accurate brief of William Wyler’s The Letter, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert is wrong on one point, when she calls the film “a thrillingly nasty item that begins and ends with hot-blooded murder.” Bette Davis was indeed guilty of murder in the beginning, but she was, in the end, executed by the Asiatic girlfriend of her lover. Justice does not require a judge in robes or a state-authorized executioner. Justice required that Bette Davis die for what she did. Wyler knew it, and so does his audience.
EVERYBODY’S A CRITIC
I have a pet peeve regarding your “Where To Eat Now” section. For a long time it inexplicably lumped Highland Park in with downtown L.A., yet didn’t bother to actually include any Highland Park places. I am glad to see the addition in your paper of H.P. newbie the Gutter. It is a fine place to get food, even if you have no interest in what else is going on at Mr. T’s that night. But for god’s sake, please review some of the other kick-ass H.P. food establishments. My short list includes La Estrella (6103 N. Figueroa St.) for awesome fish tacos, La Fuente Restaurant (5530 Monte Vista St.) for out-of-this-world fajitas, Folliero’s Pizza & Italian Food (5566 N. Figueroa St.) for pizza that puts Casa Bianca to shame, Penny’s Burgers (6300 N. Figueroa St.) — they do it right.