The Calm Before the Storm
Some major news from across the pond this week: members of IATSE have overwhelmingly voted to authorise a nationwide film and TV production strike. For those of you wondering who the hell IATSE are and why that matters, they are the union that bargains on behalf of more than 150,000 film and TV craft workers and crew—the group that is referred to on the call sheet as “below the line” which effectively means the people who are integral to the day-to-day functions of a working set and production. If they strike, the industry halts. In the 128-year history of the union, this would be their first nationwide strike. The result of such a strike would be an unprecedented crisis in the world of entertainment.
With a voter turnout of at least 90% of membership, and more than a 98% vote in favour of strike action, it is clear that IATSE members want change. The main issue of contention between members and producers (the studios) are work conditions, namely the distinct lack of meal breaks, the unsafe working hours, insufficient time for an adequate amount of sleep, the lack of weekends, to paraphrase. The Instagram account @IA_stories features a plenitude of anonymous testimonies, and let’s be honest, absolute horror stories from workers in the industry. One harrowing account springs to mind of a first AC (Assistant Camera) who miscarried on set, and then was back in work the next day, expected to work as usual. Haunting.
It’s a funny thing going to college as a film student, passionate and excited about embarking on the mad, unpredictable and risky journey of working in the arts. But at what cost? As students, we were told of the working conditions accepted as normal in the industry, where you may be working long hours for several weeks at a time, no weekends, no social life outside of the set. Particularly as young unknowns, we’d even be expected to sacrifice a bit more than that to make sure we stand out, for maybe a little less pay, if we’re paid at all. Experience is worth 1000 degrees after all! If we wouldn’t subscribe to these conditions, they’d just find someone else who would (probably a producer’s offspring). It’s a sacrifice we’d be expected to make if we wanted to work.
This may be more reasonable in a beginner context, where film students together sacrifice their time, sanity, money, and contribute their talents in service of a common goal: the dream of making a mark on the scene, leaving a lens flare on the insular cinematic horizon. But without these safeguards on professional film and TV productions, there is no dream, only exploitation. Dreams require sleep after all.
The vote hasn’t finalised a strike, but has raised the probability of one. With the stakes of critical repercussions for the industry so high, the union has far more to bargain with against the studios, and negotiations have since reopened with urgency. The dire working conditions of the industry may have been acceptable to producers over the past 128 years, but the vote in favour of strike action has shown at the very least that craft workers and crew no longer accept these terms to working on film and TV. Watch this space. Negotiations continue.
Back to the Film Festival: Or How I Learned to Stop Standing and Rest My Legs
The BFI London Film Festival opened this week, and I’m popping over on Sunday for a few days of film fun. I absolutely love film festivals, and have sorely missed them over the height of the pandemic. One of my favourite things about them is all the twisted, beautiful indie films you get to see that you wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise, but I’m also intrigued to see in practice what has changed about these events in response to the new world.
A few years ago at Berlinale, the Berlin film festival, I managed to get around the physical burden of queuing by carrying a little handheld stool around with me. My mum had bought it for her work, only for it to arrive as one of those comically tiny objects that looked a lot bigger in the photo. It was great to rest the legs in the festival lines, and even slips nicely into Deutie, my very practical German rucksack. Both essential tools for film festivals.
The marketing team for Deadly Cuts (Rachel Carey, 2021) definitely deserve a raise. Boasting the delightful tagline, “No Time to Dye,” the film is about four hairdressers who are forced to defend their Dublin salon from the gangs and developers threatening their community. It’s a bit of a tonal oddity, but I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining critique of classism with very engaging performances. It’s pretty grim in places, but the laughs come from the belly.
The IFI is showing Sweetheart (Marley Morrison), a rather charming coming-of-age drama about yet another socially awkward teen (a brilliant Nell Barlow) being dragged on holiday in a misconceived parental attempt to try and bring them out of their adolescent shell. The film surprisingly builds on this unremarkable premise, addressing crisis of identity, sexuality, familial compromise, as well as middle-age romance after marriage. The bitter family bickering is the most accurate representation I’ve seen for a while, and is effectively framed through the perspective of the slighted teenager. Its soundtrack is delightful too.
My Little Sister/Schwesterlein (Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Raymond, 2020) is also showing at the IFI and screened earlier this year at the Dublin Film Festival. It’s a Swiss-German film, so is an immediate win for me, but it’s enlivened by the sensitive and subtle performances of the two leads (Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger) and their portrayal of sibling love in the face of terminal illness.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Andy Serkis, 2021) is released in Ireland on October 15, but it’s already been a huge hit in the US, making the most domestic money of any cinema release during the pandemic. Several critics in the US are convinced that the story is a gay romance between Eddie (Tom Hardy) and his alien symbiote, Venom (also Hardy). It’s meant to be a blast. Take my money.