Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Bubble (Shake Outs and Corrections)

Today I was talking on Twitter about the business going through a "correction". A "shake out" of sorts.
Here's what I meant:

Picture yourself as an actor in the 50s. Nobody really understands what the fuck it is you do but you're kind of a moron with a low self esteem but a need to show the world just who you are. So you become an actor.

There are really only a few places to go to ply your wares but, more importantly, there aren't that many people doing it. Just a few nutjobs. Ex-Vaudevillians, Broadway, wannabes, the like. There are so many stories of those actors going door to door looking to see if there was anything for them that day. They did "The Rounds".

Because casting was done IN HOUSE.

Now, cut to the late 60s. There's a new breed of actor. Ugly. Intense. Brilliant. They've studied at the feet of Brando. I always picture the difference in these actors from the others this way:

Non-Method, non-neighborhood playhouse actors are well dressed, with ascots and scarves. They are well put together and pretty shitty in the sack.

The new breed is dirty. They wear jeans and don't shave and they are fuckable because they love every second of everything they do.

This group is important because they accomplished two things: First off they elevated the craft to "ART". Second, and maybe more importantly, they said to every ugly slob out there, "you can do it, too!"

Before the Hoffmans, DeNiros and Pacinos. The Youngs and the Stallones and the Hackmans. Before all of these guys, there was Ernest Borgnine. He won an Oscar playing the ugly miscreant. He was the exception. These guys became the rule.

Now, acting wasn't just Tab Hunter and Monty Clift. It was something to aspire to. Streep was more than a star. She was electric. The legacy of these actors from the 70s is remarkable. They wedged open the floodgates.

And something else happened.


Commercials got big. I mean, huge. One spot could be 50-60-70 thousand dollars. In 1970s money! And they wanted to reflect what they always want to reflect: Real People. (Anybody who gets pissed because commercials are looking for "real people" should shut up and quit now. That's how it's always been. The entire contract is predicated on anonymity.)

Now, the floodgates really opened. More and more wannabes found their way in to the business. And for a while it was good.

Everybody had a shot. Character types. Leading men. Leading women. Moms. Young moms. Fat moms.

And these ad agencies wanted to shoot, where? In NY? Where it's freaking cold???? Where their main offices were?

Fuck no. They wanted an all expense paid trip to the land of palm trees and nubility. So, the commercial world came to where the actors wanted to be in the first place: Hollywood.

And the movie industry just plain exploded. I mean, it got BIG. Because blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars had everyone trying for the next big thing, or at the very least, fallout and residual cash from the big thing. And the VCR was getting big and you could make content JUST FOR THAT. And TV! Oh, mecca. There were only 4 channels in the 80s and people HAD to watch those. Cable was a wasteland.

And the money poured in.

Cottage industries and corollary businesses started to form: Acting schools started to burst at the seams during these 30 years. Colleges would offer courses and degrees. Local classes started to form. Casting Directors discovered a new way to earn money and see all this new talent in Workshops. Managers start popping up everywhere and actors buy in.
Oh, do they buy in. Because we want jobs. We want to be seen. We need to work.

And then.

It all stopped. Like any Bubble. It burst. But we didn't know it. Because the industry continued.

What burst it?

Hmm...If you listen to bitter, uninformed moron actors they will say that the 2000 strike did that. But that's kind of weird because 5 years after the strike the Screen Actors Guild reported higher earnings under that contract than ever before. So, that wasn't it.

Some would say "Reality TV" but that's almost run it's course and there are more hours of scripted television than there was during the boomtime 80s.

So, what did it?

One of the factors was, indeed, a strike.

The Writer's Strike.

When that reached a certain point, studios were able to do something they had long wanted to: Kill producer deals.

A producer has a hit. Studio wants to retain him/her. So they sign a deal. 3 pictures. More. And they are committed to making that producer's stuff. Now you have the producers in control. Instead of one project, they had 4. Three of them could be direct to video. It didn't matter. It kept them employed. It kept us employed. And the studios hemmorrhaging money.

The strike allowed these studios to kill all those deals. No deals? No more glut of product that is nearly unwatchable, let alone unsellable.

So, the studios could do just the projects THEY wanted. And the bubble burst.

What happens when you can't make your living in movies anymore?

You go to tv, right!

And you're desperate. So, the studios know that.

Quote? What fucking Quote? Scale, fucker. Okay. Scale plus 10. But that's it.

And you can't feed your family on Scale plus 10. Especially since the industry is so splintered that there are barely any real rerun residuals anymore.

So, whaddya do?

Commercials. Sure. That's a great idea. Besides you have the perfect look. After all you are familiar but not recognizable.

Great! Just add that to your portfolio. Of course, the DVR and cable explosion has made it so the Class A commercials just aren't paying what they used to. I mean, that makes sense, right? Not as many people watch cable, or tv for the most part (fucking video games) and the advertisers can't afford to just run the shit out of a spot and hope that it either catches on or inundation succeeds and you absorb the message.

Now they have to target the right demographic. Which means they get what they needed as far as eyeballs for a lot less runs.

Okay, well, I'll do voice over!

Great idea! It's easy and you can set up at home with a good mic ($100) and your computer and a free program like audacity or garageband.

It's such a great idea that thousands of others have the same idea. You can whip off an audition or even broadcast ready spot when you're home. After work. In the middle of the night. After you've fucked your wife and fed the dog.

And it's not their real job, so they don't care how much they get paid. And union? Who needs one of those? I just wanna be on the radio!

So, you find yourself competing with some schmuck in his basement in Akron.

And you ask yourself, just what the fuck am I doing? Why am I doing this? What happened?

What happened is the Bubble Burst.

And that's what's happening now.

Mark my words, most of you won't be in this business in 10 years.

In 10 years the number of people doing this thing we call "acting" will be only a fraction of what it is now.

And specialty agencies will die. And casting offices will be absorbed back on to the lot.

And we will be able to walk from door to door and say, "Anything for me today?".

-end rant.


Anonymous said...

But then, when those who aren't committed, those flash in the pan, surface, pretty people leave - will it be back to the artists? Will the industry put power back in the hands of the actors, not in the hands of those packaging together commodities?

Actor With A Chip said...

No way to know. I would assume that the business will become something a bit more pure. But it could also change completely. As long as actors continue to do free work on web sites and the like, they will never get paid. You really just have to watch and see what happens after the hobbyists finally give up and leave.
But that will take at least 10-20 years to correct itself.

Anonymous said...

Which, of course, means that the current crop of 20-somethings will have it rough (assuming your model holds true.)

Regardless, the "free work" on web sites is an issue. Everyone is in a goddamn big hurry to get something up there, but to what end? Where's the money going to come from? Viewers all expect everything on the 'net to be free, and creators are paying out the ass to provide it.

Actor With A Chip said...

Yep. That's why I think the current crop of 20-33 year old actors are in for a very long winter. And I think most of them will drop out in short order.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

"I would assume that the business will become something a bit more pure"

Let's hope!

Anonymous said...

I hope that what you are saying is true.
Everyone has been bottom feeding from the pathetic, desperate young actors who in turn make it hard for those that are true artists. And by true artist I mean we are not here for fame and fortune but for the pure love of creating art.
from the CD workshops to all the ridiculous websites actors have to belong to for agent submissions. Personally, I think the majority of actors are dumb and that's why they get taken advantage of. Working for free..fucking plain stupid. If actors valued their time there would be a lot less abuse.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has to start at the bottom. Usually.