Why Hollywood's Creative Class Is Going Broke. And Why It Matters

Times are tough for creative people in the entertainment industry -- even as big profits roll in for corporations like Viacom and Disney. It's a familiar story, only in this case its film editors, make-up artists, and musicians who are getting creamed. What's happening to these talented people is a reminder that no one is safe as corporations keep getting ever savvier and heartless about maximizing their bottom line. 
 
In contrast to many industries, the entertainment sector has strong unions, with just about everyone who works on major films and TV shows belonging to one of the unions. But that hasn't stopped creative workers from being bulldozed. What's happening is a variation on an old theme: entertainment companies have searched far and wide for the cheapest places to do everything. 
 
So, for example, they have hired overseas firms in India and elsewhere to do post-production work that skilled workers once did in offices in Los Angeles or New York. This outsourcing is made possible by broadband Internet that allows large video files to be transmitted around the world, but also by the rising supply of skilled and educated workers in more parts of the world who can handle sophisticated film or audio editing programs. 
 
Many musicians once made a good living writing the music for movies and TV, but that is changing fast. Entertainment companies are turning to much lower paid musicians in Eastern Europe to produce music, leaving musicians in places like Santa Monica wiped out. 
 
Meanwhile, the actual shooting of movies and TV shows is more often being done in low-cost places like Atlanta and Vancouver, with the result that cameramen, set designers, and make-up artists must now spend months on the road away from Los Angeles -- and from friends and family -- if they want to keep working.
 
It's a grim picture, unless you're a top player in the entertainment industry or a shareholder of stock in one of these companies. The people at the top are doing better than ever. 
 
Why spotlight what's happening in this one corner of the labor market? Because too often we think only about manufacturing or low-skilled service workers when we talk about the victims of a ruthless new bottom line -- when, in fact, more and more creative and white collar professions are now being disrupted, with traumatic results for people who once had secure livelihoods. (Corporate law is another field being turned upside down, as I've written here before.)
 
Who knows, maybe as more Americans realize that nobody is really safe we'll finally start to see more actions to reduce economic inequality and insecurity. 

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