Sustainability issues facing (what USED to be) a thriving film market and how they got that way: Listening to the flight recorder tape on the crash toward potentially turning it around!

Final Version*_HDR_editIt’s no secret that all aspects of the arts are under an attack that significantly threatens their sustainability.…This becomes especially apparent if you are involved in it for your livelihood. Having had parallel careers as a professional musician my whole life and as a professional film and television casting director hiring actors for the past 31 years, I get a double dose of reality, multiple times a week about the un-sustainability of the current business models that have crept into both artistic mediums. In addition, my father was a internationally-renowned, Grammy-Nominated conductor of many different groups including the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra, the preeminent, professional choral group in the United States. Having negotiated his final contract with them, I also got a first-hand look at the difficulties facing top-level, professional musical organizations in the classical field as well. I also serve on the Seattle Theater Group’s Centerstage Council which strives to present a sustainable, culturally-diverse program of arts, and which regularly faces a similar situation to professional, classical musical organizations in trying to stay afloat. Working in all these venues has given me a unique perspective from which to view sustainability of the arts. But for the sake of this blog posting, I’d like to focus on the sustainability issues facing the film industry which are exceedingly dire in the Pacific Northwest film market where I’m now based. But it’s more than accurate to say that all markets are facing variations to this same situation as are ALL art forms. A little historical background may be in order.

The History

In the old days, the cost of expensive cameras, editing equipment and the cost of professionally-trained crews alone, made making a movie an expensive, logistical and financial achievement that in general, created a meritocracy of “natural selection” in deciding which films got made. Even so, bad ones admittedly got made. But in general, with far fewer films being made under this system, there were less good ones AND less bad ones which made it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. And the studios were largely the ones giving the thumbs up or down about which films were green-lit based largely on box office potential. Movie-making was DEFINITELY a business! But because it was sustained by the ticket-buying public, it was managed mostly sustainably and profitably as such. And the only way to get into it as a career, was to apprentice and work your way up through the various crew positions eventually settling on the one you wanted. If your work was good enough to advance, after learning the ropes and properly paying your dues so you didn’t make your mistakes on someone else’s dime, you had a career. And when you earned the right to hire others, you valued those who spent time gaining experience the way you did and you paid them accordingly. If you became a producer like my Uncle, Mike Salamunovich who worked on shows that spanned from “Gunsmoke” to “ER” and many films in between, you learned such things as why actors were paid the rates they were paid. Not just for the time they spent on the set, but also for their artistic output when it went out into the world on film and generated money for the producers of the project. You also came to learn the reason why actors are paid residuals for commercials because “exposure” for a commercial actor is actually a liability! Advertisers want viewers to believe that this person isn’t out there hawking for every other product and they’re exactly who they are being presented to be! As an example, “Flo” from the Progressive Auto Insurance commercials isn’t paid a fortune because she’s a big star as most people don’t even know her name! She’s paid a lot because everyone involved in the hiring process knows that her “over”-exposure for the product will significantly curtail her ability to be cast as anything else for quite a while until the public has a chance to forget her association with the product. That’s just an example of one of the realities about hiring talent which you learn in the apprentice model but there are of course, many others. My own apprenticeship approximated some five years at the Los Angeles casting office where it was invented as a result of the dissolution of the studio system where my mistakes were made and cleaned up by the oversight of my mentors without pain to our clients.

The next significant milestone effecting the situation was the advent of the “independent film” genre which was heralded after the success of Stephen Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Video Tape”. Suddenly, big stars wanted access to be able to work on these “art cred” films to show they were still thespians and not just movie stars. The Screen Actors Guild responded by creating the Low-Budget Code, the “Modified” Low-Budget Code, the “Scathingly” Low-Budget code…etc, etc. All these codes allowed for film makers who were supposedly making the equivalent of “art” films which would most likely have no great box-office appeal, to pay actors considerably lower scale session fees for their work based upon their lower production budgets and they’re estimated lack of financial return. Budgets that have since gotten smaller and smaller and smaller even though the cost of living and everything else, has risen. At the time, the union believed these films were going to be the exception rather than the norm. Now, it’s the other way around with the indy films FAR outnumbering the studio pictures that used to provide sustainable, professional wages to those of us who had dedicated our careers to this work. This now has many actors who were in the second and third tiers below the “A-Listers”, now working at “favored-nations” (no one making more than anyone else) scale even though they have household names and used to work for above scale regularly! And you can see un-apprenticed filmmakers advertising on Craigslist for actors to cast for their commercials with the hollow offer of “no pay but with food, a piece for your reel and “EXPOSURE”! Since they obviously don’t understand that they’re ignorantly positioning a liability to the actor as a “perk” you can also assume that they also ignorantly underbid trained, production professionals to get this job from the advertising agency, driving the professional’s rate down in the process.

Next after the development of independent film, the technical advances in digital photography and cheap editing software came along. Pretty soon, anybody with a Canon 5D and FinalCut Pro was a filmmaker and the apprenticeship model was broken pretty much for good as film makers by-passed the professional market’s training altogether and started making things up as they went along. And many of them are responsible for the current business model for deciding the budget you’re going to set for your film. It usually amounts to completely ignoring the market costs on a line by line itemization as they have no training or patience for that. Besides, the final total authentically assessed, would frighten the heck out of them! Instead, they pull a figure out of thin air that they think they can reasonably raise and then expect everyone to work proportionately less for a rate that in many cases, is so low that it actually COSTS that crew person to work on the project!! Also, the filmmakers keep hearing scuttlebutt on the street about people getting away with making cheaper and cheaper films so they think they should all be able to do it too. So they find out the newest “secret formula” on how do make things cheaper on the grapevine and on and on and on… And they feel more emboldened to offer the cheap or free rates around leveraging the pathetic economy as an inducement!!! You frequently hear things like, “Well, if you don’t want it? Someone else will!”

Re-Inventing the Wheel…..only, not quite as well…..

I was asked to be on a production panel at the Northwest Film Forum and I asked the audience if they knew what the production budget was for the seminal film “The Godfather” which I was fortunate enough to have worked on when I was a kid. About two hands went up. Then, I asked them if anyone knew the production budget for “Sex, Lies and Video Tape”. About a third of the hands went up. Finally, I asked if anyone knew the production budget for “El Mariachi”. The whole room’s hands shot up knowing that it was made for $7000! And they’re all out to make their “El Mariachi” whether it makes any money or not for the investors they talk into parting with cash on what will largely amount to “vanity projects” that bring in no money to actually sustain the market, or not! At best, the VAST majority of them probably amount to little more than a tax-loss deduction for the investors. Then, the filmmakers rent out a theater and get someone to put up sponsorship wallpaper and a red carpet and post pictures of themselves on Facebook! And that’s as far as it goes for far too many of them! And those investors are now “once bitten-twice shy” and the word travels and makes it increasingly harder for truly WORTHY independent projects to get funding as I can also state from much experience in the attempt. And when you express your concerns about their free or scathingly-low job postings on social media, they don’t understand what the big deal is with professionals like myself having a problem with it because they probably think that the studio features and commercial projects that USED to sustain the market are still out there. But they’re not!!! I know because I get called about taking them on just about every week. Since the big professional houses are now having to compete with the scathingly low rates that the “newbies” are offering and getting desperate people to take, the professional rates are now infected with the influence of the independents who haven’t apprenticed and don’t really know or understand what constitutes a profitable wage! That’s how those rates get quoted as a new, lower “market standard” on the next jobs, And now major production houses from Los Angeles are calling and offering completely unquotable, minuscule  talent rates. But I would have to abdicate any stewardship role to offer them into the market lest it become the new market low. And that’s just not something I’m ever going to do. Unfortunately, someone else just ends up taking it on and it becomes the new low, anyway!

Increasingly, the independent film market has and will continue to irreparably change the rates for the professional market which have now dropped to unsustainable levels. It’s basically the equivalent of walking up to the liquor store counter with a bottle of Dom Perignon and plopping down 35 cents. When the clerk tells you that the bottle costs $175, you just tell them that you’re only budgeted for 35 cents and the clerk suddenly says, “Oh! Why didn’t you say so!! Then here’s your bottle!” Everyone realizes that a brick and mortar has overhead that has to be funded or the business is unsustainable. But somehow, that notion is unfathomable to people when it comes to making a movie and paying your crew as if they don’t have any overhead as well! And last time I checked, they weren’t accepting “EXPOSURE” at the supermarket in exchange for groceries!

Killing the messenger because the news is bad!

When I and other colleagues and professionals, balk at these rates or call someone out for offering them on public social media forums, we’re usually castigated as being unsupportive of new filmmakers. In fact, it happened just today as well regarding a feature film coming into the market from Los Angeles requesting “donated” services! I remember one particularly vicious feeding frenzy on a blog where myself and my colleague, Marci Liroff who’s credits include films like “ET”, “Bladerunner”, Poltergeist” and “Footloose”, were seized upon by about 10 “wunderkinder” who were more than content to cast our collective experience and perspectives aside as irrelevant to the discussion of sustainability even though we were more than civil in trying to dispel their illusions of reality. Ironically, Marci has demonstrated a regular track record for helping actors and filmmakers on social media.  In my case, this is also ironic since I’ve probably done more short films for free than any casting director on the planet in an effort to help fledgling film makers because shorts aren’t produced to make money. In fact, counting the Seattle Film Festival’s Fly Film Challenge on which I’ve donated services for the last 18 years and the shorts I contributed as part of the IFP’s Spotlight Awards when I served on their board in support of independent film making, the final total to date is somewhere around 100 shorts for first and second-effort filmmakers to help launch them into the market. I also believe passionately in the future of the art and people for whom I’ve rolled up my sleeves include Oscar-winners and many other now-working directors and producers. I still serve on the Seattle Theater Group’s Centerstage Council to help support and sustain the arts in all it’s forms and in general, always try to help anyone who asks me. And I answer EVERY letter I get from kids and parents and actors asking for my advice, sometimes with letters as long as this blog posting!!

Now I’m not looking for any medals here, but I sure don’t see why given all this, far too many of us professionals should have to endure being called names and told to “shut the hell up” by kids who were filling their diapers or weren’t even born while were paying our dues and who know nothing of our record on supporting the newest members of the industry. But they’ve got to EARN it the way we did and if they put in the time and effort to learn properly and pay their dues, we’ll gladly welcome them into the fold as a respected peer or employer! A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a casting director who was moving up here from Los Angeles just as I had done years before. She respectfully wanted to know how best to proceed in order to make sure she didn’t cause any problems with regard to under-bidding. I asked her if she had apprenticed and received good training and she informed me she had indeed. I asked her if she was good and she said, “Yes, I am!” So I told her that if she charged the maximum amount she could possibly get, and did a good job and didn’t put out breakdowns paying actors an under-market rate? Then we’d get along just fine and I welcomed her to the market. On the other hand, another colleague took my rate and her’s down the tube by allowing another out of town production with professionals who should have known better, to cast something far below market rate and according to the producers, for FREE! Although she claimed she didn’t do it for free, she wouldn’t disclose the rate presumably because she knew I’d have a problem with it being far below a reasonable “market” rate, which renders my work, valueless from a monetary standpoint and it sets a precedent. I won’t go into it on this blog but if you’re interested in knowing more about it, you can read about it Here.

In praise of ethically-produced independent film & those who make it happen.

I should also responsibly add, that I’m not lumping all low-budget, independent film makers into this group of inexperienced, un-apprenticed “whiz kids” out to reinvent the industry, springing fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus without paying dues of their own. Most of whom, seem content to make their learning mistakes, on the job. I am also NOT talking about anything qualifying as an “art” project that isn’t being produced to try to generate money like the shorts I’ve mentioned and student films on which free work is fairly standard and acceptable. Indeed, in the commercial, independent field, there are many professionals in possession of great integrity who face the financial hardships and artistic challenges of respectful, collaborative filmmaking with honorable, sweat equity arrangements and points on the backend with those they ask to throw in with them. They get that it’s not equitable to ask people to take the risk without the potential of also sharing in any possible benefits from doing so. They understand that film making is a business and develop a reputation for dealing with professionals from that responsible place. Many also return the favor by crewing on other independent films done by some of the people who helped crew for THEM before. And they also work on the increasingly rare professional projects that come around paying a market-rate, working wage! And as is standard, they extend a right of 1st refusal to any crew member who worked for free when the paying work comes around. The sole exception to this is when the filmmaker has a conversation with the crew member BEFORE that paying work arrives in which they explain why given any potential problems that may have arisen on the previous work, they would not choose to work with them again. And it’s always a person-to-person conversation as respect would demand. But this posting is written primarily about the ones who are just wanting to make a movie, thinking their unwise offering of, or acceptance of free or below-market , “no-strings” work has absolutely no ramifications in the ecosystem of local, film professionals. That we’re not all connected in that ecosystem and they operate in a vacuum that doesn’t affect anyone else.

A parable with a little Mark Twain thrown in…..

So here’s an analogy I think that accurately demonstrates the dynamics of the undercutting about which I’m speaking. So let’s say you work for a contractor (the producer) as a house painter. You’ve trained, apprenticed and invested in a truck, a white painting suit, brushes, rollers, ladders and everything! On your day off, Tom Sawyer (the newbie with stars in his eyes!) shows up at your boss’s. He tells your boss that he’s always dreamed of painting houses and whitewashing fences and just thinks it’s the coolest thing he can ever imagine!! He’s got no real training or experience, but he’ll work for free doing the same job you charge for!! Granted, it may not be as good a job, but your boss doesn’t really have any experience with painting and doesn’t really know the difference between bad, adequate and excellent. In fact, he has no real idea of just how it is that you’re supposed to paint a house, which is why he hired you in the first place! He also has no idea of how long it should take a professional to do the job nor does he care because Tom’s going to do it for free no matter HOW long it takes!!! By lunch break, Tom’s having such a great time, that he goes and talks a bunch of his pals into also coming to help finish the day’s painting because it’s so much fun and they all work for free too! In fact, they all pay Tom a few bucks for the privilege…. (if you get the nod toward classic literature!) The job gets finished albeit with a lot of streak marks and holidays in the finish, runs and drip marks where they missed the tarp and they tracked paint on the floor in spots. But what the hell! It’s done and for free so your boss is thrilled!! Tom and his friends pose in front of the “white-washed fence” they painted and post the pictures on Facebook with great pride! The next day  you show up at work and find Tom already at there with his paintbrush along with three of his star-struck buddies doing the job for free that you USED to do! You can see how crappy they’re doing the job because unlike you, they’re not trained in how to do it and you’re incensed and call them out on it!! They tell you that you shouldn’t get so upset because they aren’t professionals and they want to paint too! Then they get mad at you for giving them crap and tell you to “shut the hell up! You go and complain to the boss who blows you off and says he’ll talk to you some other time because he’s busy… but you’re not on the schedule for the forseeable future. And you never hear from him again. So you go looking for a NEW painting job. But when you tell them how much you charge, they tell you that you’re overpriced because now some of Tom’s friends have decided to moonlight at THAT place too and are charging basically a quarter of what you used to get because they’ve gotten a little experience and they love telling their friends that they’re painters when they go to parties and make cocktail chatter. So they applied for the job and got it! Now,  you drop your price to half of what it was because the boss tells you, “Hey, if you don’t want it, someone else will!!” And out of desperation, you take the short-change money. Pretty soon, more of Tom’s friends start telling each other about how easy it is to make “El Mariachi“……er…..I meant… paint houses and they show up not just at your job to work for even cheaper than your half-price rate, but also at painting gigs all over town with their lower rates because they totally dig painting and it really seems glamorous to them. Eespecially when they don’t have to really use a lot of care or expertise to do the job right or get any professional training because none of the bosses really can tell the difference. And eventually, you start looking for a new career because you just can’t make a decent living doing the job because all of Tom’s friends out there are so jacked to be in the “painting business” they’re all undercutting each other to do it just to get the experience!!! Eventually, the years role by and Tom and his friends ALSO turn 40 and have a reckoning about their lives and realize that even though they just LOVE house painting, they really can’t afford to keep doing it because the rates (that they helped create!) are too low to pay their bills or save anything for their retirement. And then they get REAL jobs! But their effect in the painting business lasts LONG after their gone and there is a whole new, younger crop of Toms to take their place so the rates continue to drop as the next group of newbies hear about how easy it is to paint houses. And on and on it goes…….And in the process, the actual practice of how to properly paint a house becomes a lost art because no one actually apprentices at the PROPER way of doing it and so it doesn’t get handed down……

So for the independents who think I’m being too harsh? imagine going back to your day job after providing un-trained work for free or below market value on a film and this happened to you!! And Here’s a great story and video showing another perspective about other ways the rates plummet when people have also tried to take advantage of a tough economic climate to drive rates down by manipulating and leveraging people into working free on “Spec”. Here’s another one that changes the context in order to show the ridiculousness of this dynamic, seen all too frequently in the professional marketplace.

The Problems: 

Now from a young person’s standpoint coming up and wanting to make movies without knowing any of this, the future looks especially bright because it’s never been easier to make a movie!!! However, the long-term, bad news is, ALSO…… that it’s never been easier to make a movie! As with any discipline, you have to know the rules to effectively break them for the better. Otherwise, you’re just re-inventing that wheel I mentioned. Only you’re probably not doing as good a job as someone else may have already done because you’re ignorant of what that earlier “wheel” may have actually been. If they had actually looked into the already established professional practices, they might have found the old one was actually better than the one they just invented. Having worked for many of these untrained people, they usually say things like “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it!…. when you explain to them that they’re doing something wrong that’s going to get them into trouble either logistically, financially, ethically or with the acting unions. Basically, they don’t know….. that they don’t know! But if they trust you and they’re malleable, you can help them stay out of their own way and they’re willing to admit their inexperience. And I’m ALWAYS happy to help those who fall into this category! In fact, I’ve mentored literally hundreds of people who’ve either worked WITH me or FOR me and my former employees populate all areas of the business. But invariably, you end up coming across those who are the MOST dangerous. Namely, those who actually know that they don’t know,…but don’t care!! From a sustainability standpoint, they’re a nightmare because they drive market rates down in a race to the bottom. And trained professionals who try to compete and know to charge sustainable wages, are fenced out. Sure you get what you pay for and the quality level of the product goes down. But a disturbing number of these “newbies” don’t really care about that and aren’t really in it for an artistically and commercially sustainable product that enriches the market by generating money that keeps a flourishing infrastructure in place. They just want the gig!! And they’ll undercut to ridiculous levels to get it. They “win” the race to the bottom by in many cases, working for free!! But they take the worth of trained professionals down to that bottom with them and haven’t a clue as to why those professionals would resent them for doing so. It’s an ecosystem and everyone is connected whether they like it or not. And when you try to point that out to them on social media postings like I’ve done on far too many occasions, where they advertise for “donated services” on commercially viable projects on which the producers hope to make money, these wunderkinder with single digit IMDP credits as production assistants, respond hubristically with ignorant utterances that frequently start with “Dude! and end with them telling you to “shut the hell up!” for raining on their vanity parade with your concerns about how best to feed your family because they’re undercutting your professional rates. They just don’t see the harm in it. But if they did it professionally, they sure would!! Here’s another really astute article with more statistics on how this situation affects the sustainable, business elements of filmmaking.

The Solutions…..(albeit, not easy ones….)

There’s an old saying, “if you think you can or if you think you, can’t? You’re right!” It’s meant to convey just how powerful our belief systems are at creating our reality. I just heard of a situation where someone who was trying to get into a workshop in May, asked for a full scholarship in November due to financial hardship. The person from the workshop asked, “You mean you already anticipate being broke 6 months from now in May?” The scholarship-seeker started laughing as she realized her belief system would most likely result in her indeed being broke in May if she didn’t re-think it and open herself up to the possibility of abundance coming into her life in the next 6 months! And EVERYTHING we do is motivated by either love or fear….no matter what! It can even be the love of fear as any skydiver can tell you or the fear of love as we are always either pushing something away from us or pulling toward it. And knowing which is running you can completely change the outcome if you can figure out how to move TOWARD what you want instead of away from what you DON’T want.

I see the effect of fear in the production market almost every day. On one non-union, commercial shoot for a nationally-known men’s clothing store, I had a client behave unethically extorting a print component for free by leveraging (extorting really!) the entire live-action commercial against it if the talent didn’t work for free on the print part…AFTER the live-action booking! They also wouldn’t allow actors who were booked for the job but not yet assigned particular shoot dates, to work for other employers during that time when the client had a right of 1st refusal that was challenged to either book by day or allow the actor to work for someone else. Instead, they said that if the actors went to work for anyone else before they narrowed down the booking dates, they’d be completely un-booked and replaced on the job in a totally extortive move that caused some actors to lose the other gigs when forced to choose…even though the dates for each may not have ultimately ended up conflicting!! As luck (or more specifically, the client’s belief system!) would have it, some talent ended up being needed for TWO of the shoot days instead of one, prompting an after-booking negotiation on just what that rate would be for the second day. And since the client originally put the rate of pay out as one lump sum inclusive of both shoot day and subsequent usage (against my professional advice), there was no pre-existing “day rate” to use as a reference. Given the new leverage the agents representing the talent now had after being treated so shabbily by the client, they completely STUCK it back to them and charged the same rate not just for the shoot date, but also for another full usage fee, doubling the rate as if it was two completely different commercials, each with their own use fee, instead of two shoot days on one commercial! When I told the client who had gotten themselves over a barrel not because of adding the second shoot day, but because they were un-ethical and disingenuous to the talent and their agents the week before, you should have heard the dejection in their voice as they heard their profit margin on the production, shrink to almost nothing. If you asked them what happened, they’d tell you that it’s a tough market out there and it’s tough to make a living! But the truth of it really is, their belief system was this: “Times are tough and it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there in the production market so we can’t be generous and pay a market rate to people and treat others under the “golden rule“! They believed in scarcity and thought that belief would only create reality that went in one direction….namely to the talent! But the laws of the universe don’t work that way. When you believe that the world is such a scarce place that you can’t be generous to others and you’ve got to scrimp and scrape and do unto the other guy before he does unto you? then that belief is going to go back in the direction from which it came and be visited back onto you! I know that’s going to sound “airy/fairy” to some but I don’t care! If you live long enough, you’ll find out that this is true and the laws of the universe don’t care whether you believe it or not. And I regularly put my money where my mouth is on this one and live by it as the agents of this town can tell you. I don’t try to entice production clients by promising to deliver talent for cheaper than other casting directors they could hire. In fact, I always attempt to talk them into increasing the offered rates upward to parity with union scale…which actually chases many away. I’m regularly offered casting work that pays my rates but wants me to offer scathingly low rates to the actors who are the reason I even have a career! If I believe the world is so scarce and fear is more powerful that love in running my life, then I have to take the job because I NEED it and the actors have to take care of themselves!! And people do it all the time. Every job I turn down ends up going to someone else who puts it out at below-market rates anyway which is frustrating to me! But at least it’s not on MY watch and THEY have to deal with the reciprocation that the law visits back onto them.

I know that the concern is held by many that if they turn the job down, someone else will just take it and they’ll miss out no matter what, by either doing the job at a paltry rate or missing out on it entirely. When this thought crosses my mind, I’m comforted by the “100th Monkey Theory of Morphic Fields” which I hope is helpful for you if you choose to stay strong with respecting the value of your work and “re-stock the Dom Perignon back on the shelf” until someone comes in with the right cash for it! Because I believe that I CAN be ethical and generous to my fellow men and women not just in my work but everywhere else, life shows up as generous to me because I believe that I can actually “afford” to turn the work down because the law of abundance promises that something else will show up in some other form to take care of me and my family. And that’s usually what happens. And not because I’m some good guy who gets rewarded via karma or some other meritocracy, but because of simple “cause and effect!” My beliefs beget my reality just like everyone else! So, when director/filmmakers, actors, casting directors, camera people and most importantly…producers all begin to treat each other with the “golden rule” of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, then this thing will completely change and the air of scarcity that now marks this business will all change!! And not even because it’s the “right” thing to do!! Discoveries like the unified field and the Higgs Boson are proving that altruism and science are converging in proving that doing the right thing also constitutes enlightened, self-interest in a win-win. Because we’re are all energetically and molecularly CONNECTED, it’s actually selfish …..and generous to others, all at the same time!!! I don’t turn away jobs that would require my putting out sub-standardly paying work to actors just because I’m some great guy!! I do it because I want the universe to be generous with me and know my belief one way or the other, will manifest just like it does for the next guy to whom I’m also connected!! In fact, EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM facing not only the production market….. but the world, could be solved if we operated as if we were indeed all connected and that no one should lose in order for us to get ahead and we pursued only win/win solutions. Believing that abundance will be assured as an outcome instead of the currently-held societal belief in the scarcity we see far too often around us, actually makes that reality come to pass. Our political system isn’t based upon compromise…it’s based on win/lose with two parties hammering away at each other like the “Hatfields and the McCoys!” And they never seem to ever solve any problems do they!! Even if they DO come up with something, the “other”- losing side, plots their revenge in a never-ending cycle of win/lose political war….If we operated as if we were in this together (which we actually ARE!)  and we both had to give something up to allow for fairness to the other guy who lives here too, we’d forge a different world. We’d stop waging physical, political, financial war (aren’t they all in the end?) on anyone on the planet!! We’d end up practicing stewardship which actually protects us all! If those of us in the production market start pulling together, supporting each other and  turning away the guy at the counter with his bottle of Dom and his 35 cents? He’d go back home and save his pennies and come back when he could pay something that honors the overhead of the liquor store…..or decide there’s a cheaper champagne that after a few glasses? he’d probably like just as much!! If we’d stop undercutting each other in our race to the bottom and hold the line at sustainable wages not just for ourselves, but for those who are below us in the food chain? We’d turn this around!! Now mind you, I’m not claiming this is a panacea and that natural selection doesn’t apply in this situation just like it does everywhere else in life. Many are called but few are chosen and not everyone who wants to be an actor or casting director or filmmaker or producer, really belongs in the business or has the talent required. And we have to trust the winnowing process that is already in place whether we want it to be or not. But if everyone pulls together and concerns themselves with each other’s win in mutually-agreeable solutions that don’t use scarcity as a truly unfortunate, fear-based leverage, we just might have a chance to create sustainable, independent filmmaking!


The bottom line from where I see it is this: If something isn’t done to change the situation into one of responsible stewardship of the market and the industry where people offer and charge sustainable rates, responsibly apprentice and learn the business the right way (there IS one, I promise!) look out for one another by way of the “golden rule” and a believe in abundance? my prediction for the future of film making is this: The day in, day out professionals” will all soon be extinct. In their place will be hobbyists with day jobs who scrimp, scrape and beg their friends to work on the cheap over and over, trying to bring their own “Citizen Cane” to the market. Presumably, they’ll finally get distribution and it will make them a fortune and earn them an oscar, insuring their finally having a thriving career! ……(Kind of like the lottery and just about as easy to win!) But even IF they mange to pull this feat off, the reality they’ll most likely face is that because of the far, too many cheap, vanity projects that continually clutter up the market, unable to attain distribution deals and leaving investors jilted, the money to make their followup will be hard to come by because of all the horror stories that mount daily and then get discussed, justly creating a healthy and worthy skepticism. And they’ll also face a lack of qualified, trained and talented people to do the jobs they want. Then, when they reach 40 and look at what they’ve got to show for the efforts they’ve made, they’ll get a REAL job. Or, they’ll keep trying to follow their dream to leave their day jobs so they can actually do this for a living one day! And they’ll find themselves, speaking out on Facebook posts by the new kids coming up, warning them about what they’ve learned the hard way, hoping to change the tide they helped create years earlier. And they’ll watch things come full circle when they see them post back to….. “shut the hell up, DUDE!” I truly hope they have a success story to look back on instead!!


About Stephen Salamunovich CSA

Stephen Salamunovich CSA is a 31-year veteran, award-winning casting director who cast somewhere around 4000 projects in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest before leaving the profession in 2016. You can find his biography in the "Stephen's Bio" tab of the "About" button of this website.


  1. Lucrecia Sarita Russo

    I predict most of the creme will rise to the top. The kids of kids of kids of Gable will continue to create as they follow in the foot steps of their parents and industry founders. People will outgrow their fifteen minute desire for fame and are already tired of seeing their neighbors in virtual reality shows. Holographic theatre will explode. Virtual journalists will set a new stage. The audience back in their seats ready for a new world of incredible entertainment and we’ll be back to business as usual.

  2. I totally agree with everything stated in this blog. It’s one of the most blunt factual descriptions about the current state of the film industry

  3. I couldn’t express it in so many words, to start with because I don’t have your vast experience, but from my little angle of the business, I sensed it was going that way. Still pretty amazed by the “shut up”‘s you got at several occasions! How far are people willing to go for their 5 minutes of fame? Is the truth hurting so much?

  4. I’m astounded by ‘singers’ who show up to record and haven’t looked at the lyrics yet. Young talents who don’t know what comprises a chord and haven’t spent even tens of hours with an instrument, they plan to use ‘beats’ and sing over that to lyrics they will write at the session. No kidding. But I have hope when I hear some of the new vocal groups out there who have put in the long hours to sing like that. Music today hits the market at 10x the rate of the 1950’s and is swamped among paid hits and web tricks – at least that is equal opportunity, we can all buy fake hits just like some stars for whatever that would be worth.

  5. This was a well written article that needed to be addressed! It irks me so much, reading these audition listings and offer actors an experience and a bag of chips! I have an issue with people, who think you should work for nothing! Artist are offering a service, and should be paid accordingly!

  6. I’m seeing this more and more with producers/writers/directors who call me and want me to attach talent to their script.

    I can usually tell by page 20 if they’ve got something or not (that will attract the kind of name talent they’re seeking).

    The problem I see over and over is that they aren’t going “out” with the most basic of tools. The script usually has 6 typos on each page, the dialogue sucks, there’s way too much exposition, the director has never directed anything (even a short) and doesn’t have anything to show of his work, they haven’t put together a production “package” or “deck” to help potential financiers see the FACTS of their potential film.

    I just worked on a project that was financed by the writer. It was his first screenplay. They guaranteed me my deal + Union benefits. They put together a completely unrealistic start date for shooting. We all (the assembled crew) responded swiftly and were ready. Then he pulled the plug because “it was all going too fast” for him and he needed to work on the script more. (even though every single director he interviewed said that the script needed work). He didn’t listen to any of the “skilled professionals” he had brought on board.

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