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Hollywood Spin Doctors Hard at Work

30 Sep, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

All of life is a series of transitions and tradeoffs.As real estate has propped up the sagging economy over the past couple of years, we have all heard ad nauseum about those transitions – growing families moving into bigger homes and empty-nesters moving into city lofts.

The same is true in an industry's life cycle. A couple of transitions that made headlines last week were the battle over the federal “do-not-call” registry and the deathwatch for the Hollywood stunt industry.

A couple of commentators on CNN last week brought up the 2 million call center jobs that would be lost if the do-not-call law survives. Anyone who's ever had that forkful of fettuccine stopped halfway between plate and mouth because of a telemarketing call pretty much hates telemarketers, so the CNN commentators were reminding the audience that a lot of single mothers and other people in difficult circumstances hold those call center jobs. Real people just like us would get hurt.

Same with stuntwork and screen extras. As computer animation improves, Hollywood is able to animate stunts and crowds instead of hiring them. But in the bigger picture, these are transitions. Just as moving to digital technology, with all its perils, is a transition.

What I didn't hear reported is how, a couple of years ago, Verizon shut down a number of its call centers in the northeast to move to greener (cheaper) pastures. Or how Amazon.com got into PR hot water for shutting down a 400-seat unionized call center in the Seattle area to send those jobs to India. I also didn't hear how many stunt jobs are getting replaced with CGI animation jobs.

So I get pretty sick of Jack Valenti and his gang at the Motion Picture Association crying crocodile tears over how Internet piracy will ruin the motion picture industry and destroy American jobs. Their antipiracy campaign is built on ads featuring makeup artists and set painters pleading for their jobs, pointing out that they are regular folks just like us, not superstars like almost-governor Ahhnold, who probably won't miss a few pennies per download.

I don't download, I don't have kids who download and my dogs don't have opposable thumbs so they are at a serious disadvantage operating my computer to download when I'm not looking. I absolutely do not advocate piracy. But I do think the laws we have in place are enough to prosecute it without paying off the government to track Hollywood's errant digital files.

I also think that if the studios were so concerned about keeping American jobs, they would insist on replicating DVDs in the United States and monitoring the security of replication facilities, creating jobs in both arenas. Instead, we hear about expanding facilities in Southeast Asia, where pirates burn DVDs to order, and, most recently, Poland. (Incidentally, wasn't that Jack who released that report a few months ago claiming that DVD piracy in Eastern Europe was funding terrorism and organized crime?)

So when the Hollywood machine puts those sympathetic images up on the screen to make us all feel solidarity with the makeup artists and set painters, don't you believe it. The only reason those people still have jobs in the United States is because Hollywood hasn't figured out how to have some $2-a-day worker in Malaysia or Poland apply makeup to the high-dollar stars sitting in their dressing rooms over here. As soon as they do, I'm sure the studios will have no more compunction about sending those jobs overseas than they have about sending their replication jobs into the piracy capitals of the known universe.

Like everything in Hollywood, it's an act -- rehearsed and played for maximum pathos. Don't download. But don't fall for the hyperbole designed to bamboozle a bunch of blue-haired, technophobic politicians into extending copyrights into the next millennium, either.

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