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Vancouver- Hollywood North- Easy Prey for Those Who Want To Make A Quick Buck Off B List Thespians.
Lee Lecu | August 27, 2008 at 12:56 amby
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For those of you who are unfamiliar with a town that has a large part of its economy based upon film let me explain to you what an extra or more formally a background performer is: Extras, exactly what the title says- they cost extra, they fill ‘extra’ holes in production(s); they are necessary additions, and can also be known as necessary burdens. Those who deal in the “trade” of extras include extras casting directors (those hired by the large production groups most often backed by massive American bankrolls); they are the ones who choose who they would like to have on their ‘shows’. The casting agent, the complementary firm that pitches teams of extras to larger productions ‘wrangle’ their contracted employees whom they deduct 15% of their pay. They are the ones who are “able” to consort with the almighty production extras casting director and can promise the ordained production extras casting director that they can discipline their often eccentric cast members into performing properly and behaving accordingly on a bonded production. If not, the agents will lose their credibility and take major slack from productions leading to their ultimate demise. For the most part it is a pretty good system. The agents serve as a check in order to guarantee the security of a production and often a particular studio.
Greater Vancouver is home to many studios, some municipalities are friendlier for their variety of ‘film services’ than others. I have done background work on and off for ten years in the greater Vancouver area, and today something went terribly wrong that made me shake my head once again over the nature of this city we call vancouver (I have left city, and vancouver in lower case for a reason) and its inability to consolidate its socio- political economic system for the greater good of each of its citizens; once again Busters Towing enters the picture, I will have to explain that later in order to make more sense.
I have been told that Vancouver has a consortium of over fifteen thousand people who work in the non- union side of the film industry; some are extras, some are production assistants that take out the trash, and some are rising up the ladder in the artistic and trades portions of the craft. The rest are treated to union perks depending on how powerful their union is with relation to those in Hollywood and their connections with various organizations in the city of Greater vancouver. The most logical and common trend is to try and get away with as little union extras as possible, and pick the cheap happy- go- lucky cattle who will have little to complain about.
Today I was treated to an ‘invitation’ from my agent, to a non- union gig at British Columbia’s latest big budget production (for now, until the next one comes along). I will leave this production unnamed due to a confidentiality agreement, but it is a major Hollywood production currently involving several hundred millions of dollars with a high- end star studded American A list bling bling cast, guaranteed to be a major American box office breakthrough. It comes complete with acted out American patriotism by West Indian people of colour, and a multicultural cast of Canadian background characters; many of whom have barely been in this country for 3 years. Most of these people are extremely vulnerable to being exploited by low- wages and poor working conditions that the average Canadian or American takes for granted; this is not to say that the film industry is running a sweatshop, not at all. What I am saying is our ‘kind’ guests from the United States, who claim to offer us such favour with all of their Hollywood dollars are shirking their natural obligations to people who have nor the skill, the funds, and the lack ill- will to willingly perform the same result in kind.
I was disgusted when this multi hundred million dollar production chose a studio space in the city of vancouver without the regard for the issue of non- union parking. Parking in the city of vancouver is scarce, and strictly regulated to make profits, as well as to guarantee our friends at Busters Towing a piece of the action, like what happened at the recent 2008 Vancouver Folkfest. Several hundred non- union extras were not given a lot to park when they had been cattle called for a 16 hour day on “this expensive feature”. You would think the good people at "this big budget American Production House" could have made an allowance for a parking lot for non- union extras, perhaps charging them a nominal fee (as ridiculous as that sounds), of course not- they never even considered them. Many people making ten bucks an hour’s cars were towed in and around the Vancouver area bordering Burnaby, and to pour more salt into the wound it was vancouver’s most protected public employees union CUPE who issued the tickets, and Busters who towed the cars. When an extra asked an employee of the production if the multi hundred million dollar production was willing to reimburse them for the towing fees for their car that amounted to their daily wages, they were met with laughs. My car was almost towed, and was parked in an otherwise legal spot, but changed to suit the city for these production days! Furthermore, the production could not even grant mandated rules according to the BC Labour Code, violations that have occurred before. This all led to increased and unnecessary frustrations between rivaling staff on set.
I know what you are thinking, extra work isn’t even work, and I do agree with this to a certain extent, however, it is still an example of an unfair injustice that affects the livelihood of many taxpaying Vancouverites. No wonder Granatstein titled one of my favorite works of history Yankee Go Home! Yet in this case it seems as if we’re both at fault. I am worried for my beloved city, its business sense better start getting its shit together- why steal from the revenues of one of your few industries (film industry), through its employees and then alienate it further through yet another pretense: the monies that it produces from foreign sources who don’t wish to hear complaints. Moreover, why is the producer of another similar film of its kind treating my fellow citizens like mules? I am not impressed.
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