LETTER FROM L.A.: Commercial struck; Location, location, location; The
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier
an idea was the commercial strike? Well, if you’re to believe those at two
agencies that just closed their commercial divisions, very bad. They blame SAG and the strike for an
increase in non-union production. (Others have also pointed to an increase in
runaway production.) DDK remains open as a corporation, but is effectively gone
as an agency. Abrams-Rubaloff
& Lawrence is closing its on-camera and voice-over division.
SAG responds that the economy is
awful overall, which of course is true. And the debate about who’s to blame for
loss of revenue in L.A. production started long before this and will go on at
least until prosperity returns. If production picks up then, I doubt anyone will
credit SAG for making sure actors get a bigger share of it. If it doesn’t, SAG
will undoubtedly be blamed.
Debates aside, this is
undeniably bad news. Anyone who’d been thinking of getting a new commercial
agent soon will now be competing with hundreds of actors who have at least one
top agency as a credential. And the very fact that agencies of this stature
felt they couldn’t make a go of it bodes ill for smaller ones.
Is Hollywood still the place to
be if you want to act? Is union still the way to go? I think the answers to
both are still ‘yes’. But that ‘yes’ gets considerably more hesitant with each
Not that everyone’s discouraged,
even if they’re fed up. Take the location manager I met last week. His problem
is too much work just now. He just left one major show to work on another. And
all this is killing time between good film gigs. I don’t, to be honest, talk
with many location managers, so it’s interesting to hear the faint twinge of
resentment when he says, “Not that we get any credit for what we do. You see a
spectacular location in a film and who ever stops to think, it’s not the ART
director finding those places.” Amazing. Even as the crawl at the end of each
new film seems to grow longer, you’ll never stop meeting people in Hollywood who
feel their contribution gets no (real) credit.
The slow economy and lack of
recognition may dim the city’s spark for some, but Los Angeles overall
continues to become more livable. The Grove, one of several commercial centers,
opened some months back beside the Farmer’s Market. If you’ve never been to Los
Angeles, I should explain that, while there are indeed a number of real
farmer’s markets scattered around (at least on week-ends), this Farmer’s Market
is closer in character to the South Street Seaport. If a little older. In fact,
I can’t think of a single vegetable stand among all the different food stands
over there. But you can have Brazilian churrasco followed by a New Orleans
beignet, or maybe just a pastrami on rye.
The Farmer’s Market has remained
popular, if unglamorous, on its own. But now it’s been given a new boost by a
somewhat more elegant neighbor. The Grove packs a lot into a small space, with
a side street that feels very European and trolley tracks running down the main
drag towards the Market. A few big chains and a multiplex are mixed in with
smaller, more unique shops, set in a way that invites rather than assaults.
It’s also nicely designed as a public space. I first went on a Sunday
afternoon, and sat on a small patch of grass listening to an excellent jazz
band. They were set up in front of a decorative pond just large enough to
justify an inviting little bridge. Last week, I went in the evening for a
screening and discovered the dancing waters hidden in the larger half of the
pond. Thin glittering sprays shot up so artfully in a subtly shifting
choreography that they looked very much like water sprites, living beings
bowing and leaping in a graceful ring around the center of the pond.
In a city filled with malls and
commercial centers, the trick for newcomers is to create a space that’s
inviting in its own right. It looks like the Grove has pulled that off.