Abstract: Actors are, and have always been, the biggest labor force in Hollywood. Although their faces might be familiar, how they have negotiated the extremely competitive and ever-changing business of Hollywood is typically a mystery. For many, at least those below the level of stars, work in Hollywood is inconsistent. Hollywood Freelance demonstrates how sporadic work has been a defining characteristic of actors’ labor and sheds lights on the lives and collective struggles of working and aspirant actors. Supported by archival evidence and interviews with industry workers, this book looks at the relationship between labor, technology, and capitalism to provide a cultural framework of actors, unions and Hollywood’s industrial practices. This contract was granted on the basis of peer review and approval by the University of Michigan Press’s editorial board.
From the ragtag crews of 1910s productions to the organized backlots of Classical Hollywood to the runaway productions of the last fifty years, Hollywood has employed a wide array of workers. Their duties have ranged from hanging lights and writing music to designing sets and casting talent, and their professional norms and practices have helped shape Hollywood’s industrial culture. This seminar will focus on these workers, often labelled as below-the-line, and the organizations that cut a horizontal swath across the studios from above (AMPAS, MPPDA, etc.), below (ASC, SAG, etc.), and outside (SMPE, ASCAP, etc).
When we enlarge the view of what Hollywood is and explore how it sustains the economy of a city and the livelihoods of thousands of workers, how does that change our understanding of this paradigmatic creative industry? We seek to expand on recent historical works that look beyond the screen, and even beyond stars and directors, to focus on the production conditions that bolster the system. Like Vicki Mayer and production studies scholars, we take a broad view of what it means to make media, from manufacturing raw materials to drawing storyboards to making legal arguments.
This seminar carves out space between several fields which are often disconnected, including media industries, labor, technology, and Hollywood history. We invite a range of methodological approaches that engage with one or more of these animating questions:
How do motion picture and television workers perceive themselves and their labor?
Who defines professions and forms gatekeeping mechanisms?
How are technologies, techniques, and practices codified and disseminated throughout the industry? In what way do institutions (both top-down and bottom-up) shape professional identities and control labor?
Participants will submit a 5-6-page paper including three pages on their project and its interventions in the field, followed by 2-3 pages on the current state of and areas of struggle with their research, sources, methodologies, and writing. Participants and auditors are expected to read these papers in advance. We will begin with small group discussions and end with a full group conversation about ways we can bring these projects and fields into closer dialogue. We particularly encourage projects in nascent stages.