Why care about Hollywood attacks? We are all background actors.

Why care about Hollywood attacks?  We are all background actors.

In Hollywood, the cool kids have joined the picket line.

As a writer, I do not have any grudge against screenwriters who are on strike against film and TV studios for over two months now. But the writers know the score. We are words, not faces. The cleverest picket sign jokes are no match for the attention-grabbing power of Margot Robbie or Matt Damon.

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing TV and film actors, joined writers in a walkout on the issue of how Hollywood cashes in on the streaming age and how humans can thrive in the artificial-intelligence era. With all that star power comes a handy cheap shot: Why should anyone care about a privileged elite group moaning about a dream job?

But with all the attention that will be focused on a few boldface names in this strike, I invite you to consider a term that has come up a lot in the current conversation: “background actor.”

You probably don’t think much about background actors. You’re not meant to do that, hence the name. They’re the non-speaking individuals who populate the margins of the screen, making Gotham City or King’s Landing or the beaches of Normandy feel real, complete and alive.

And they may have more in common than you think.

Low-paid actors, who make up the bulk of the profession, are facing simple dollar-and-cent threats to their livelihoods. They are trying to maintain their income amid vanishing remaining payments, as streaming has shortened TV seasons and destroyed syndication models. They are demanding protection against the encroachment of AI into their jobs.

There’s also a particular, fraught question on the table: Who owns an artist’s face? Background actors are demanding security and better compensation in the practice of scanning their images for digital reuse.

At a press conference about the strike, a union negotiator Said The studios were demanding the right to scan and use an actor’s image “in perpetuity” in exchange for a day’s salary. The studio argues that they are offering “unprecedented” protection against misuse of actors’ images, and counters that their proposal would only allow a company to use a “digital replica” on that specific project. for which a background actor was hired.

Still, there was a long-term “Black Mirror” implication – practice actual basis A recent episode – deserves to be ignored. If a digital replica of you – without the hassle of money and time to live – can do the job, who needs you?

I guess, you could argue that if someone is so unimportant that it can be replaced by software, it’s in the wrong business. But background work and minor roles are just the way to promote your blockbuster on the red carpet someday. And many talented artists build their entire careers around a series of small jobs. (Pamela Adlon’s series “Better Things” is a great portrait of the lives of ordinary working actors.)

In the end, Hollywood’s fight is never too far off from the dangers many of us face in today’s economy. Actors Guild President Fran Drescher said, “We will all be in danger of being replaced by machines.” announcement of strike.

You and I may be the heroes of our own stories, but most of us are background players in the grand scheme. We face the same risk – that whenever there is a technological or cultural shift, companies will rewrite the terms of employment to their advantage, citing financial pressures when paying their top executives. tens and hundreds of millions,

Perhaps it’s unfair that more attention is paid to exploitation when it involves Meryl Streep’s union. (If UPS’s impending strike is successful, it could turn the spotlight on blue-collar workers.) And there is certainly a valid criticism of white-collar workers, who have been squeamish about automation until That AI didn’t put their own jobs at risk.

But work is work, and some dynamics are universal. As entertainment reporter and critic Maureen Ryan wrote in “Burn It Down,” her investigation of workplace abuse throughout Hollywood, “the most important entities in the commercial entertainment industry have no tendency or habit to Value those who contribute their product.”

If you don’t believe Ryan, listen to the unnamed studio executive talking about the writers’ strike, who told trade publication deadline“The end game is to let things drag on until union members start losing their apartments and their homes.”

You may think of Hollywood creators as a privileged class, but if their employers think of them that way, are you sure your employers think any differently of you? Most of us, in or out of Hollywood, are faced with a common question: Can we have a working world in which you can survive without being a star?

If the background actors are doing their job well, you might never notice them. Yet they are the difference between a dead view and a live view. They make the impression that, beyond the close focus on beautiful leads, there is a full, entire universe, whether it’s the galaxy of the “Star Wars” franchise or the earthly reality in which you and I live.

They’re there to say that we’re here too, that we make the world a world, that we deserve at least our little places in the corner of the screen.

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