Real Drama

I’ve now seen all nine of the 2013 Best Picture Oscar nominees. Metacritic.com rates Zero Dark Thirty highest at 95, but gives second highest at 94 to my favorite, Amour. (Intrade gives Argo, rated 84, a 72% chance, and Lincoln, rated 86, a 23% chance, to win.)

There’s an apt old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Which highlights the fact that while we like stories with drama, we don’t actually want drama in our lives. If you ignore the very end, and the fact that the characters are very high status artists, Amour is quite realistic and by far the drama most likely to actually be experienced by many of you. Which is why most folks don’t like it, because they don’t actually want to see realistic ordinary drama.

Amour is about a women who gets sick and then dies. I was stuck by the fact that what most bothered her and her husband were the insults to her pride. They could mostly handle the pain, the drudgery, and the loss of opportunity. But the loss of status, oh that stung.

I was struck by something similar lately while reading the classic Studs Terkel book Working, in which dozens of ordinary workers tell how they feel about their jobs. While they sometimes complain about being bored or tired, they seem mostly ok with this. What really bothers them is when other people don’t give them as much respect or pay as they think they deserve. Again, it is status that seems to drive them most.

I found this quote interesting:

I would like to see a building, say, the Empire State, I would like to see on one side of it a foot-wide strip from top to bottom with the name of every bricklayer, the name of every electrician, with all the names. So when a guy walked by, he could take his son and say, “See, that’s me over there on the forty-fifth floor. I put the steel beam in.” Picasso can point to a painting. What can I point to? A writer can point to a book. Everybody should have something to point to. (Studs Terkel, Working)

I’d guess that if building makers could get this if they were willing to take a 5% pay cut to pay for it, and that it doesn’t happen because such workers don’t want it that much. Anyone know how much of a pay cut people take to get their name in the credits of a movie? How much of a pay cut to get your name shown as author of a novel? Do artists care more about getting visible public credit more than construction workers? If so, why?

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  • Will

    Writers who don’t want visible public credit are called “ghostwriters” presumably. I’d guess they are paid more, but no idea how to find out how.

  • Jeero

    My guess is that this implicit trade happens all the time (hence compensating differential for various high status jobs) but that it is low status to make the trade explicit.  You can often buy your way into Who’s Who, hence, high status folks find it declasse even though the clueless will pay good money to get the fancy bound volumes to show off their names inside, etc.

  • Faze

    Ghostwriters don’t necessarily get paid “more” — they get paid, period, unlike actual authors who venture on a book project with no guarantee of return. An actual author gambles, the ghostwriter is on to a sure thing (I’ve been both) — and in fact the ghostwriter may make more money off the book than the publisher or putative author, given the fact that’s he’s paid a flat fee upfront and most books ghostwritten or otherwise don’t make money. 
    Regarding screen credit, in my case, it was quickly ceded by the producers, offered, in fact, like a glittering prize. Based on their experience in the business, they were confident that I would be so dazzled by the prospect of seeing a full screen with my name on it in the opening credits that I’d I wouldn’t question their money offer. I sneered at their assumption at the time. But now, many years later, all the money has been spent, but I still have that screen credit unrolling on Netflix somewhere in the world every day and giving a slight goose to my status and keeping the book alive in the used book marketplace. We make a show of scorning these little status markers when they are offered, but they do have a gratifying long-term payout.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

    While they sometimes complain about being bored or tired, they seem mostly ok with this. What really bothers them is when other people don’t give them as much respect or pay as they think they deserve. Again, it is status that seems to drive them most.

    Insults to status seem much worse than they are when one reflects on them. On the other hand, boredom and physical misery seem much worse when they’re experienced than when they’re remembered. The distinction is quite interesting, but it shouldn’t be conflated with which is worse or even which most strongly drives people.

  • DanielHaggard

    I have no idea about the answers to your specific questions… but having your name out there – so to speak – might have implications for the amount of opportunities you have.

    If your brand is strong, then that might lead to further opportunities in the future.

    Why these people seem to crave status for its own sake has always boggled my mind.

    • Someone from the other side

       The roissysphere would argue that status (true or perceived) is the best aphrodisiac known to man…

    • Kitty_T

      In my experience, this is correct, in the arts at least.  I had a coworker who worked to get a client credit as a writer on a successful, critically acclaimed movie that you’ve probably heard of it.  The client won a significant share of the movie’s proceeds, but did not get the co-writing credit.  This was considered an abject loss, for pride but also because of the name recognition she lost for her career.

      Regarding builders, it was common for stone masons and carpenters in the middle ages to carve their own faces and names into the buildings they built.  Even higher on gratification, I expect, unpleasant bosses could find themselves immortalized as devils and monsters or in compromising positions with animals. 

  • http://facelessbureaucrat.blogspot.com/ Bill Harshaw

    Over the years the number of names on movies has gone from 5-10 to 50-1000 or more.  Not sure what to make of the inflation.  It’s also interesting: some directors in their commentaries will acknowledge the contributions of all their teams, some navel gaze.  Peter Jackson in LOTR essentially put everyone involved on the screen in one of special features or another.

  • Douglas Knight

    Charity buildings often do sell walls of names.

    Yes, builders could probably negotiate this, particularly since they have unions to aggregate their preferences. The aggregation procedure could be biased, but that construction unions and movie unions have different outcomes probably says something about different preferences (or costs). But once the union sets its rules, credit is entangled with other rules and so I think for most movie jobs it is not possible to isolate the price of credit.

    While Faze is correct, the question to ask is about celebrity books attributed to the celebrity, versus those “told to” another author credited on the cover.

  • Ted Hobgood

    My grandfather was a builder, and one of my great memories is driving around Winston-Salem, NC with him as he pointed out all the buildings he had built. At one church, he pointed out the intricate brickwork he had supervised at the entrance of the building, then walked around to the side of the building and pointed to a spot on the wall about 18 feet up. There was one brick which had been put in backwards; he said the bricklayers did that by accident when he took a break from supervising. Even though he didn’t put in that backwards brick, I always remember it as his special mark on one of the many buildings he created, almost like a signature.

  • Lukas

    Though this line of thinking neatly explains the complete oversupply of labor in jobs with lots of public exposure, like journalism.

  • Elithrion

    >Do artists care more about getting visible public credit more than construction workers? If so, why?

    I would imagine because there is greater differentiation among artists than among construction workers, so achieving (positive) name recognition is likely to also improve future incomes.

  • stevesailer

    You’ll notice that movie credits, which used to be limited to about the top dozen or two dozen participants, now go on forever, listing not just gaffers and best boys, but also accountants, caterers, and drivers.

  • stevesailer

    In general, Hollywood deserves serious study as a rare American industry that remains world-dominant despite paying high wages and being heavily unionized and nepotistic. It’s interesting that Hollywood productions, despite being centered in Los Angeles, have not replaced their highly paid middle-aged white blue collar workers with cheap immigrant labor. 

  • IMASBA

    “Amour is quite realistic and by far the drama most likely to actually be experienced by many of you. Which is why most folks don’t like it, because they don’t actually want to see realistic ordinary drama.”

    Yes, it hits too close to home for many people. It’s not an escape from reality, a confirmation of our beliefs/fears, or an optimistic vision of the future, which are what we usually want to get out of entertainment.

    “I’d guess that if building makers could get this if they were willing to take a 5% pay cut to pay for it, and that it doesn’t happen because such workers don’t want it that much.”
    Does it cost $1500 to put a name on a building these days? Of course not, it could be done for $15 and construction workers would want that but the owners of the building don’t.

    “Anyone know how much of a pay cut people take to get their name in the credits of a movie?”

    How much of a pay cut to get your name shown as author of a novel?”

    None, it takes about half a second of work and it’s an established industry practice. Having YOUR name on YOUR creation is a right, not a privilege, thank god the world isn’t that dystopian yet for all industries.

  • Aron Vallinder

    I very much

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  • lightreadingguide

     Maybe, though,  the still-anonymous guy who showed a Tom Cruise-like actor how to squint a little with one eye while the camera was on that side, so that his eyes were symmetrical from more angles than the eyes of lesser-paid actors, also used that trick to impress girls, and probably doesn’t care that he didn’t get credit for his original idea. At all.  Doesn’t compare himself to better paid people, but rather compares himself to the schmucks who can’t easily impress women.
    As Thomas More said, in a different and exponentially better context (praising the drudgery of teaching) – you have as your audience the eternal souls of your students, and of God; what more do you want ?
     
      

  • Jay Hutchins

    Re: ” How much of a pay cut to get your name shown as author of a novel? Do
    artists care more about getting visible public credit more than
    construction workers? If so, why?”

    Many construction workers gain status in other parts of their lives. Actors not so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/goetzphil Phil Goetz

    Hollywood writers, at least, don’t take a pay cut to be in the credits.  They get a pay hike (I think through residuals) if they get in the credits.  If there’s a dispute over which of the many writers who typically work on a film are to be credited, the WGA decides.