“But, Mr. Lincoln, Sir, Everybody Knows That Paying The Lowest Wages Possible Is Good For The Economy”

I`m walking down Ventura Boulevard and see a big “Paramount Studios” truck parked in front of a rented boutique. A half dozen crew guys, probably the first wave of what will be 50 or 100 workers who will arrive soon and work all night to film a minute or less of a movie, TV show, or commercial, are setting up equipment to convert it into a location set.

They`re working quickly and surehandedly, carrying on a variety of technical conversations about how they will perform their next steps while they`re finishing their initial tasks. They`re not a NASCAR pit crew, but they`re veterans who know that while making movies involves a lot of hurry up and wait, the hurry up part is what keeps them getting hired.

Now, some Hollywood crafts unions don`t have a good reputation. From The Simpsons` “Radioactive Man” episode:

Homer: You guys work on the movie?

Teamster: You sayin` we`re not working?

Homer: Oh, I always wanted to be a Teamster. So lazy and surly… mind if I relax next to you?

But the Teamsters are close to being the exception that proves the rule that members of these specialized unions tend to be competent and cooperative.

Not surprisingly, I made sure to check the demographics. The uniformed security guard who was there to stand around making sure passer-bys like me didn`t walk off with a Red video camera was a young Latino. The five technicians, however, were blue collar white guys in the 35 to 55 age range, a demographic you don`t see much of in L.A. anymore, except on movie sets.

They had beer guts and the kind of facial hair that guys who own Harley-Davidsons (maybe two or three) espouse. They look like the kind of tough guy craftsmen with high five or low six-figure incomes who, if the Oakland Raiders announced they were moving back to the L.A. Coliseum tomorrow, would shell out for season tickets the next day.

When Tom Wolfe came out to North Hollywood 49 years ago to check out the Kustom Kar scene in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, he reported that the post-WWII profusion of broad wealth in Southern California was inspiring all sorts of strange and rather beautiful blue collar creativity

Later in the 20th Century, Los Angeles pioneered the current national dogma of driving down wages via immigration “for the good of the economy.” And “diversity,” never forget “diversity.”

One major exception, however, has been Hollywood. Sensitive artists with large but fragile egos don`t take well to cost-cutting among the people who are supposed to make them look good.

To illustrate this, I think a good sketch comedy scene could be set on the set of Steven Spielberg`s Lincoln. As you`ve no doubt heard, the delightful English eccentric Method ham actor Daniel Day-Lewis insisted upon staying in character as Honest Abe throughout filming. Spielberg dressed in a suit to direct for the first time in his career and always addressed his star as “Mr. President.”

I`d like to see a sketch in which, halfway through the shoot, Spielberg, as producer, fires his expensive crew of American veterans and replaces them with minimum wage Mixtec-speakers who not only don`t know that they have to address Day-Lewis as “Mr. Lincoln,” but don`t know who this “Mr. Lincoln” was. So, Spielberg then has to explain to his sensitive star / Free Soil Free Labor President that firing Americans and replacing them with lower paid foreigners is just being “good for the economy.”