The Hollowing Out Of Hollywood by Langstona


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									The Hollowing-Out of Hollywood                                                                                    

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           The blockbuster "Kill Bill" films exemplify the increasingly global nature of Hollywood, and not solely because of director Quentin
           Tarantino's heavy incorporation of foreign stylistic elements, writes media scholar Christina Klein. Like a growing number of
           Hollywood productions, both "Kill Bill Volume 1" and "Volume 2" relied heavily on offshore labor. While the outsourcing of
           post-production work is a well-established practice, film industry workers now worry about "runaway productions" - films and TV
           shows shot almost entirely outside of the US. Throughout the 1990s, Canada was Hollywood's location of choice, writes Klein -
           shooting there can reduce a film's budget by up to 25 percent. Now Canada faces increased competition from countries offering
           even cheaper workers and facilities, like China and Brazil. Critics of runaway productions insist that since Hollywood is so
           fundamentally American its jobs should remain in the US. Yet Klein questions this logic, pointing out that many of Hollywood's
           audiences and actors and directors are foreign, and have been since the early 20th century. As studios seek to slash development
           costs by purchasing the remake rights for foreign films and outsourcing more creative work to overseas film industries, how
           "American" Hollywood films of the future will be remains an open question. - YaleGlobal

           'Runaway productions' boost profits but also take jobs abroad
           Christina Klein
           30 April 2004

                                                                         CAMBRIDGE, MASS.: Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" opened
                                                                         strong in US theaters this past weekend, taking in over $25 million at the
                                                                         box office. Last autumn, "Kill Bill: Vol.1" opened to similar financial and
                                                                         critical success. These films have generated a lot of media attention
                                                                         because of their "global" style: they appropriate stylistic elements from
                                                                         Hong Kong kung fu movies, Japanese samurai films, and Italian
                                                                         spaghetti Westerns, and wrap them all up in an exaggerated, comic-book
                                                                         sensibility. Yet the "Kill Bill" films are important not only for their global
                                                                         style, but also because their profitability rests upon a growing production
                                                                         trend - the offshoring of Hollywood filmmaking.

                                                                         The "Kill Bill" films relied heavily on the labor of offshore workers and
                                                                         overseas locations. Yet outsourcing is nothing new to Hollywood.
                                                                         Previous generations of Hollywood films have sent animation, visual
                                                                         effects, and post-production work to companies overseas. There is a
                                                                         new sense of crisis among American film industry workers, however,
                                                                         over "runaway productions" - films and TV shows that for economic
                                                                         reasons are shot wholly or almost wholly outside the U.S.

                                                                          and stars,
                                                                          most of the
                                                                          crew and
           "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" is a money-maker for Miramax, but also for
           the production team that helped produce it outside the US.
           (Photo: Miramax films)
                                                                          actors are
           locally. Runaway productions have existed since the late 1940s, but

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The Hollowing-Out of Hollywood                                                                             

         their numbers increased during the 1990s. According to a 1999 study A real-life Mexican brothel provided a cheap setting for one
         commissioned by the Directors Guild of America and the Screen           scene in "Kill Bill: Vol. 2". (Photo: Miramax films)
         Actors Guild, runaways have increased from 14 percent of total US
         film and television productions in 1990 to 27 percent in 1998. They have a total negative economic impact of over $10 billion a year.
         Today the practice has reached what the Los Angeles Times calls "epidemic" levels and involves many big-budget, high-profile
         pictures like the Academy-Award winning "Chicago". The DGA/SAG study calculates that over 125,000 jobs were lost to runaways
         in the 1990s. A more recent study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. predicts that another 4,000 film jobs will likely
         disappear by 2005.

         The studios' need to cut costs at the behest of their struggling parent conglomerates is
         driving work offshore. Canada has been Hollywood's foreign location of choice, hosting
         more than 80 percent of all runaways in the late 1990s. The Canadian government's
         program of tax rebates and incentives, combined with lower production costs and a
         favorable exchange rage, can reduce a film's budget by about 25 percent. But just as
         Mexico lost some formerly US-based factories to China, Canada is now facing increased
         competition from countries offering even lower wages and more generous tax breaks.
         Australia and the Czech Republic have become popular destinations over the past five
         years, and now Hungary, Romania, Brazil, and many others are vying to host Hollywood
         productions. Quentin Tarantino shot much of "Kill Bill Vol. 1" - including the blood-soaked
         climax in which The Bride fights off dozens of armed assassins in a Tokyo restaurant - on a
         sound stage in Beijing, where production costs can be one-eighth what they would be in Los Angeles. Many of the scenes from "Kill
         Bill Vol. 2" were shot in Mexico for the same cost-cutting reason, including one scene which according to Los Angeles Times
         journalist Rachel Abramowitz was "shot in a real Mexican brothel, a tattered shack with makeshift tables, and real whores lying in
         hammocks." It is probably safe to assume that Tarantino did not pay these women union wages.

         Critics of runaway productions argue that America is in danger of losing a key
         manufacturing industry, and insist that because Hollywood is so fundamentally "American"
         its jobs should stay in the US. But is Hollywood still an American industry? Do Americans
         really "own" those jobs any more than people elsewhere in the world do? Hollywood has
         been a global industry since the early 20th century, relying on foreign viewers, foreign
         earnings, and foreign talent to make its films. Hollywood movies have dominated the global
         market for filmed entertainment since the late 1910s, and today they take in about 80
         percent of the world's total box office receipts. Concomitantly, the viewers of Hollywood movies are increasingly found outside the
         US: like many other big Hollywood pictures, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" earned much more abroad ($110 million) than at home ($70 million).
         Hollywood has also been drawing on a global labor market since at least the 1930s, hiring promising actors (Ingrid Bergman,
         Russell Crowe), directors (Alfred Hitchcock, John Woo), and high-end technical workers (cinematographer Nestor Almendros, "Kill
         Bill" martial arts advisor Yuen Wo-ping) away from other national film industries. While these global business practices have
         strengthened Hollywood, they have often provoked angry charges of cultural imperialism and brain drain abroad.

         Many who think Hollywood is an American industry claim that even if film production moves
         overseas, the creativity that drives the industry is still firmly based in the US. But as the
         studios cut development costs by buying up the remake rights for foreign films, even that
         assumption is being called into question. A recent screening of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" was
         preceded by a trailer for "Shall We Dance?", a Hollywood remake of a popular Japanese
         movie made in 1996. Judging from this brief excerpt, the remake not only re-used the
         Japanese film's narrative and characters but also reproduced many of its shots exactly, from
         composition to camera angles to actor gestures. When paired with Quentin Tarantino's
         heavy postmodern poaching from the archives of Hong Kong, Japanese, and Italian cinema, this preview raised the question of
         whose originality and creativity is really being displayed in contemporary "American" movies.

         Perhaps we should see outsourcing and runaway productions as signs that foreign film industries are finally finding a way to make
         global Hollywood work for them. Instead of being merely consumers of Hollywood movies and unremunerated suppliers of
         Hollywood talent, these industries are becoming paid manufacturers of Hollywood movies. Hosting Hollywood productions may
         strengthen local film industries, as they build sound stages, invest in the latest camera and sound technology, and develop the
         sophisticated digital post-production facilities that Hollywood movies require. These investments could provide local film industries
         with the infrastructural resources they need to make movies with both Hollywood-style production values and distinctive local
         content - a combination that in South Korea and elsewhere has proven successful at winning audiences away from imported films.

         But that potential remains unrealized. Hollywood producer James Schamus, who has two films shooting in Canada and one in
         Romania, has yet to see any positive impact from runaway productions on local film industries. And film scholar David Bordwell
         fears that "much of the money local firms get from Hollywood may not be reinvested in local productions but rather in the distribution
         of US films and the enhancement of the runaway infrastructure," investment options which promise a more secure financial return.

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The Hollowing-Out of Hollywood                                                                

         The future shape of the global film industry thus remains in doubt. While there are signs of
         revitalization, we may yet be heading into a situation where there is only one world-
         spanning film industry, with headquarters in Los Angeles and production and
         post-production facilities dispersed across the globe. If this comes to pass, national film
         industries may become little more than branch offices of global - not American - Hollywood,
         churning out movies that ignore each country's unique local culture.

         Christina Klein teaches literature and comparative media studies at the Massachusetts
         Institute of Technology. She is the author of "Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow
         Imagination, 1945-1961" (University of California Press, 2003).

         Rights: © 2004 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

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