FishbowlLA editor Kate Coe has an interesting article in Grist this week, regarding total hottie Leonardo DiCaprio’s new eco-documentary, The 11th Hour. She attended an LA press conference for the event, and posed a simple, yet challenging, question to Leo and the producers: “Is this a union film?”
The filmmakers seem flummoxed by my question. “It’s a documentary,” they offer. “It’s an independent film.” “It’s so low budget.”
None of which prevents a film from having a union crew, I point out. And having a union crew would seem to fit this film’s progressive agenda.
At this point, the rest of the press seems sort of embarrassed by the exchange — it’s so rude!
Attempting to explain my question, I remind the filmmakers that they just finished talking about how people should be aware of their choices. That they are advising consumers to avoid rainforest wood, sweatshop clothing, and chemical additives. To me, that also means watching films that have been produced in an ethical way.
DiCaprio stresses that any profits he gets from the film will go into nonprofit organizations — which is nice, but Hollywood bookkeeping is notorious for ensuring that even very popular films don’t turn a profit.
The producers then explain that it was just them and the editor and Leo in his mother’s garage, and everyone else was a volunteer. They latch on to this: Volunteers! Good! People really cared! Did we mention it was in Leo’s mother’s garage? The press sheet does include a disclaimer that its long list of credits is not contractual.
Kate goes on to make an interesting point:
So what, you may be thinking. It’s a good cause, and DiCaprio seems like a good guy. If people wanted to volunteer to help him out, what’s the harm? Besides, those Hollywood types can afford to skip a paycheck or two.
That may be true. But as I see it, it’s impossible to discuss — and attack — climate change without addressing issues of social class and economy. Encouraging conscious consumerism without addressing the underlying class and labor issues is irresponsible — no matter how green the product, how progressive the process. And it is, if you ask me, irresponsible to put out an “environmental” film that doesn’t quite follow the rules.
Rules like this:
* According to Kate McGuire of California’s Department of Industrial Relations, no one may work without pay (volunteer) for any organization other than a registered nonprofit or a state agency. Nor may any volunteer take the place of any paid worker.
* The Directors Guild of America confirms that no DGA member may work without pay on any production, volunteer or not, and that the Guild was not approached by the production company to work out a low- or no-budget contract option. IATSE (the technicians’ union), the Teamsters, the Writers Guild — all have similar provisions, and none was approached by the production.
* The Screen Actors Guild is tough on members who violate the bylaws — some even get expelled. DiCaprio, as a SAG member, worked on this film under a union contract made with Eleventeen Productions, an arm of Tree Media Group, the Conners sisters’ production company. His Pension & Welfare benefits were paid, as well. Other union members may not have been so lucky.