Hollywood has ground to a halt amid a united front between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America, striking together now for a combined three months. Scripted productions are frozen, red carpet premiers are without stars, and there is no real timeline for when struck studios might be able to return to business as usual.
While Hollywood’s labor unions lock arms in pursuit of higher pay, better residual deals, and some kind of limitation on the use of artificial intelligence in production, there’s a bit of side-eye being thrown toward those in the entertainment industry who won’t fall in line.
The Chosen, a historical drama centered on the life of Jesus Christ, is carrying on with shooting its fourth season following an exemption granted by SAG-AFTRA. The popular Christian series is a production of Angel Studios, which most notably has been the distributor for the recent hit film The Sound of Freedom — a film that chronicles the dark underworld of global child sex trafficking.
Showrunner Dallas Jenkins moved quickly to apply with SAG-AFTRA for an exemption from the work stoppage for actors on The Chosen, and it seems that their independent approach to entertainment is paying off. The show’s new season will continue shooting, thanks to consumers who backed nearly $37 million in crowdfunding on the show’s first two seasons. The Chosen has since then made it by on only donations and without licensing deals.
How refreshing it is to see creatives at work, free to build things without the permission of coercive labor unions. Operations such as that of Angel Studios and The Chosen Productions have made huge waves in recent months for their unique faith-based approach to content and for offering their investors a piece of equity in the production companies themselves.
It’s a rarely utilized way of doing business, made possible by a provision in former President Barack Obama’s 2016 JOBS Act, but one you could imagine Hollywood renegades such as George Lucas having longed for when he built the Star Wars empire.
Lucas loathed the Hollywood labor unions. Throughout his rise from underdog film student to box office king, the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones had little to no patience for the strictures unions sought to place on his work. One of many clashes occurred in 1980, when for the second time, George Lucas insisted that Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back begin with the iconic “opening crawl” instead of directorial credits.
In this instance, the credit would have gone to Irvin Kershner, whom he tapped to lead the most critically acclaimed Star Wars film to this day. The unions made their regulation clear to Lucas, and after Lucas sued and took them to court, the visionary behind Star Wars opted to pay the $25,000 fine and resign from the guild. Lucas would always fight the studios and unions in defense of his artistic vision and business priorities.
When you think about how iconic the opening sequence of a Star Wars film is, it’s easy to see why Lucas dug in his heels. “I consider it extortion,” he said of the fight with the guilds.
Years earlier, when Lucas was shooting the first Star Wars film at Elstree Studios just beyond London, he collided with British unions over their stiffly regulated work schedule for stage crews. Lucas is known to be a workhorse and somewhat unempathetic when it comes to the needs of his cast and crew, but the twice-daily mandated tea times at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. were beyond the pale for the busybody director — not to mention the 5:30 p.m. forced stop time right after tea.
Every member of a film production, from the top of the chain to the bottom, has a cross to bear. For Lucas, it was deadlines and managing the ballooning production budget, and he understood that union concerns were detached from his goals as an ambitious creative. It motivated everything from Lucas’s selection of non-union director Richard Marquand to direct Return of the Jedi to the location of his Lucasfilm compound in San Francisco, buying him physical distance from the studios and industry enforcers he so resented.
Perhaps it was his entrepreneurial and more conservative father, but Lucas never had any respect for the Hollywood patronage system enforced by studios and the various guilds. Despite being a model post-Vietnam liberal Democrat on every other issue of the day, Lucas rebelled his way to incredible success.
Creative work requires truly creative people, and the most successful and innovative creators will always be troublemakers. The false choice created by union-dominated industries is solidarity with your colleagues or less access to opportunity. Unions can serve a purpose and may well be necessary in a town such as Hollywood, where penny-pinching often comes at the expense of the lowest-paid crew members, but the coercive nature of union membership will always undermine any benevolent role they play.
Originally published here