It's been 10 years since we launched the annual Hollywood Jobs series, in which we explore odd movie jobs — you know, the ones you see in the closing credits. In the last decade, producer Cindy Carpien and I have talked to key grips, animal wranglers, focus pullers, foley artists, shoemakers, slate operators, loopers, food stylists and many more. Today we check back with some folks we've profiled in the past, to ask how their jobs have changed since we last met.
Our first stop is Santa Monica studio of award-winning costume designer Julie Weiss (she did Frida, American Beauty, Blades of Glory). On Sunday you'll see her work in the Oscar musical numbers. Weiss says the major change in her job is the way computers have affected her day. "If I go to an interview I don't take all those sketches," she says, "They're on the screen."
It's nice to have less to schlep, but the technology comes with a price — she says it's harder to show off a fabric on a screen.
Another change? These days, more and more movies are made outside of Hollywood. States like Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan offer big tax incentives to the industry. New legislation may bring films back, but in the meantime, businesses that once served the movies are dwindling in L.A. Costume houses have closed and for Weiss, that's a minus. No longer are there "racks and racks of memories that you can look at."
As movies have moved out of town Weiss has taken on a wider variety of work; she now does theater, TV, even video games. "I want to be a good storyteller and if it means that that's what it takes to be there — I'm there," she says.
Smart phones have also had an impact. People have started watching movies on them. This makes Weiss "a little agitated."
"A film — it should be seen on a screen," she says. "You should be able to witness it at the same proportion or bigger than life. ... I guess maybe it would make the job a little easier — I wouldn't have to worry about if the third button matched — but I don't want to do it that way."
'Where Have You Been?'
The last time we saw Doug Dresser, he'd taken us to an abandoned hospital morgue. Today we find him in Pacific Palisades, overlooking the ocean. Dresser is a location scout — one of the first folks hired on a film — to hunt down places where the cameras will roll.
Dresser's movie morgue days may be over. He's doing more TV commercials now — today scouting lunch places and renting driveways for his trucks, for a one-day shoot.
"Ten years ago, they used to make movies in Los Angeles," Dresser says. "Right now, you can count on one hand the amount of feature films they're making here."
That means a lot of travel for Dresser. "I was gone last year for seven months," he says. "Two years before that, I was gone for 10 months."
The travel takes a toll; Dresser has two young children and he wants to watch them grow up. And it isn't just his kids who notice he's gone, he says: "After I came back [shooting] in North Carolina ... my dry cleaner asked me, 'Where have you been? I haven't seen you in a very long time — did you go to another drycleaner?'"
Dresser misses the old feature film days. "There's nothing better" he says, than "being able to start from a blank page and helping craft the look of a movie."
Building A Better Butter Gun
When we first interviewed property master Trish Gallaher Glenn, she was on the set of The Muppets movie. Now, in a Paramount storage warehouse she's hauled out a special prop for us — a butter gun, used in the new SpongeBob movie, Sponge Out of Water. In the film, Burger-Beard the Pirate (Antonio Banderas) sprays melted butter with a wide-mouthed gun. The 10-pound prop was made in resin with a 3-D printer.
Artisans still had to paint the gun to look antique, but the 3-D printer lets the prop master duplicate the gun easily. "We made two of them," Glenn says. "Because with an action prop, if it breaks ... you lose a day of shooting." The gun isn't on screen for more than a few seconds but each one cost about $20,000.
The 3-D printer can re-work gun parts on quick demand, and Glenn says that's a real change. "Before, we would have had a sculptor, who worked for weeks and weeks," she says.
'We Got 1,100 Submissions'
Casting director Margie Simkin says technology has had a major effect on the way she does her job. A decade ago she had to sift through piles and piles of 8x10 headshots that arrived in the mail every day. By 2008, that mail deluge had begun to subside — again, the influence of computers.
"We put out a call, which you do online, and said we were looking for someone to do a few lines, two days' work, and within hours we got 1,100 submissions," she says.
And that was just actors in Los Angeles. Now, it's global. All over the world, performers hit a button, record themselves, send off the file — and hope. It's efficient but also exhausting for the casting director on the other end.
"I sort of sit there at night, sometimes in bed, and go through thousands of submissions," Simkin says.
For the men and women who call Hollywood their professional home, technology and out-of-state tax incentives have been game-changers in the last 10 years. These shifts tell the larger story of the new Hollywood — and reveal how a vast local industry is tottering. And, as they used to say in the old movies, as the sun slowly sets on a decade of Hollywood Jobs, we bid a fond farewell to our film-making friends, adapting (mostly) to new technologies, with the old ways still in their hearts.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Sunday's Oscar ceremony will mark an anniversary for MORNING EDITION. For the last 10 years NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg and producer Cindy Carpien have been exploring Hollywood jobs. You know, the kind of jobs you find if you stay to watch the movie's closing credits - jobs like property master. They've been doing this for 10 years. Why do they not have an Oscar yet? In any case, they wrap up the decade today by going back to some folks they profiled and asking how their jobs have changed.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Technology and out-of-state tax incentives are the game changers - sounds boring, no? In fact, the difference they make tells the story of the new Hollywood and how a vast local industry is tottering. We start in the Santa Monica studio of award-winning costume designer Julie Weiss. She did "Frida," "American Beauty," "Blades Of Glory." Sunday you'll see her work in the Oscar musical numbers. How has Julie's job changed in 10 years? Computers.
JULIE WEISS: If you go to an interview, I don't take all of these sketches. They're on the screen.
STAMBERG: Less to schlep, but there's a price.
WEISS: 'Cause I want to show the fabric. I want to talk about it.
STAMBERG: These days more and more movies are made outside of Hollywood. States like Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan offer big tax incentives to the industry. New legislation may bring films back to LA. Meantime, businesses that once served the movies are dwindling here. Costume houses have closed. For Julie, that's a minus.
WEISS: What isn't there are these racks and racks of memories that you can look at.
STAMBERG: There's more variety to her work as movies move out of town. She does theater, TV, even video games.
WEISS: I want to be a good storyteller, and if it means that that's what it takes to be there, I'm there.
STAMBERG: Being there is part of Doug Dresser's job description. He's a location scout, one of the first folks hired to hunt down places where the cameras will roll. We found him in Pacific Palisades overlooking the ocean.
Hey, Doug. It's great to see you.
DOUG DRESSER: It's great to see you, too.
STAMBERG: Last time I saw Doug it was in an abandoned hospital morgue - talk about exotic locations. Well, Doug's movie morgue days may be over. He's doing more TV commercials now. Today, scouting lunch places and renting driveways for his trucks for a one-day shoot.
DRESSER: Ten years ago, they used to make movies in Los Angeles. Right now I think you can count on one hand the amount of feature films that they're making here.
STAMBERG: He had to leave town for the movie jobs.
DRESSER: I was gone last year for seven months. Two years before that, I was gone for 10 months.
STAMBERG: Doug has two young children. He wants to watch them grow up. And it's not just the kids who missed him.
DRESSER: After I came back from being gone - when I was in North Carolina - I came back and my dry cleaner asked me where have you been? I haven't seen you in a very long time. Did you go to another dry cleaner? I said no, I was out of town working.
STAMBERG: So dry cleaner happy, family happy. Doug does still miss the old feature film days.
DRESSER: There's nothing better than being on a movie and being able to start from a blank page and helping craft the look of a movie.
STAMBERG: The last time we saw property master Trish Gallaher Glenn was on the set of "The Muppets" movie. Now in a Paramount storage warehouse, she's hauled out a special prop for us.
Oh, my, oh, it needs three hands.
TRISH GALLAHER GLENN: It's quite heavy.
STAMBERG: That is hefty.
It's a butter gun used in the new SpongeBob movie, "Sponge Out Of Water." The prop was made in resin with a 3-D printer.
GLENN: In all, there are 12 different 3-D parts, then they're molded and assembled.
STAMBERG: In the movie, pirate Antonio Banderas sprays an animated SpongeBob character with melted butter spewing out of the guns flared mouth.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPONGE OUT OF WATER")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Screaming).
STAMBERG: The butter gun weighs maybe 10 pounds - lucky Banderas has nice biceps. The 3-D printer can rework gun parts on quick demand. Trish says that's a real change.
GLENN: Before we would've had a sculptor who worked for weeks and weeks and maybe we would've said, oh, that's too big, too small.
STAMBERG: Artisans still had to paint the gun to look antique. The 3-D printer lets them duplicate the gun easily.
GLENN: We made two of them because with an action prop, if it breaks and you lose a day of shooting - so each one cost about $20,000.
STAMBERG: And all of this for an object that is on the screen how long?
GLENN: Between four and five seconds.
STAMBERG: You know, that's the magic of movies, isn't it?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIELD OF DREAMS")
DWIER BROWN: (As John Kinsella) Is this heaven?
KEVIN COSTNER: (As Ray Kinsella) It's Iowa.
STAMBERG: Technology has affected "Field Of Dreams" casting director Margie Simkin big time. In 2008, when she cast "Avatar" she was no longer sifting through piles and piles of 8-by-10 headshots that arrived in the mail.
MARGIE SIMKIN: We put out a call, which you do online, and said we were looking for someone to do a few lines, two-day's work, and within hours we got 1,100 submissions.
STAMBERG: And that was just actors in LA. Now it's global. All over the world performers record themselves, hit a button and hope - efficient, exhausting because it never ends.
SIMKIN: I sort of sit there at night, sometimes in bed, and go through thousands of submissions.
STAMBERG: But at least you can stay in your pajamas all day.
SIMKIN: But sometimes you can stay in your pajamas all day - don't tell.
WEISS: I wish that you hadn't told me that.
STAMBERG: Costume designer Julie Weiss again - we had mentioned how in the last 10 years people have begun watching movies on tiny smartphones.
WEISS: I think I'm a little agitated, actually.
STAMBERG: Remember, this is a woman who has worked in movies most of her life.
WEISS: A film - it should be seen on a screen. You should be able to witness it at the same proportion or bigger than life. What have we done?
STAMBERG: There is a bright side.
WEISS: I guess maybe it would make the job a little easier. I wouldn't have to worry about if the third button matched, but I don't want to do it that way.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STAMBERG: And as the sun slowly sinks on 10 years of movie job changes, we bid a fond farewell to our filmmaking friends, adapting to new technologies, mostly, with the old ways still in their hearts - mostly.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SUNSET BOULEVARD")
WILLIAM HOLDEN: (As Joe Gillis) You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
GLORIA SWANSON: (As Norma Desmond) I am big. It's the pictures that got small.
STAMBERG: In movie land, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Ten years' worth of Susan Stamberg's Hollywood jobs profiles - key grip, animal wrangler, focus puller, and much more - are at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.