Many independent movies produced in Hollywood incorporate as their own LLC.
Unlike a partnership, the investor in an LLC is liable only for the amount of his or her investment in that company.
Producers incorporate for legal protection, so they’re not personally liable for any loss they might incur along the journey of making their movies. However, their crews may not be not afforded a comparable degree of security.
Most crew members are 1099-ers, or contractors. While union crew members benefit from negotiated labor conditions which include pay rates, working hours, healthcare, retirement and the like, non-union crew are at the mercy of the producer and their budget. In general, non-union crew terms are negotiable, which could result in unfair pay and working conditions.
Hollywood is an interesting case study in the union conversation. Outside of Hollywood, where the gig economy is alive and well, unions are less common and declining in membership. Why have unions continued to reign supreme in Tinseltown, while in other industries – arguably largely impacted by technological innovations that led to companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Postmates – do not have an organized labor protocol?
Maybe they should. Wage and hour negotiations, not to mention healthcare benefits, continue to be major points of contention in the employee versus contractor debate (again, think Uber) beyond Hollywood’s vices. The Freelancers Union (https://www.freelancersunion.org/) which represents 57 million freelancers, is a contemporary reminder of what organized labor initially sought to accomplish for its workers: fair and safe working conditions.
Which brings us back to the original topic: are crew members – non-union or otherwise – afforded the rights and protection they deserve? While union membership has come to be used as a badge of honor or unofficial reference check, should that continue to be the case as the labor landscape evolves to include a workforce composed of a freelancer majority worldwide? Is Hollywood the exception? Perhaps it’s an ethical question regarding labor exploitation rather than an economic one.