If You Can’t Be with the One You Love, Love the One You’re With: or, getting through capitalist society to make the art you like

come on, mate!

Pepsi Max – “Love” / Irresistible Films

I was abroad in the spring semester, taking in all that jolly old England and its fair capital of London had to offer. They throw an old adage at tourists, courtesy of Samuel Johnson – “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” True this may be (although the Tube stops running at 12:30 and it’s very hard to find regular salad dressing). But it proved exhausting, especially being involved in those nebulous “creative industries.” The abroad program I was with offered the privilege of an internship placement in a company in your field. Although I made it clear in a series of interviews in Boston and London that I had no production experience, I was plopped into a small film production company in the heart of trendy Shoreditch. Shakespeare’s London it is not. The streets are filled with graffiti art, tattoo parlors, and the smell of shawarma chicken. It’s also not Shakespearean in the sense that the structure of creative professions has changed, as evidenced in Davies and Stigthorsson’s Introducing the Creative Industries: From Theory to Practice. This reading was especially relevant to my time abroad as it outlined a specifically British structure.

The company I worked at had just turned eight by the time I arrived, which eliminated a good deal of precarity, which Davies and Stigthorsson define as “when workers themselves take on business risks and responsibilities that otherwise would be assumed by the employer.” (17) This relative stability was because of a small base of full-timers with an improving infrastructure (though it was a relatively small SME). I would also attribute this to a willingness to take on projects that were not as fulfilling to a personal artistic vision.

There were about 12 people in the office on any given day, with a rotating staff of freelancers. Freelancer workers were brought in either by their own pitches or through agencies across London and even globally. For a small company, we could feel our global impact. Like examples discussed in chapter 3, we had international clients (a big one being Pixar). But I felt the truth of the statement “all creative industries are, in a sense, also locally based” (67) – we drew on local resources and had to know what would “travel” (67).

In-house, we had separate areas for production, post, and creative, and mostly specific staffers were delegated to those departments. People were constantly juggling different projects — part of the aforementioned security was attributed to the producing of successful ad spots (the most notable being for Pepsi Max). This helped provide the income to put energy into short film projects. This binary was clear in the office – not unlike Clement Greenberg’s 1939 comparison of the avant-garde and kitsch. From what I could gather of British stoicism/reticence, it seemed like they felt they were watering down their creative energy to get to the projects they were excited about pursuing – or “good work.” The moral economy is a nice idea but is difficult to sustain if there’s isn’t any real money backing it – which is why actors wait tables, or novelists write for the Sears catalog, or our company produced ads for Pepsi. But beyond that — I believe the staff also gained a great deal of fulfillment from working in London, which arguably ranks pretty high on any Bohemian Index (19) – especially in our tiny office space on the street famous for a Jack the Ripper murder.

Rent – “La Vie Boheme” (2008)

As many surveyed and quoted in the reading said, no day was typical. I woke up at 5 a.m. to travel and be a runner on shoots; I wrote call sheets and read screenplays; I curated the company’s social media presence, and of course, performed menial office work and got a lot of tea and coffee. But because the company was based on project work, the things I didn’t like were just something to slug through in order to get to the “good” work. And this made me feel like part of the team – the real world isn’t a creative utopia, and more often than not work is done outside of the things you love to get to that point.

Davies, Rosamund, and Gauti Sigthorsson. Introducing the Creative Industries: From Theory to Practice. London: SAGE, 2013. Print.

Greenberg, Clement. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” Partisan Review. 6:5 (1939) 34-49.

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