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Entertainment in Hollywood: an industry forecast for students

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Consumers envision movies, music and money when they hear the term “entertainment.” That’s why it’s called “show business,” though it’s not always adequate, admirable or appropriate. The recent recession has proven that entertainment endures, but the public hasn’t substantially supported the business.

Billy Dickson, a 21-year-old CSUN alumnus, owns and operates a photography studio, “Just Shoot Me Photography,” in Moorpark and, in his spare time, works on movies. Dickson has done it all: gripping, director of photography, camera operator and everything in between. He worked as a cinematographer on the CSUN senior thesis film “Giddyup Grandma.”

“There are so many different paths into the entertainment industry,” Dickson said. “I question myself everyday if I am even going in the right direction. No one my age is constantly working. It’s hard and tough right now with the economy. This is literally the worst time to be doing what I am trying to do, but I love it too much to give it up.”

As a result of networking, Dickson has worked on commercials, TV, public service announcements, short films and music videos. Most recently, Dickson found work as a camera operator on actor Elijah Wood’s upcoming pilot.

“You need to remain focused and know what you’re getting yourself into,” Dickson said. “When doing stuff for free, you meet people who will get you a job in the future. It’s all about hooking up with the right people. You need to know who to work with. That will ultimately lead to how successful you are and what jobs you wind up getting.”

photos courtesy of MCT

Depressing, dismal and downcast fortunes face Hollywood screenwriters, who emerged from a bruising strike a few years ago only to be clobbered by the recent recession that forced a sharp retrenchment in studio filmmaking. Nowadays, screenwriters partake in “sweepstakes pitching,” where a dozen writers compete for the same project and are only paid for their first draft.

According to the Writers Guild of America West in July 2010, screenwriters’ earnings have rebounded to pre-strike levels, but less work subsists to survive. Employment has fallen 11 percent in the past three years and there are 226 less screenwriters working in 2009 than in 2006.

“When I was a freshman in college I worked on this HBO show as a camera PA (production assistant),” Dickson said. “That show got cancelled right when the writers’ strike happened. We only shot half the season even though there was a contract to shoot the whole thing. It was going to be a really great show, but the writer’s strike screwed us over.”

Recent film trends have introduced 3D and IMAX films with tickets costing near $20. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the 2009 movie ticket price averaged $7.50 in the U.S. Los Angeles movie patrons pay an average of $10 to $15 for regular admission tickets.

The theater world isn’t what it used to be. Theaters have abandoned productions and theater passes no longer lure subscribers.

“Productions are being closed all over the country for theater producing organizations. Buying a subscription is not appealing to younger generations. Theaters are coping by reducing admission tickets, some even half price like our school theater,” said Peter Grego, CSUN theater department chair.

Grego pointed out that even the most prestigious and prominent artistic theater programs like UCLA have cancelled their seasons. Pasadena Playhouse had to close their doors for the better part of the year, although they were able to recently reopen.

Programmers have aggressively adjusted their prices to be more commercial and mainstream. Los Angeles provides multifold outlets for performers in film, TV, music and theater. Although the market appears more appealing, competition stands tougher.

“Having the opportunity to develop the interest in (theater) really booms by having the Valley Arts Performing Center in our backyard,” Grego said. “It’s more convenient and hopefully gets more people to appreciate the arts. Only actors and athletes have to prove themselves in front of an audience.”

Summer concert sales plummeted after U2, Christina Aguilera, Limp Bizkit, Lilith Fair, and Aerosmith cancelled their shows for various reasons. The top 100 U.S. tours for the first six months grossed $965.5 million, a 17 percent decrease from last year, according to Pollstar.

Sean Parker’s infamous website, Napster, forever changed the music industry, which never fully recovered. Countless lawsuits later, online music streaming emerged as the new approach to music. MySpace, YouTube, and torrent sites also evolved to unlock unlimited free music.

“There are two types of people in this world,” said Todd Severin, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Ripple Music. “There are people who listen to music and there are people who love music. Somebody who listens to music maybe listens to the radio and doesn’t really care what’s on. They might hear a song they enjoy and decide to pick up the CD for that one song. Nowadays, that particular person won’t buy the CD anymore. They’ll just stream it on Pandora, Rhapsody, get it on iTunes or steal the one song. People in the past, who would’ve boosted up sales without being a hardcore fan of an artist, are gone.

“The other type of person is the music lover. The music lover does not want the digital or anything, but a physical product. They don’t just want a physical product, but something really cool. The majority of those people are going back to vinyl.”

The major problem in the music business is letting people know about available products, Severin said.

Ten years ago, radio ruled and exposed audiences to new music;. Today, too many avenues are available to stay informed on music and it’s impossible to keep up with all the information out there, Severin added.

Web-based skills appear as the future for everything in the entertainment industry because more businesses are advancing to digital. Media has paved the way with social networking sites like Twitter, online journalism and blogs. As a result, print media is dying as more magazines and newspapers develop digitally. Hard copies have substantially reduced their content and compelled consumers to question their purchases.

During the 2006 writers’ strike, mini “TV” shows were created specifically for the internet as webisodes to keep filmmakers stirring. A new market bloomed for entertainment, specifically TV and movies.

Since 2008, Hulu and other video websites have made new TV shows available, capitalizing on this new viewership. NBC and ABC release their TV shows online for 30 days after they’ve originally aired. Time Warner Cable provides on-demand programming, which offers access to thousands of programming including films and TV shows to their subscribers.

“I don’t know if it’s passion, stupidity or both, but somehow people are scraping by and working a crappy amount of hours all night long for little money,” Dickson said. “Most projects I work on, I work 14 to 15 hours a day. I leave my photography studio to work on these films so I can meet new people. Other people are hoping something will come out of their work.”

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