Hello from Los Angeles where, as you may recall, we have relocated for the remainder of the year.  As things stand we will be shooting the latest inkjockey productions short film in two weeks.

This weekend’s extended break for Labor Day is a welcome one and a chance to reflect on what we’ve learnt since working here.

Film-making is an art, a passion, a chance to tell a story that could change the world. That’s the theory at least, the reality is actually very different. It’s about permits, insurance, unions, schedules and logistics.  A perfect moment then to look at the world of the honest worker as told by the film industry.

What follows is a short list of 5 of my favourite films about workers, unions and horrible bosses (and no, Horrible Bosses isn’t on the list although hats off to whoever cast Jennifer Aniston in that film).

  • Swimming with Sharks – A 1994 film from writer / director George Huang about a young executive who lands a dream job in Hollywood working for famed producer Buddy Alderman (Kevin Spacey).  The dream soon turns into a nightmare as Alderman turns out to be nothing more than a bully.  The revenge sequences are a delight and never has the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” been more true.  You’ll never look at an envelope the same way again.  Universally popular on release it is still a surprise that more people haven’t heard of, or seen this film.  It has some of Spacey’s best work in my view.
  • Hoffa – A 1992 film written by David Mamet and directed by Danny DeVito about the life of the Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa, played by Jack Nicholson.  The film is told largely in flashback and deals with Hoffa’s links to organised crime and his union activities.  When he became the President of the Teamsters Union it was the most powerful union in the US and as such was under constant attack from other unions and from mobsters.  Hoffa served time in prison before President Nixon commuted his sentence and awarded him a $2 million pension settlement.  Hoffa went missing in July 1975 and his body has never been recovered.  The film split opinion with the critics but it remains a fascinating look at how closely linked unions and organised crime were at this time.
  • 9 to 5 – A 1980 film from director Colin Higgins, 9 to 5 went on to become a TV show and a musical and it remains one of the most successful comedy films of all time.  It catapulted Dolly Parton into a new more mainstream audience.  She already had a massive fan base through her music but this film put her on a different level.  Acting alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin the characters take on the big bad boss Franklin Hart, Jr. played by Dabney Coleman.  Made for $10 million it has taken over $100 million in the US alone.  It is worth watching just for the soundtrack.
  • Gung Ho – A 1986 film by Ron Howard starring a pre-Batman and pre-Beetlejuice Michael Keaton as factory foreman Hunt Stevenson who successfully appeals to the Japanese owners of a closed factory in the US to re-open it.  His success is where all the trouble starts as the workers find themselves in a huge culture clash with their strict Japanese superiors. Compromise all round is the only way out of an near-impossible situation.  Again this film split opinion with the critics but it is an opportunity to watch Keaton on great form before the roles that defined him came knocking.
  • F.I.S.T. – Flushed with critical and commercial success from Rocky Slyvester Stallone walked straight on to the set of F.I.S.T. to play union leader Johnny Kovak.  When you consider the direction Stallone’s acting took during the 1980s it is remarkable to see him in a period piece such as this.  He shares the writing credit with Joe Eszterhas who would go on to write Flashdance, Jagged Edge and Basic Instinct.  In a similar manner to Hoffa, F.I.S.T. tells the story of the Federation of Inter State Truckers and its links to the mob.

The influence of the unions is everywhere in the US.  It dominates its industrial past and its commercial future.  It will, no doubt, play a huge role in the upcoming Presidential election.  So happy Labor Day weekend to workers everywhere.  Enjoy the day off…but make sure you are back at work first thing on Tuesday!

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