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Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Hard for Professionals to Get Noticed in Crowded Field

By creating an online soap opera, actor and producer James Babbin follows a path first tread by actors and actresses more than five decades ago. When a new medium television appeared in the early 1950s it was not established Hollywood stars who found success on the small screen but instead the mid-level or lower-level performers. Even the early television executives were plucked from the middle management of professional theater. A classic example Babbin points to is Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, two B-list performers who single-handedly created the three-camera sitcom that remains a staple of broadcast schedules to this day. The new medium Babbin chose for his soap “Paradise Rising” is the Internet; it’s a way to get around a system that is too cumbersome to distribute original content. “In order to get my work seen I needed to go a route that was not necessarily established and much more entrepreneurial,” said Babbin, who has appeared on a number of network soaps and whose day job is with a textbook publisher in Woodland Hills. Many young and fledgling filmmakers in Los Angeles have pondered the same decision made by Babbin as they get their careers off the ground in a Hollywood struggling with ongoing labor problems and the challenges of transitioning into the Digital Age. Yet, the city remains the place to catch that lucky break regardless of the lingering effects of the three-month Writers Guild of America strike settled earlier this year, or the production slowdown due to a stalemate over a new contract between the Screen Actors Guild and the major studios. They may not like it but young independent filmmakers find ways to adapt their career choices to better deal with what the industry tosses their way. “It is already an uphill battle and any of these things makes it more difficult,” said Mark Terry, an actor and producer from Playa Del Rey; ( www.markterryonline.com/ ). As both producer and a scheduler for a company that rents camera cranes used in car chases, Terry sees the labor situation from different sides. During the writers strike, Terry drove past picketers at the Universal Studios gate to meet on the lot with the production coordinator of a feature film franchise best know for its hot sports cars chasing each other in exotic locations. As a producer, the failure to reach an agreement on a new actors guild contract puts a damper on interest of potential investors, said the 29-year-old Terry, a SAG member himself. After all, who wants to put up money for a film that might not get made in the event the guild calls for a strike? “It hurts guys like us because that may be your one shot to get investing for whatever your project is,” Terry said. Even with the financing to shoot and edit a film in hand, the next hurdles come in marketing and distribution to find a paying audience. Indy filmmakers said that distribution is more difficult these days with so much other product to compete against; and what can be found pays less up front and may not give much of a return on their investment in the long run. Jeff Rector, of Sherman Oaks, ( www.jeffrector.com ) got his modern day vampire flick “Revamped” distributed on DVD. But had the film been released three or four years ago, the profits would have been significantly higher, said Rector, who has been a working actor for three decades. Burbank resident Dylan Reynolds has a sales agent for “Chain Link,” the film he wrote and directed and screened this spring at the Method Fest film festival in Calabasas; ( chainlinkthemovie.com/ Yet, the distribution of a film online can cut out the middle man of the sales agents and give the work directly to the audience, Reynolds said. Looking ahead to his next project, Reynolds, 28, recognizes that getting to the audience requires viral marketing online and building an e-mail list of contacts. “It doesn’t work to just hand out fliers,” Reynolds said. To move ahead with “Paradise Rising,” Babbin paid out of his own pocket to have an MBA student come up with a business plan and research the potential audience for an online soap series of episodes up to 10 minutes in length. Lack of funding has been the roadblock to filming the series but Babbin is not concerned because he wants to do it right and have the production quality meet his high standards. Inexpensive camera and editing equipment may make it easier to shoot video for online distribution but that doesn’t translate into quality work. “In terms of doing it well it has been slim,” Babbin said. “To do original content well is even slimmer.” The online world represents a saving grace of sorts for the acting jobs that Rector said are being lost as the networks rely more and more on reality television shows made on the cheap without professional union actors. For every unscripted show, that means one less scripted sitcom or one-hour drama. Webisodes and online series such as Babbin’s will provide work although the paychecks may not amount to much. “Because it is webisodes, the money is negligible if it is anything,” Rector said. “It is not network and it is not cable.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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