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LD On The DL: Who Needs 'em Anyway?

I think it's fair to say the majority of us prefer being behind the scenes. If the spotlight were, “our thing,” we'd be in front of it more often. We facilitate others who tell their narrative through our design, production, or some mixture of the two, whether the narrative is a great product's accolades or political rally.

The political events spur the most conversation around the break room table. While on lunch or coffee the discourse is lively as the discussion bounces from idea to idea, observation to observation, and complaint to complaint. Despite our opinions we so readily share with each other, so few of us are actively involved in the political process. After awhile the conversation always ends the same way. Someone says, “Pffft, these guys [meaning the legislators who are at the event] are crooks anyway. It's not like they do anything for us.”

It got me thinking: Does government play a role in our staunchly un-regulated industry? I think it does, and I don't mean ANSI codes, IP ratings, or OHSA either.

Years ago I was an intern at LDI in Orlando. Apart from my deep-end-first orientation to the industry, I got a brief primer on the inner workings of a convention center. As many of you know, The Orlando Convention Center is a voluminous building with rooms, sub-rooms, corridors, service corridors, halls, and a staggering amount of expensive, unhealthy food. The number of people and the cost needed to keep this place open event to event must be massive, apart from any dollars spent in construction or regular maintenance. I remarked to my supervisor during a break, “How does this place make any money?” Her answer surprised me. She said, “Well, it doesn't. It's designed to operate at a loss.” I must have looked surprised. She continued, humored by my naiveté', “It's the bait. Everything else and everyone else, they make money. The city does, too, eventually. In the form of taxes.” Granted I was young, but the whole thing surprised me: I didn't know government could do that. So, any careers or incomes associated with conventions and meetings, politics and government in the area of tourism and convention traffic are extremely important.

I live in Manhattan, and sometimes it's like living on a big movie set. At certain times of the year, you can hop from shoot to shoot. I hear TriBeCa residents have it the worst, though I wouldn't know (because I can't afford to live there). The FOX show “Fringe,” which is set in Boston, is often seen filming in NYC, which makes me laugh. So why all this film traffic? Perhaps government plays a role.

The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting has for over 40 years provided a one stop shop for permits, police, and parking according to their website. All that costs the city money, be it in wages for law enforcement, lost parking revenue, or unissued parking tickets. It's also ironic that government has helped cut its own red tape.

What is absolutely serious is the volume of local jobs this provides in NYC. From gaffers to camera re-loaders (oh, and actors too), many peoples‘ livelihoods are intertwined with the movie and television biz. One step removed, shops and stores near shoots may see increase in traffic as crew and staff pile in for coffee and other supplies. Finally, crew, staff, and talent take that paycheck and support the metropolitan New York economy. Politics affecting this delicate ecosystem are of grave concern to anyone involved and deserve our full attention and immediate action, if necessary. And while I fully support my brethren in Wilmington, Toronto, or L.A. and mean them no disrespect, I'd rather it, whatever it may be, be filmed in NYC.

Obviously like with convention centers, the city is getting its due eventually. Tax revenue from tourists wanting to see that place in that movie they saw last summer equate to income for the city. Thanks to the 2001 movie Serendipity, getting a table at the restaurant Serendipity 3 (which was in the movie) is impossible between Memorial Day and Labor Day. So it behooves NYC to be in the picture business, and it behooves us to be reminding NYC's lawmakers of that fact every single election cycle.

The prior two examples of government and how it affects us have been positive. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Arizona recently passed a controversial immigration bill. The merits or problems surrounding this bill are for another platform, but this volatile bill may negatively affect events, and, unfortunately, the people and industries dependent upon them.

On various event planning websites and user groups I frequent, there is much talk about emergency rebooking of events to other states. Those other states, I might add, are eagerly available in this economic climate. Certain organizations, like The American Immigration Lawyers Association plan to boycott the state and move their fall convention. They are not alone, a few other entities are following suit. There's talk of moving baseball's 2011 All Star Game, too. A lot of paychecks are endangered because of political beliefs the people relying on those checks may or may not share. Hopefully this "talk" will blow over.

So, yes, government does play a role in our industry that cannot be ignored. While our unions and trade organizations help deal with the government, we must never be content to outsource all of our political action and awareness. The government is not some fallible or infallible, supreme or idiotic, benign or evil entity. It's us. We need government from time to time, and it needs us too.


Lance Darcy is a Lighting Director and Director of Photography for The Lighting Design Group, based in New York City.  

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