Cruise, Redstone, and the Culture of Film Work

At this time, I am writing the chapter on 'what its like' to work in the film and television industry. In that context the big news in the motion picture industry now is the announcement of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone in a Wall Street Journal interview that Paramount Pictures (part of Viacom) is dropping actor Tom Cruise and his production company Cruise/Wagner Productions, because of his erratic behavior when appearing on television shows (Oprah) and advocacy of personal causes (Scientology) had cost the 2006 film Mission: Impossible III US$100 million to US$150 million in ticket sales. Writing her authoritative film column for the LA Weekly, Nikkie Finke comments in a way that hints at what the cultural common sense in the film industry is:
"C'mon, fire the grinning actor idiot because he's lost his box office appeal, or because his first dollar gross is so disgustingly huge that no studio has a prayer any more of making money on his motion pictures, or because of any other business reason. And fire him in the usual Hollywood way: with a bland-but-dignified press release about how much these 14 years have meant to both parties, ad nauseum. But, jeez, don't fire him with this lame stuff that Sumner didn't like the way Tiny Tom behaved. If that's true, then no Hollywood studio can ever hire anyone. Drugs, sex, harrassment, mendacity, fraud: Paramount like most major studios has a rich history of horrible behavior by its work-for-hires. I could reel off for you 10 people now with rich studio deals, some at Paramount, who should be in jail or rehab or the Funny Farm but instead are well-paid miscreants."
Like earlier comments on the existence of a 'casting couch'-culture in film and television, these comments make an important point towards understanding the way these industries work: largely through informal, personal, and social networks and relationships, distinctly blurring the lines between the private and professional.

In fact it could be argued that the informality of the labor market in film and television is not only a prerequisite in order to succeed, it is in fact privileged and favored by people in the industry as a necessary component to the creative process. This deliberate blurring of the personal and professional as the benchmark for the culture of media work connects on at least three levels with the way practitioners give meaning to their work. First, creative work is generally experienced as intensely personal because it is often an expression of self. Additionally, the deregulation and vertical disintegration of the film and television industries has further supercharged the prevalence of (largely informal) social networks and personal connections as predictors of (temporary) employment or some kind of job security. Finally, on a technological level, new media have increased the outsourcing of services and projects to specialized businesses or individual experts, while also facilitating translocal and transnational production networks – which further fragment the formal relationships and hierarchies of employees and employers and thus contribute to a need for other, more informal, forms of cohesiveness and consistency.

UPDATE: more on the social-cultural factor of film work comes from TMZ's 'in the zone':
"TMZ spoke to eight Viacom insiders, spread diversely across the media giant's numerous divisions, including the television networks and business affairs. The consensus was a bit surprising -- that Redstone is as nutty as Cruise, and the combo was bound to blow."
That's right: what academics describe as the 'informality' of the media labor market really refers to the generally accepted and perhaps even necessary elements of constant conflict, the trading of sexual or other personal favors, overall craziness and an unchallenged commitment to utter uncertainty in your everyday work that co-constitute what it is like to work in film or television (or in many other areas of the media such as advertising and video games). Any reporting on the Cruise/Redstone situation that emphasizes the 'surprise' on the movie industry because of the seemingly irrational actions of the Viacom chairman ignore the fact that economic decisions (someone is not making as much money as they used to) are always also cultural ones (Cruise is crazy), and cultural ones (ol' Redstone is out of control) are indeed economic ones (the battle for who is really in charge at Paramount is on).