Below the Stars
How the Labor of Working Actors and Extras Shapes Media Production
201 Pages, 3 b&w photos
Sales Date: July 13, 2021
Longlisted for the 2022 Kraszna-Krausz Book Award, Moving Image Category
Despite their considerable presence in Hollywood, extras and working actors have received scant attention within film and media studies as significant contributors to the history of the industry. Looking not to the stars but to these supporting players in film, television, and, recently, streaming programming, Below the Stars highlights such actors as precarious laborers whose work as freelancers has critically shaped the entertainment industry throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By addressing ordinary actors as a labor force, Kate Fortmueller proposes a media industry history that positions underrepresented and quotidian experiences as the structural elements of the culture and business of Hollywood.
Resisting a top-down assessment, Fortmueller explores the wrangling of labor unions and guilds that advocated for collective action for everyday actors and helped shape professional norms. She pulls from archival research, in-person interviews, and firsthand observation to examine a history that cuts across industry boundaries and situates actors as a labor group at the center of industrial and technological upheavals, with lasting implications for race, gender, and labor relations in Hollywood.
By looking at both those who are fully employed but not stars and those who work job to job, Fortmueller offers new insights and carves out a unique space of study that fleshes out important aspects of American media industry history.
— Miranda BanksBelow the Stars is a fascinating portrait of the ecosystem surrounding the work of actors and their unions. With impressive historical detail, Fortmueller brings needed attention to these performers, whose status as precarious freelancers is particularly pronounced.
— Daniel Gómez SteinhartGiven the recent stories surrounding Hollywood and its unions, [Fortmueller's] look at the place occupied by working actors and extras in the film industry could not be more timely.
— The Film Stage[A] thorough history of background actors and extras in the entertainment industry workforce, from the silent era to today...Fortmueller offers intriguing details and anecdotes uncovered in archival materials, and at times the book reads like an entertaining work of meta-cinema, full of scandal and intrigue.
— Library Journal[Below the Stars] is a valuable read that untangles, with exceptional clarity, the convoluted histories of labour unions in various media landscapes and stages of technological developments, presenting a comprehensive picture of industrial forces from the unique vantage point of below-the-star actors.
— Alphaville[Below the Stars demonstrates] how media studies scholars should theorize and teach labor organizing and media industry structures...Fortmueller’s archival research demonstrates a keen ability to find Hollywood workers often missing from other archival collections. But in her final chapter, interviews with working actors provide a striking look at the precarity of employment that defines our contemporary media moment.
— Journal of Cinema and Media Studies[Below the Stars] provides us with multiple previously obscured union histories. It also drives home our need to re-envision the ideological constructs we sometimes cling to in our field: the conflation of actor and star and the belief in the impermeable boundaries between media. In short, this book fills several gaps in the field and is a necessary addition to any course on the US media industries, stardom, performance, and/or US television history.
— Media Industries
Chapter 1. Hollywood Freelance: How Actors and Extras Shaped the Film Industry
Chapter 2. Actors and the Making of Television’s First Golden Age
Chapter 3. Reuse and Replace? Actors, Reruns, and the Cable Era
Chapter 4. New Media, Old Labor Conflicts: Voice Actors and Digital Professionalization
Postscript. Actors and COVID-19: What the Pandemic Teaches Us about Film and Television Labor