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Below the Stars

Below the Stars
How the Labor of Working Actors and Extras Shapes Media Production

An examination of the critical influence of working actors and actors’ labor unions on industrial structures and practices in Hollywood, including film, television, and streaming.

July 2021
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216 pages | 6 x 9 | 3 b&w photos |

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.

  • List of Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 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
  • Conclusion
  • Postscript. Actors and COVID-19: What the Pandemic Teaches Us about Film and Television Labor
  • Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

Kate Fortmueller is an assistant professor of entertainment and media studies at the University of Georgia.


“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 Banks, author of The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild

Below 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 Steinhart, author of Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting


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