I was recently made aware of an open letter in the local IATSE newsletter that took umbrage with the word "crewtopia" and apparently with the philosophy behind it. Since I have had a big part in popularizing this expression, I figured I owed the author a response.
The letter insinuated that the term paints Seattle as a "backwater with an inferiority complex." The word crewtopia is one that was coined in New York when Lacey Leavitt and I were talking to another filmmaker about our experiences working in Seattle. We were trying to come up with a way to do justice to the massive affection we have for the crews we have been lucky enough to work with on our productions, and the words crew and utopia became one. I've used it regularly ever since in both casual conversation and national press, and without fail I invoke it to convey exactly how talented, hard-working and incredibly special the crews in this city are. I honestly don't understand how it could be interpreted to make Seattle look inferior in any way.
The IATSE letter went on to speculate if any of us who use the word "really know what ‘crew utopia’ is to the working crew." I spent a decade as part of Seattle's working crew--in many roles, from PA, to DP, to 1st AD--and I understand on a core level what it means to feel respected by those above the line, as well as what it feels like when that respect is not there. Animosity between "crew" and "production" is unfortunately not rare in this business, whatever region you work in. And it's understandable, as there are plenty of people on both sides of the line who perpetuate this divide by mistreating or distrusting those on the other side. But that doesn't mean it should remain the norm.
I came up in the scrappy, make-it-work world of low budget film--where rules tend to be flexible and often broken for the sake of getting the film made. As I worked alongside Seattle and Spokane crews on features of mounting budgets, I began to more deeply understand and embrace the regulations that the unions have worked so hard to create and enforce. On THE OFF HOURS, my producers (all former working crew) and I chose to run our set as much as possible as if we were operating under a union contract--not because we had to, but because we wanted to demonstrate to our crew the respect we had for their time and energy. I've seen many, many other producers of non-union films do the same. I'm not sure that the author of the IATSE letter understands that the elements he lists (living wages, reasonable hours, thorough preparation and mutual respect) are things we all want, and things that those he's criticizing have been prioritizing and striving to provide for years.
I don't write this post to stir up any ill feelings. I have great respect for the author of the letter in question, and for the union in whose newsletter he chose to air his feelings. I cherish my relationships with the members of IATSE Local 488 and would never want to endanger those relationships. I wrote because it seemed that the notion of crewtopia was being unfairly represented in a public space, and I felt the need to defend it in a public space. I'm certainly not above criticism, and am very open to hearing where my colleagues and I might continue to improve and do better by the community here in the Northwest.
Since THE OFF HOURS, I have been fortunate enough to be able to bring a few higher budget films home to Seattle. Lynn Shelton, Lacey Leavitt, Jennifer Roth, Mel Eslyn and others have brought many more. None of us would have been able to do this were it not for crewtopia. Our crews are the foundation upon which our films are built. They provide the passion, the positive energy, and the true dedication to the work that makes the films what they are. I know it's kind of a silly word, but crewtopia represents something special to me and many others. I hope this letter has done something to help illuminate the spirit in which the word was coined.