This morning, the news included a story that the anchor thought would be particularly interesting to people “below the line.” The other anchors were unfamiliar with this phrase and thought he was insulting their crew. Our morning news anchors are not necessarily bright.
“Above the line” and “below the line” are designations for the type of work people do in television and feature (movie) production. The above the line people are actors, writers, directors and producers. The people who, on a movie, would have their name on the poster. They have residuals sent directly to them in the form of a check. In the credits, their names often come before the name of the production. That is the “line” in question. The below the line people are pretty much everyone else: grips, electric, props, set dec, special fx, wardrobe, hair/makeup, transpo, catering, stunts, locations, camera, art, post production, etc. Their residuals are sent directly to their unions, who use the money to fund their members’ health insurance. (Since most crew members end up with many different employers throughout the year, benefits are handled by the unions.) Most of their unions are a part of IATSE: the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. And most of them are proud of it.
Insinuating that the below the line crew should be embarassed by their designation just enforces the stereotype that the above the line talent are elitist, that they look down on manual labor and discount the work of the people who physically create the production. This is unfortunate and, for anyone who has taken half a second to think about it, untrue. Likewise, the above the line crew are not sitting in lofty offices, thoughtfully licking the icing off of Sprinkles cupcakes and going home at 5:00. At least, not on any production that I’ve worked on or even heard of. Work is work is work, and production is stressful for everyone. But we all choose to be here, because we can’t imagine anything better. If we could, we’d be doing it.