Apr 15, 2017

4) Labour of Film Actors

If we take ‘film industry’, ‘exhibition of film’ is a commodity. Those who sit in a theatre and watch a film have purchased that ‘commodity’. What is it for which a person pays, when he buys a ticket for Rs. 2 and watches a film? It is for watching the film and to sit in a chair all along in the theatre. The value of that ticket would be higher if it is a cushioned chair and if the sitting place is more comfortable. Let us suppose that out of our ticket of 2 value, half a rupee represents the portion relating to the ‘cinema theatre’ and a rupee and half represents the film itself. In this example where we examine the value of the labour of film actors, we consider only those aspects that are concerned with the ‘film’ but not the value of the ‘theatre’. Out of the value of the ticket, let us leave aside the portion concerning the theatre and keep in view only that portion which is concerned with the film. In the production of a film, people beginning from the director to the light-boy...all are productive labourers. 

All the actors are productive labourers. The commodity (film) would not be produced if any one of all these labourers is absent. If the light-boy does not turn up on a particular day, some one should do that work. Without that work, the work of filmmaking cannot be carried out. If it is possible, the ‘light-boy’ need not be there at all in that work. Hence, in this process of production, a light-boy is productive labourer as much as a hero is. There is a difference in the form of wages between the film industry and other industries. In the weaving and tailoring industries, wages are paid in the form of either ‘time-wage’ or ‘piece-wage’. Here, wages are given in lump sum for the whole film. This is another form of paying wages. (Another kind of piece-wage). If a film is made by investing some ‘capital’, it is normal to get ‘surplus value’ and from it...profit, interest etc.,...everything is as usual. 

It is not an important question whether wages are paid monthly or in lump sum. There is a fundamental difference between such labours as tailoring, weaving and cultivation on the one hand and writing, acting, dancing, singing and painting on the other. While the first kind of labours are ‘ordinary’ labours, the second kind of labours are ‘extraordinary’ labours. That is, labours coming under the category of ‘arts’. All persons can acquire the first kind of labours. All can perform them with more or less equal efficiency. All persons cannot acquire the second type of labours. Even those who acquired cannot perform them with equal efficiency. As it is possible to assess the values of the first type of labours based on the ‘labour time’, it is not possible in the case of second type of labours to assess their values based on the labour time alone. ‘Arts’ are not simply produced by ‘labour’ alone. In the case of ‘arts’, there exists a specific feature called ‘natural ability’ (talent). It means, ‘art’ is something that is a combination of ‘natural ability’ and the ‘labour-power’. 

If we consider an ‘art’, value calculations are relevant only in the case of ‘labour’ but not of ‘natural ability’. What is the law that operates in assessing the value of a song, sung by a woman-singer like a bird, in terms of money? How much money makes it an equal exchange? When we take a tailoring labour or weaving labour, it is possible to calculate the amount to be paid for that labour. We have to pay as much amount as the amount of labour time spent on that labour. But, there is no such way to calculate the amount to be paid to a work of ‘art’. In the case of tailoring and weaving, work of all people—let any number of people do that work—will be more or less identical. Looking at the tilled land and woven cloth, it is not possible to tell that a particular person alone has done it. But, same is not the case with ‘arts’! Each one, among a hundred singers, will have her or his specialty. Each will have her voice. If there is one kind of ‘beauty’ in one voice, there will be another kind of ‘beauty’ in another voice. If one voice is more melodious, another will be less melodious. No two singers will be alike either in respect of the melody or absence of it. There will be hundred specialties in hundred voices. Each specialty is one ‘use-value’. 

The ‘reward’ for a voice of a singer is the feeling of the listeners depending upon their taste as follows: ‘this voice is good, not good, more melodious, less melodious’ and so on. It means ‘art’ will always remain as a ‘use-value’. The real exchange for art is obtained not by means of money but by means of the ‘recognition’ by those who appreciate that art. This means, the real reward for an art is the love that an artist gets from the hearts of the people. That love itself is the real ‘fame’. One may get more ‘fame’, another may get less depending upon the differences in the artistic talent. However, as art includes a second aspect, namely, ‘labour power’ alongside the aspect of ‘natural ability’, the second aspect provides the scope for the art to acquire some value or the other in the form of money. An artist too requires necessaries of life, amenities and opportunities to develop the art. If these are not available, that person cannot express that art. Different arts require different conditions. Depending on these differences, the values of the arts too would be different. As the ‘art’ includes the aspects of ‘labour’, it is also subjected to the ‘law of value’ to a certain extent. Otherwise, it is in fact an unnatural calculation to exchange art with money. But, in the capitalist society, the reward for all arts will be in the form of ‘money’ only. (Though ‘fame’ is another form of reward for the arts here, most of it is false fame. Here, money calculations should be there without reference to fame). The capitalist perspective finds no other way (natural way) except to measure everything...goodness, badness etc.,...in terms of money. All the arts such as writing, acting, singing, dancing which are performed for the sake of capitalist industry are produced simply as ‘commodities’ according to the requirements of the category of either manual labours or mental labours. Hence, formation of their values and their exchange with money had become generalised. Let us suppose that a film-capitalist gave ‘20 lacs’ to an actor who is at the level of a hero for a film. But, let us also suppose, it is not a rate that is commonly given to all the actors of that level and only a particular actor alone (or some particular actors alone have such a high rate). The actor who works in a film that a capitalist makes is a productive labour. If we proceed literally with a general law that “what a labourer gets is the ‘value of labour power’ only and not the ‘value of labour’, then we will see a very strange labourer. Just as we assume at every instance, let us suppose that the rate of surplus value that comes from this film is also 100%. It means that our ‘20 lacs-actor’ too would become a labourer who loses surplus value, which is equivalent to his wage. It follows that the value of his labour = 20 lacs wage + 20 lacs surplus value = 40 lacs. That is, this actor renders a labour of 20 lacs value for this film, gets only 20 lacs wages and loses another 20 lacs. Suppose it took 6 months for making this film. Let us also suppose that this actor acted in 3 more films during this period of 6 months; received money for these films too at the same rate and the rates of surplus value for those films are also 100%. What emerges finally is that this actor performed a total labour of 1 crore 60 lacs value during that 6-month period, took only 80 lacs value from that value and lost 80 lacs. Performing a labour of 1 crore 60 lacs value implies that he performed a labour of about 27 lacs value per month. What are these calculations? How to understand this? What did he receive? Is it the value of labour power? If we look at the issue briefly at the outset, a large part of the money that this actor swallows has nothing to do with his labour. We have to examine in detail as to how it happens. The examples concerning the sphere of ‘arts’ do not literally apply to these examples or ordinary products. Here, we have to see many angles and coordinate them.
If the audiences watch the movies of an actor with a lot of attraction, then the competition among the film producers for that actor and the remuneration of that actor increases. But, how does a capitalist give so much money? There is a difference between the consumption of such daily necessaries as rice, clothes, milk and medicines on the one hand and the consumption of use-values of such arts as writing, acting, singing and dancing. As all the articles of first type are connected with the physical maintenance, a situation will never arise when their requirements increase excessively or disappear all together. The second type of needs are largely connected with the ‘psychological happiness’. These aspects are totally dependent upon the cultural level of the audience. In the capitalist society both the capitalist class and the working class (irrespective of such distinctions as productive-unproductive labourers, Independent labourers, men and women) will be mainly at the level of capitalist culture only. That is, their thinking is capitalistic, their tastes are capitalistic, and their values are capitalistic and artificial. When the ideas, tastes, habits of the public are within the confines of exploitative relations, all the techniques of such art-related industries as newspapers and films influence the public in favour of exploitation. Any capitalist, who undertakes the production of a given commodity, advertises that his commodity alone is the best one and the commodities of others are useless, doesn’t it? In the same manner, the film-capitalist too, resorts to all kinds of tricks and frauds necessary to attract the audience towards the actors in his film. As golden rain showers greet on the film which has an actor around whom the audience has developed ‘craze’, the capitalist makes all attempts at raising the ‘glamour’ of the actors. (Actors too do the same thing for themselves). In the competition among the actors, some actors skyrocket while some fall down and disappear. If 10 labourers work in the production of necessaries of life like cloth, chair and grain, the use-value, which all the labourers give, would be in the same form and manner. It is not the case with arts. In the case of acting, if two different actors enact the same character, those 2 characters would become two different use-values. Here, not only the ‘labour’ of the actors but their bodies participate in it. The bodies of two persons will not be identical as their labours would be. The physical shapes, movements, voice qualities, action, all these aspects will be different for each. All these are natural differences. When the audience develop more attraction for one actor and less attraction for another, among the actors with such differences, it means that the first actor has, to use the capitalistic term, more ‘demand’. (We have not so far acquainted with the terms ‘supply and demand’. We will see these things in part 2 of this volume).

The terms ‘supply and demand’ are in fact should apply to products. But, in the capitalist society, these terms apply at every place wherever there is a commodity. When human beings sell even their natural abilities and their person as commodities to capitalist—a writer his writing, an actor his action, a singer his song—‘labour’ becomes a secondary factor and ‘supply and demand’ come to the fore as primary factors in determining the value of those commodities. If an actor gets more money due to more demand, a large part of that money is unconnected with his ‘labour’. ‘Money’ means ‘labour’. When some money comes to an actor, labour equivalent of that money would go from him. But, here, that is, in the film world where unimaginable demand exists, masses of money run hither and thither without real relationship with the labour. there won’t be any real relationship between 20 lacs that come to an actor and his labour. Well, then, how can that film-capitalist pay so much amount to that actor? The answer ...” From the ‘surplus value’ obtained from that film”...is not fully adequate, it is adequate only to a certain extent. Here ‘another factor’ is added. Before seeing what that factor is, we have to see ‘surplus value’ connected with this film. Let us suppose that the capitalist invested a total sum of 45 lacs on the wages for the film in our example. Let us also suppose that he spent 20 lacs on the hero, 5 lacs on the heroine, 15 lacs on the director and 5 lacs on all the remaining productive labourers. The total wages of all people is 45 lacs. (Details about the ‘constant capital’ are irrelevant. The amount invested on it does not matter; whatever amount is put out, it would come back. Nothing more than the invested amount returns). Out of the amount invested on ‘wages’, 5 lacs go to all the labourers who receive low wages. 40 lacs to the hero, the heroine and the director taken together. Let us suppose that the values of the labours of these three persons, for the whole period of making that film, would reasonably be ‘3 lacs’ only. According to this example, if 3 lacs are given to those persons as a whole, it means that the whole of their ‘value of labour’ is given to them. (It also means that their ‘surplus value’ too is included in those 3 lacs). But, the capitalist gave them 40 lacs. This means, they got 37 lacs ‘additionally’. Where is it from?

Suppose, we offer the same answer which we offer generally in the case of other commodities, thus: “The capitalist was able to pay that amount to those three persons from the ‘surplus value’ of the commodity. This answer implies that all the productive labourers who worked for that film with low wages gave the value of their wages (5 lacs) and the surplus value of 37 lacs. Moreover, the capitalist should also get some ‘surplus value’ through this film, should he not? If that is 30 lacs, what is the total sum of the ‘surplus value’ which the productive labourers with low wages have supposedly given?— 37 + 30 = 67 lacs of ‘surplus value’. This means, we have to arrive at the conclusions that labourers who received 5 lacs wages gave 67 lacs of ‘surplus value’ and from that, the capitalist gave the wages to the big actors and the director and retained the balance amount for himself. But, in the case of a specific commodity called ‘film’, it is not ‘rational’ to say that “the very huge amount obtained over and above the ‘capital’ is the surplus value of low wage labourers. That is why, we have to identify that ‘another factor’ which is responsible for the ‘surplus money’ that comes excessively over and above the capital. It is possible to do so only when we take into consideration the specificity of the commodity called ‘film’. If we suppose that the value of 1-meter of cloth is 1 rupee, 20 paise, its entire value returns at once when that cloth is sold. Its value includes its ‘surplus value’. But, it does not happen so in the case of a film. The entire value of the film does not return when it is sold once (with one show). Only after many shows, will its capital and over and above the surplus return. As the surplus value is also a part of the ‘value of the commodity’, we can not say that the entire value of the film has returned unless the surplus value has also returned.

What does the return of surplus value mean? How much surplus should return in order to say that the value of the film has returned? To answer this question, we have first to offer answers to other questions. How many months did they take to make that film? How much capital did they invest? How much surplus value does the same amount of capital generally secure if invested in other branches during the said period? The amount of surplus value that the ‘film capital’ secures depends on all these issues. 

Let us suppose that it is a ‘certain amount’. Let us suppose that our film has run ‘successfully’ for a year. (That film will continue its run for many years. But, to make our example simple, let us suppose that this film ran for one year. Suppose after a 3 months run of the film, the entire capital returned and the surplus value due to it also returned. It means that the entire value of the film has returned after 3 months! But, then, exhibiting the film will not stop. It will continue to run for many more months. (In our example, the film will run for 9 more months). If the film runs even after the return of the entire ‘value’, then there won’t be any new expenditure to make the film (excepting the expenditure of making new prints if the film becomes old). But, even then the values of the tickets of that film will be as in the past. Take the ticket of Rs.2. Out of the Rs.2, half rupee is toward the theatre expenditure, isn’t it? That expenditure remains even now as ever. Apart from that expenditure, the remaining rupee and half is toward the production of the film, isn’t it? Now, the film capitalist has not spent that amount on the film. The capitalist takes that amount from the cine goers without incurring that expenditure. A viewer of the film pays the entire value of the ticket to the old film as he pays to the new film. The film-capitalist will have a special advantage due to this situation. Like the other capitalists, this capitalist, after earning the initially invested capital and the surplus value due to that capital, begins to earn more money without incurring the expenditure on ‘capital’. In the case of production of such articles as cloth, chairs and grain, the capitalist has to lay capital each time. Suppose the cloth-capitalist gets 100 metres of cloth produced, sells it and earns 100% surplus value. It is not possible for him to earn new surplus value through that cloth once again. He won’t get new surplus value unless new cloth is produced once again. In order to produce new cloth again, capital should be spent once again. But, the film-capitalist does not have this worry. He can earn any amount of profit without the expenditure of the new capital by selling the old film for any number of years. As he does not spend new capital, he need not pay interest, land rents etc., for that. It means, he need not give share to others from the ‘profit’. The whole of it falls into the pocket of ‘industrial profit’!

 Thus there is a difference between the sale of other products and the film. Once the process of returning of the invested capital and the expected quantity of surplus value is complete, thereafter that film could be shown at a very reduced rate. He could show the film by simply taking the depreciation charges of the film and theatre charges. Or he can fix a very low value of the ticket right from the beginning for the film, which runs ‘successfully’. Because that film will run for a very long period of time. If we spread the production expenditure of that film over the number of shows that continue for a long time, each show involves a very low expenditure. Therefore, it can be sold right from the beginning. But this imagination is fully meaningless. 

A capitalist makes a film with an intention to earn as much money as possible and for as long as possible, but not to earn profit only to a certain extent and thereafter to stop all the profits. Hence, however successfully a film may be running, the filmcapitalist will neither reduce the price of the tickets nor charge the full price of the ticket for some period of time and then show the film free. He does not do any such thing. Suppose a machine that is expected to last for 5 years lasted for 10 years. Yet the capitalist of that machine won’t sell the commodity made on that machine at a low value. Similarly, the film-capitalist does not show that film at a low price even during the period in which he shows the film without incurring any expenditure on new capital. It means that a person, who watches this film by paying the full value, is paying high value to a commodity, which it does not possess! 

As use-value, a film will always have the same use-value. But, as value, the value of the film diminishes after some time. But, the value of the ticket does not diminish. In that sense, it amounts to the fact that the film, during its lifetime, has charged from the public a value, which is many times higher than its original value. Charging like this is not possible in the case of such commodities as cloth and grain. Only a special kind of commodity called ‘film’ can charge its actual value as well as the value that it does not contain. Another situation connected with the commodity called ‘film’ is that its capitalist incurs the same expenditure whether he sells it (one show) to either ‘hundred’ persons or ‘thousand’ persons. Suppose a thousand persons can watch the film in a theatre. Either the expenditure connected with the film production or the expenditure connected with the ‘theatre’ is the same irrespective of the fact whether thousand people watch the movie or hundred people watch it. (There will be a little difference in the depreciation of the chairs. It is negligible). If the theatre becomes house-full in every show right from its release, the capital of the film-capitalist returns very quickly. If we suppose that it takes generally one year to get back the capital in the case of many films, the capital and the surplus value on it would return within few months in the case of ‘successfully’ run films. Thereafter, without any expenditure on capital again, that capitalist gets ‘profit’ as long as the film runs.

Now we may answer the question, which we raised at the beginning. To the question, “How is the film-capitalist able to pay huge amounts to the actors and is able to earn himself huge amount as ‘profit’, we may answer as follows: “from 2 sources”. 1) From the ‘surplus value’ of the low-wage productive labourers connected with the film, 2) From the ‘surplus’ obtained due to an unequal exchange with the audiences who watched the film for a very long period of time and who gave high value to a commodity that has ‘low value’ in itself. These are the two ways in which the film-capitalist is able to take back in huge amounts whatever he has spent. This means, this is possible by exploiting not only the low-wage labourers but also the film goers. Hence, the huge amounts that the film-capitalist pays to big actors and directors do not constitute real ‘variable capital’. Those amounts are not real ‘values of labour power’. They get all those heaps of money through ‘exploitation’. 

As the cloth-capitalist and weaving-worker constitute different classes, the film-capitalist and the ‘famous’ actors who receive huge amounts from him are not different classes. Both constitute the same class. It is such a class, which exploits low-wage productive labourers who participated in the production of that film and the audiences who watched that film. (Those audiences also include other capitalists. There is no loss for them due to exploitation). The film-capitalist takes some amount for himself from the exploited money and gives some amount to the famous actors. This applies to a ‘good’ artist as well. An actor possesses real talent. He always plays ‘good’ characters. As a result, a great demand arises for him and he gets huge amounts of money. Even in those instances, that whole money cannot be the fruit of his labour. However talented an artist he may be naturally, acquisition of reward for that art in the form of excessive money is nothing but the characteristic feature of capitalist society. Special conditions that give scope for acquisition of excessive money are possible only in the sphere or ‘arts’ and in the sphere connected with certain types of addictions. Suppose a large sum of money has been spent on actors to make a film, and it has not at all run. Let us also suppose that the capitalist did not get back the amounts, which he paid to the actors. What has happened? Did the productive labourers connected with that film not give ‘surplus labour’? The question of ‘not performing surplus labour’ does not arise since film has already been made. The film has been made including the ‘surplus labour’. But, this commodity (film) did not convert into ‘money’ since its sale has not taken place (since that film has not been exhibited as many times as it should have been). That commodity could not serve even as a ‘use-value’. All the means of production, labours and every thing that have been spent on that commodity have gone waste. It means those expenses will not come back. It also means that return of ‘surplus’ through that commodity did not take place in any manner.

Let us suppose that actors had already received huge amounts. As the whole of it does not come back to the capitalist, it is a ‘loss’ to the fellow. But, if we take the situation of the ‘successfully-run’ films, it is possible to earn ‘profits’ many more times. Such profits that are impossible in the case of commodities like grain and clothes. If a special condition exists whereby a lot more money could be earned in the film-industry, wouldn’t the capitals of all branches of production run toward this branch? They would have done so; but there is a ‘negative’ situation in the film industry that is not there in other branches. All films invariably earn money in the same manner. Some films do not get even one tenth of the invested capital. In such an event, the capitalist would face a terrible loss. This kind of situation does not exist in the branches of production of necessaries of life. Just as people could completely stop watching movies, they do not stop buying rice or clothes. It means that even if capitalists of other branches incur loss, that loss would not be similar to that of film industry. Thus, as there is a scope in film industry to earn more profits as well as lose every thing, this branch of production attracts as well as repels new capitals.

(From the book An Introduction to Capital by Ranganayakamma)

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