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The Hollywood squeeze: Is outsourcing next?

Costs are up. DVD revenues are down. Piracy rages. And talent – according to talent, at least – is taking it on the chin. Studios say they’re the ones in trouble. But it’s the suits who are increasingly willing to walk off the job, cancelling pricey projects and leaving writers, actors, producers and their demands out in the cold.

And the worst is yet to come, media consumer. Entertainment is one of the last American industries to keep a toehold in the native soil. Manufacturing, high-tech, even customer friggin’ service, it’s all going overseas, where increasingly better-educated workforces in India and China are absorbing higher and higher quality jobs. I used to think I was safe: I peddle dumb puns, questionable opinions, and inconsequential observations about the condition of George Lucas’ beard – who can do that better than a Westerner?

The answer is… pretty much anyone, with a little English and a working knowledge of pop culture –and who owns pop culture? Not anyone. Certainly not America. (Maybe Canada, if you believe the conspiracy theorists.)

But if things look bad for me, imagine how screenwriters must feel. With Hollywood getting leaner every day, how long before talent is outsourced, along with everything else? A couple billion souls on the subcontinent, and more and more of them are watching TV, movies, soaking in Western pop culture and infusing it with their own: That’s how many million potential screenwriters out there?

As for actors… well, no one’s looking to crown a new $20 million man or woman these days. And if Borat is any indication, we may be entering an age where (fictional) character counts more than name recognition.

Hollywood: Outsourced? It could happen. Acrimonious union battles and ramped-up management defiance might be the prelude to another one of those giant sucking sounds. So the next time you’re on the line with “Ray” from customer support, ask him how that screenplay’s coming along – and see if he needs a cowriter.

Originally posted November 7 2006 — 1:30 PM EST

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