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January 13th 2018
I went to see All the Money in the World last night, an awards season film directed by Ridley Scott about the kidnap of J. Paul Getty's grandson. It's made behind-the-scenes for two big, and connected, decisions: first, for the astonishingly late call to re-shoot with Christopher Plummer taking the place of the disgraced Kevin Spacey; second, the fact that Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5m for the reshoots whereas Michelle Williams was given only $80 a day.
The first of these decisions was, I think, entirely justified, and not just because Plummer is excellent in the role. I find the Twitter mob style of justice extremely troubling, where allegations equal proof, and the facile "believe women" cry (although, in the case of Spacey, allegations have not come from women) seems to outweigh anything as mundane as facts and evidence. We live in a post-truth world, after all, and the USA has yet to see equivalent cases to those of Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini and even Ted Heath, posthumously, where reputations have been unfairly traduced. In the case of Spacey, though, he has admitted at least some of the allegations against him, so I can understand the moral argument for removing him from the film. Perhaps, cynically, some of those involved also had an eye on the commercials - going ahead with Spacey would undoubtedly have had a significant impact on the box office.
Which brings us on to the money side of things. Ironically, given the film's title and topic, the headlines this week have been all about the amount of money paid to Wahlberg and to Williams, respectively, for their parts in the re-shoots - which, despite only taking nine days to film, must have been quite extensive, based on the finished film (by the by, the Spacey trailer is still out there, and a comparison is intriguing). Wahlberg had co-star approval in his contract, and apparently refused to approve Christopher Plummer unless he got paid the $1.5m dollars - so, technically, not a fee for doing re-shoots, since he presumably could have asked for it even he hadn't had to re-shoot a thing, but that's what it amounts to. It's not clear if Michelle Williams also had co-star approval, but regardless of that she - as well as the director and the rest of the cast, apparently - agreed to do re-shoots for the minimum amount the union allows.
This has been spun as part of the gender pay gap in Hollywood, but it isn't. At least, not directly. It would be interesting to know what the original payments were to each actor, as that would certainly be a pay gap indicator - Williams has a much bigger role in the film; she is also by some distance the better actor: Wahlberg, on the other hand, has more name recognition and is a bigger box-office draw - but it's a red herring here. Faced with a demand for $1.5m from one actor and no such demand from another, what is the studio supposed to do? The options are: (i) refuse Wahlberg's demands, and release the Spacey version; (ii) refuse Wahlberg's demands, and shelve the film; (iii) accept the demands and given Williams $1.5m that she never asked for - and presumably the same for Ridley Scott, and commensurable amounts to the rest of the cast; or (iv) pay everyone what they asked for and get the re-shoots done.
Option (i) is, as I've already argued, not feasible. Option (ii) would cost the studio tens of millions of dollars, and would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Option (iii) would be throwing money away. The studio chose to go for option (iv). I really can't blame them at all.
The villain here, if there is one, is Mark Wahlberg - or, at the very least, his agents. I don't know how many of us would do the right thing if the wrong thing would get us $1.5m - I'd like to think I would - but clearly the right thing to do would be to join Scott, Williams etc. by working to scale. I suspect that he will be making a sizeable donation to charity soon, in order to salvage his good name.
This, of course, opens up the wider question of the pay gap, and the suggestion that a lot of it is driven by the fact that men are statistically much more likely to ask for a pay rise - or negotiate a starting salary - than women are. Startling so, in fact. I have heard the argument that companies should either refuse to negotiate at all on any salaries, or should offer pay rises across the board whenever one person gets an improved deal, but to me both options are clearly ridiculous: the former would mean that the best staff always leave; the latter would be ruinously expensive (and the best staff would probably still leave). Fortunately for me I don't have to make any difficult decisions on this kind of thing.
[Something, something, clever segue] all the money in the world.

what am I listening to?
Silver Side Up - Nickelback
what am I reading?
Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett
what am I watching?
All the Money in the World
January 2018

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