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Air Untold Story: Committed To The Off-Screen Stars

Approx 5 min. read

Haelee Reis

March 21, 2024

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Mat Damon and Ben Affleck with a t-shirt that says Artists Equity

Imagine you’ve just wrapped up the biggest project of your life. Your team is exhausted but you’re all beaming with pride knowing you’ve crossed the finish line together. The late nights, the panic meetings, the deadlines you made by milliseconds… were only possible because of the incredible team you had around you. 

Now imagine you’re scrolling Instagram the next day and you see a post that makes you drop your phone in shock. Your teammate Susan has been tagged in a news article,  titled: Susan Smith single-handedly saves the film and nets a cool $140B.

“Billion… with a B! How is that even possible?” you say to yourself. “One person paid billions while the rest of us are left sharing the scraps.” 

Now, people might not be making billions per film, but this wage disparity, especially concerning gender and on-screen versus off-screen roles, is sadly common in filmmaking. But films are more than actors and accolades; they're about the essence, message, impact, and the unsung heroes behind the scenes.

In this “Outcomes of Outcomes” MUSE series, we’ve covered:

Today we’re touching on the lesser known story of Artists Equity and how Ben Affleck and Matt Damon partnered together to shake up an industry and protect the vested interest of everyone involved in Air. From the onset crew to producers and gaffers, Artists Equity was committed to the people and the project (in that order).  

Let’s jump in!

What Is Artists Equity and Why Is It So Revolutionary?

Artists Equity, co-founded by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Gerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital, is an independent, artist-driven film studio that’s reshaping the dynamics between talent, studios, and distributors. This initiative champions the power of collaboration and the importance of valuing every individual's contribution. The inception of Artists Equity is a response to the rise of streaming platforms. Currently, many in the film industry, from actors to crew, are compensated only during film production. While prominent figures might receive a share of the profits, termed 'back-end participation', it's typically tied to cinema box-office revenues.

"As streamers have proliferated, they have really ended back-end participation, and so this is partly an effort to try and recapture some of that value and share it in a way that is more equitable… not just writers and directors and stars. But also cinematographers, editors, costume designers and other crucial artists who, in my view, are very underpaid."

Ben Affleck, The New York Times 

Man with "Production Crew" t shirt holding a camera

Artists Equity is not just about the glitz and glamour of the big screen; it's about ensuring that every hand that crafts a scene, every voice that adds depth, and every vision that shapes a frame is recognized and rewarded. It’s a movement championing the rights of video producers, lighting experts, audio technicians, and every unsung hero behind the scenes. 

Their mission: to protect the craft, the art, and the heart of filmmaking.

Understanding Outcomes of Outcomes

In a world driven by instant results, we often chase immediate gains, overlooking the ripple effects of our actions. But what if we shifted our focus? What if, instead of merely seeking an outcome, we pursued the outcomes of outcomes? Air is a reminder of this philosophy. By investing in quality, by valuing the craft, and by ensuring that every individual feels connected to their role and team, we pave the way for outcomes that breed further outcomes. It's not just about paying more for a better product. It's about understanding that when you nurture talent, when you invest in passion, and when you stay committed to your people, you create a cascade of success. It's a domino effect, where one positive outcome sets off a chain reaction, leading to results far beyond the immediate horizon.

I wonder if Mrs. Jordan knows the magnitude of the outcomes of outcomes that have eventuated from that contract negotiation back in 1985 because it’s nothing short of incredible. From negotiating an industry-changing sports deal to countless accolades, awards, and charitable initiatives, and now the birth of Artists Equity—another industry-changing outcome of outcomes. 

Storytelling: The Heart of Air

Think about the most iconic movie scenes, quotes, and speeches you can recite word for word. The ones that change your perception, the ones that make you fight back tears, the ones that make you take a stand. These moments of vulnerability are what connect the audience to the story and heighten their emotional investment. 

“When you're great and new, we love you man! We'll build you into something that doesn't even exist. You're going to change the world, but you know what, once they've built you as high as they possibly can they're going to tear you back down!”

Sonny Vaccaro, Conference Room Scene in Air

Take, for instance, this conference room scene in Air with Sonny Vaccaro, Deloris, Michael Jordan, and his father. It wasn't just a scene; it was a symphony of emotions, a dance of dialogues, and a testament to the power of cinema. And while having iconic actors brought the characters to life, the essence of Air would have remained intact even with lesser-known faces. Because, at its core, it's the story that matters, the message that resonates, and the emotions that connect.

Sonny Vaccaro quote

“A shoe is just a shoe until somebody steps into it, then it has meaning. The rest of us just want a chance to touch that greatness. We need you in these shoes, not so you have meaning in your life, but so we can have meaning in ours”

Sonny Vaccaro, Conference Room Scene in Air

If you haven’t seen Air, this 2:24 second scene with Matt Damon will have you running to your TV to watch it.

The Legacy of Air in Modern Cinema

Few films become cultural icons like Air has. Beyond its compelling narrative and star-studded cast, the principles it championed have rippled through the sets of modern cinema. Artists Equity's ethos has become a beacon for filmmakers, urging them to prioritize craft over commerce, and fairness over fame.

Air sets a gold standard, urging filmmakers to delve deeper, to value everyone who contributes to a scene, and to be relentlessly committed to their people. As the credits roll on the big screen, the legacy of Air Jordan continues to inspire, reminding us that stories and the art of storytelling transcend time, setting the stage for the future of film.

Behind the Scenes: The Unsung Heroes of Air

Every frame of Air is a testament to the dedication, passion, and craftsmanship of countless individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes. While the limelight often shines on the leading actors and directors, it's the unsung heroes who breathe life, creativity, and energy into every scene, ensuring that the film's vision comes to fruition.

"Really it's [Artists Equity] about, how do you reward the people that drive value, how do you incentivize people, how do you make them feel included, how do you take risks and feel confident, how do you manage to do so anyway and work collaboratively? In that sense, there were a lot of themes connected to the movie."

—Ben Affleck, The New York Times 

From the meticulous hands of set designers crafting intricate backdrops to the keen eyes of lighting experts capturing the perfect mood, each crew member played a pivotal role in the film's success. Their stories, often overshadowed by the glitz of premieres and award ceremonies, are tales of perseverance, collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to the craft.

The Business of Artistry: Balancing Commerce and Craft

It’s no secret that the film industry often chases profits, but Air serves as a testament to the power of genuine artistic expression. While big-budget hits bring in cash, true success connects deeply with viewers, going beyond mere ticket sales. The story behind Air teaches filmmakers about balancing business with artistry. While revenue is essential, a movie's true value is its lasting cultural impact. Air proves that when art and business mesh well, extraordinary things happen.

The Zeitgeist of Michael Jordan

When it comes to sporting legends, few compare to Michael Jordan. But beyond the slam dunks, the championship rings, and that iconic number 23 jersey, lies a story that captures the zeitgeist of an era. Air delves into this narrative, exploring the cultural, emotional, and societal significance of Michael Jordan's journey. It's not just about basketball; it's about capturing the spirit of the times, understanding the pulse of a generation, and showcasing the transformative power of a single individual. 

Michael Jordan with a 23 in a big font in the background

So why does Michael Jordan's story resonate so deeply? Is it the humble upbringing, the high-flying dunks, the last-second three-pointers, or his relentless pursuit of excellence? Perhaps it's a combination of all these and more. But one thing is certain—in capturing the essence of Michael Jordan, Air offers a lens into the soul of a legend, the making of a champion, and the spirit of a generation.

The Timeless Impact of Air and Artists Equity

Air is a reminder of the profound impact a single decision can have on an industry, its audience, and the broader tapestry of culture. From championing the rights of every individual behind the scenes to setting new standards in storytelling, Air is more than just a cinematic masterpiece; it's a movement. It challenges us to look beyond the immediate, to value the craft, and to recognize the ripple effects of our actions.

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