Traditionally, below-the-line labor is differentiated from above-the-line labor within media industries as being skill-based rather than creative and thus compensated at scale and standardized through various guilds and unions. This is binary is destabilized by female creative laborers who occupy above-the-line positions, carry out below-the-line promotional labor for microbudget film projects, and engage with multiple digital media platforms to make their labor visible and commodifiable.
Take the viral marketing campaign of the independent film Best Friends Forever (Brea Grant, 2013). The film focuses on two friends who embark on a road trip to Texas as the apocalypse nips at their hub caps. Director-producer-writer-star Brea Grant and produce-writer-star Vera Miao’s fundraising efforts challenge the notion that above-the-line and below-the-line labor are necessarily distinct from one another.
In addition to offering prizes as incentives, Best Friends Forever’s Kickstarter campaign focused on “spreadable”, bite-sized clips connected with the film’s larger themes, which emphasized Grant and Miao’s labor as filmmakers. The campaign’s inaugural—and arguably most suggestive—clip focuses extensively on the disparity of women in above-the-line labor positions in American mainstream and independent film, and makes clear that the filmmakers wanted the film to help close the gender gap in above-the-line creative and below-the-line technical positions dominated by men. In the clip, Miao offers the following statistics: in 2011, only five percent of American-made films were directed by women. Fourteen percent of those films were written by women, four percent were shot by female cinematographers, and twenty-five percent were produced by women. Grant points out that Best Friends Forever has a female director, along with two female screenwriters, three female producers, and a female cinematographer, key grip, and sound team.
Its online fundraising campaign demonstrates how digital communication can support the production and distribution of independent film, particularly within industrial limitations that force independent productions to consolidate their labor force. This shift should challenge our definitions of below-the-line and above-the-line labor, particularly for independent or amateur filmmakers who take on a variety of work roles, including masculinized technical labor as well as the more associatively feminized labor of casting, marketing, and promotion.