My informant attends the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts’ film production program. She is primarily focused on camera and lighting work and works often as a director of photography (crew member in charge of lighting scenes and composing shots in the camera). On a recent student film set she told the following joke while waiting for the director to finish rehearsing with an actor. The camera was already set and ready to go, and she reflected that it was a good thing that on this project they didn’t need to worry about recording sound.
Transcript of Joke
So this actress comes to Hollywood, right, and she’s having trouble you know, um, getting in. So she decides to sleep with a sound guy. And afterwards everyone’s all like, why’d you sleep with a sound guy? You should sleep with the director. Sleep with the director. And she says, well everyone’s always saying, fuck sound! Fuck sound!
Analysis and Background
After telling the joke the informant told a brief anecdote about a set experience she had where the assistant director (set manager) needed to find the production mixer (crew member who records sound on the set) in order to shoot a shot because in between shots the production mixer had fallen asleep and was not responding to calls. The informant herself took the joke as a humorous comment on the fact that the sound department has a lot of down time on sets. Like the actors, they are really only needed just before and through the recording of takes. Much of the rest of the time spent on a set changing lighting and re-dressing set pieces is time during which the sound department has nothing to do which gives them, according to my informant, the appearance of having an easy job and being lazy workers.
My reading of this joke however is more focused on the gender and position of power of the subjects in the joke. The main character in the joke is an actress who is portrayed as naive and desperate for fame. The joke plays upon a general belief that sex will help one, especially a woman with little experience, to get ahead in the film industry. The joke assumes a “green-ness” to actresses in Hollywood. The laugh comes from the understanding by film crews of the truth behind the statement that “everyone’s always saying, fuck sound” and that newcomers to Hollywood would not understand why that is and would misinterpret the meaning. The actress who is new to town can hardly be expected to know the perception of sound technicians with film crews.
Also notice the use of the term sound “guy.” Rarely in the film industry does one refer to a crew member using a female pronoun – often the word “person” is substituted for “guy” or “man” if one is attempting to be politically correct, or even to refer to a female crew member. The gender dynamics of this joke indicate that it is young, naive girls who seek fame and fortune in a male-dominated work environment, where sex appeal is their only power. The desperation of the actress to break into the film business also hints at the brief shelf life of actresses, who seem to age quicker (and lose that sex appeal) in the public eye than male actors. This reveals not so much a gender bias among film workers as a tradition of acceptance of the fact that many roles in the film industry have historically been filled by men – particularly skilled crew roles.
The fact that the gender dynamics of the joke held even when being told by a female director of photography reveals that while the dynamics of film crews and the business itself may change, a stereotypical image of the film industry planted in the 1920s still holds in the public consciousness, and is source of ironic amusement even to modern film workers.