I remember, during my postsecondary studies, analyzing the semiotics around the phrase “made in the USA,” and how people perceive and understand tangible objects as cultural entities. The idea of made in the USA has a much different context today than it did two or three decades ago. The global economy has changed; today, people shop in virtual stores on their couches, where judging a product is more about reading a description or review online than feeling it in their hands and understanding its spatial existence.
Yet, among the crowded product marketplaces, even those of niche items like those made for filmmakers like us, there are options that allow us to choose who makes our products beyond the company name.
Just as important as the brand, to me, is the craftsmanship, the quality of life and the faces behind the things that allow me to do my job every day. I’m not talking about just the white-collar marketing directors, salespeople, and website developers; I want to know who actually touches the tools I use before they even become a sellable “product.” I want to know where my stuff originates, and have faith that the factory employees, too, are pursuing sustainable careers, just as I do as a filmmaker. That’s why I choose to purchase made in USA work equipment whenever I can.
It’s About the People
I know what it's like entering the workforce and feeling underqualified due to a lack of education, or not wanting to partake in the contemporary "knowledge economy" approach so highly boasted within 21st century America. Fabrication and the "American touch," as I think of it, are more than romanticized ideas of yesteryear.
For me, exhibiting my values and commitment to quality items that are made in my country's economy is something I must live, not just talk about. To me, the phrase "designed in the USA" doesn't cut it; engineers need to do more than just conceptualize their ideas in the United States.
To naysayers who refute the feasibility of buying American, I’m proud to share my own evidence, which I bring to work every day. By value, over 90% of my primary work equipment is manufactured in the USA, with the majority upholding the claim of being made in the USA. This statistic is literally unheard of: I can guarantee that no other DIT in the entire world has an arsenal of equipment that exhibits this much support for the United States manufacturing sector.
From Sourcing to Documenting
Each item on my list of gear, ranging from electronics—including video monitors and wi-fi routers—to mounting solutions, and the cart that transports everything, is very intentionally chosen. Most people in my line of work offer lists of the stuff they own to the production companies for legal and insurance purposes. I've taken it a step further, adding in details of where each product is made to evaluate how successful I am in supporting the American production of tangible goods.
On my aforementioned digital spreadsheet, I’ve added columns that not only denote each item's country of origin, but also the state of origin and even the level of processing each product had done in that state (e.g. "made" versus "assembled").
Most people give up when they think about trying to source certain products from America. The drastic outsourcing that has transpired over the most recent generation of workers has changed the climate. Consumers, and likewise filmmakers seeking specialty tools, oftentimes consider it altogether impossible. They think, “There's no way something like X can be made here, all the permutations of X object must come from a foreign country overseas.” But the reality is, if you actually spend the time hunting, you can find almost everything from an American manufacturer.
, as an example. There are dozens of brands that make mounting arms with ¼” 20 screws on the ends, or little adapters and converters that convert one screw thread length to another. Some of the brands are large and prominent; many are tiny if they are publicly branded at all. But only a very limited few, like Zacuto, have chosen to fabricate their products in the US, which tells you something about how they operate. I am proud to list Zacuto equipment on my work gear manifest; Zacuto helps me live my values and also prove to others that, yes, buying American made, even for specialty items that are made exclusively for our line of work, is indeed possible.
Here’s to the Future
To some, ignoring American manufacturing is simply the result of bandwagoning onto name-brand companies, whose renowned product lines can only be sourced from foreign countries. The lay people in a capitalistic society are inevitably compelled to say, “I need to have .” They remain stubborn and refuse to accept an alternative, even if an American one exists. The allure of high-end brands, even when made in other countries, is merely an extension of genericized trademarks becoming part of our cultural vernacular.
There's no reason, really, one needs to have one brand over another one, if they can accomplish comparable objectives. It's merely a consumeristic appeal that companies take pride in owning. Ultimately, the consumer needs to comprehend and grapple with such connotations in order to wholeheartedly support products made in the USA.
I sincerely hope my actions are noticed by others, but I really don’t do it for the publicity. I wear made in USA underwear every day, yet I don't—typically—go around yelling such assertions on the street. It comes down to knowing I’m making a difference, even as a lone consumer. The phrase “put your money where your mouth is” usually gets associated with purchasing power and the ability to influence the macroeconomy in small ways. In my mind, when I publicly share my passion for domestic manufacturing of products, I'm doing the converse: I’m putting my mouth where my money already lies. To me, the hedonism of knowing where my products originate is reason enough.
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