Capturing New Work

New Movie and TV Film Contracts Cast Broader Nets

Volume CV, No. 9September, 2005

(Editor’s note: The following article reports on the recently concluded AFM negotiations covering theatrical motion picture and TV films. These new contracts have not yet been ratified by the musicians themselves. It’s the AFM’s general policy not to publicize contracts prior to ratification. To respect that policy, this article does not mention any specifics of the agreements. The AFM will send recording musicians a full summary by mail.)

Keeping film work union and broadening the field were the themes of the recent AFM movie and TV film negotiations. New scales were introduced that will allow producers and employers the chance to make their projects union, rather than flying under the union radar or taking their projects out of the country.

“We feel we have an agreement that will allow us to compete with other music markets in the world and ensure that U.S. films will continue to use U.S. orchestras working under AFM agreements,” Jay Schaffner, 802’s recording supervisor, told Allegro.

Schaffner, who served on the union’s negotiating team with President Lennon, says that dealing with “runaway films” — producers who flee to other countries to make cheaper, nonunion movies — is one of the major challenges facing the AFM. He estimates that roughly 60 percent of movie work takes place in the U.S. by American film companies. A decade ago, that was closer to 90 percent. Given that reality, the new film agreement brings to the table a few enticements for employers to keep their movies in the U.S. and make them union.

These enticements are targetted specifically to the low-budget film market. New York City has a specific niche for low-budget films. The TriBeCa film festival, co-founded by Robert DeNiro in 2002, has advanced the city’s already-strong reputation for experimental films.

Two new low-budget tiers will allow producers to make their projects union instead of simply shrugging their shoulders and proceeding off the books.

In addition to the two new low-budget tiers, the film agreement’s current low-budget tier will increase its threshold. This means that more expensive movies can use the low-budget scale.

“This new threshold will allow us to win a large number of films that we would have not been able to get,” said Schaffner. “And hopefully this can cause some of the film work that had been hemorrhaging and fleeing the country to be done here.”

On the television side, the AFM took an innovative step, recognizing that a lot of TV productions, particularly dramas and sitcoms, are employing smaller numbers of musicians when they are done as union work at all. Much work for TV films, as with movies, is leaving the country or is being done “underground” as nonunion work. So to encourage production using five or more musicians, the agreement creates a new scale.

“We hope that this new scale will in fact become the dominant TV scale for productions,” said Schaffner. The current existing scale continues in effect for those productions that engage four or less musicians.

The negotiating committee took their work seriously. Dozens of films and TV movies were analyzed, to find out how many shows are currently under union contract and how many musicians are working on shows.