Casting a Greater Net

New Film Agreement Allows More Low-Budget Deals

Volume CVI, No. 3March, 2006

Mikael Elsila

A union agreement is better than no agreement at all. That truism is reflected in the AFM’s new film scales, which are available in the Wage & Contract section of this site.

The new scales widen the practice of allowing low-budget “indie” films to sign union contracts at lower rates than their high-budget cousins. This allows musicians playing for low-budget movies to receive union benefits, like health and pension, as well as the other guarantees of a union contract like secondary market payments from the film fund. The catch? The scale wages are much lower. In other words, if you’re recording the score of the independent film “The Blair Witch Project,” you’re going to make less money than if you’re playing for the high-budget “Titanic” – even though both are union films.

“More and more, it’s the composers of movie music who are in charge of hiring musicians,” Jay Schaffner, 802’s recording supervisor, told Allegro. “Composers are given a set budget and told to produce the music any way they can. These composers have practically no leverage – it’s take it or leave it. The new film agreements allow indie and low-budget composers to make the job union, so that the musicians who are hired earn benefits and are protected by a union contract.”

Films which have a budget of less than $2 million can use the new indie low-budget scale if there are at least seven musicians on one session. Films that have a budget of between $2 million and $12 million can use the scale if there are at least 15 musicians on one session.

The AFM also recently renegotiated the rates covering music for industrial films. Those scales are also found in the Wage & Contract section of this web site.


The mayor’s office of film, theatre and broadcasting announced that the recent city and state tax incentives given to films shot in New York resulted in bringing $600 million worth of new production business to the city and creating jobs for more than 6,000 New Yorkers. There were 250 independent and studio films and over 100 new and returning television productions shot in New York City’s streets and studios in 2005.

In related news, Silvercup Studios announced a significant expansion of their Long Island City studios with a 2 million square foot complex that would put eight soundstages between an office tower and two high-rises containing 1,000 apartments. The city planning commission cleared the $1 billion development deal to go to the City Council’s land-use review process. “The Sopranos” is produced at Silvercup as well as other TV shows. “Gangs of New York” and “Meet the Parents” were two feature films shot there.

–Heather Beaudoin