Casualty of Capital

Music for Oliver Stone film latest victim of global economy

Volume CVIII, No. 10October, 2008

Jay Schaffner


The Local 802 Executive Board has voted to pay for loss-of-work benefits from the Local 802 Strike Fund to all those who lost work as a result of these cancelled film sessions for “W.” The board has requested that the contractor for the dates provide names of those scheduled to work so that these benefits can be paid.

“W.,” a new movie by Oliver Stone, is a parody on the life of George W. Bush, to be released Oct. 17, on the eve of the election. One would think that such a movie would attack everything about the administration of George W. and the past eight years of the Bush presidency. One would think that just as the Bush Administration has attacked labor and the rights of working people, that such a parody would champion those rights. Not knowing the full script, we will have to see when the movie comes out.

What we do know is that no matter how liberal the director of a film is, in today’s global economy, international finance capital calls the shots.

While Oliver Stone is the director — and his film company Ixtlan Corporation is one of the production companies — the reality is that Stone alone is not calling the shots on this film as far as financing is concerned.

The decisions are likely being made by the Hong Kong-based investment company Emperor Motion Pictures (a/k/a Emperor Multimedia Group), and the distributor of the film, Lions Gate Films.

In today’s world, a producer lines up international capital and produces a film, then turns the film over to a film distribution company, which has no role in the actual production. The distribution company promotes the film and distributes it, and after paying whatever fees and licenses to the producer, profits immensely if the film is a success.

While Lions Gate distributes many low-budget films and made-for-television films, it is also the distributor of some major films, such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Foodfight!,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Frida” and “Dogma.”

Oliver Stone — despite credits that include “World Trade Center,” “Alexander,” “Any Given Sunday,” “Nixon,” “JFK,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Talk Radio,” “Wall Street,” “Platoon” and “Salvador,” — was apparently dependent on international finance capital to fund the production of this film.

Stone’s earlier films were released in conjunction with studio giants like Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers Films, Paramount Television, Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and HBO Films.

“W.” is being funded by Emperor, in conjunction with QED International and the U.K.-based Aramid Capital Partners. “W.” is the first time that the Hong Kong-based Emperor is backing a major U.S. production.

It would seem that along with this backing and capital comes the decision on whether this film will be done union and whether the music will be scored union. The decision made here was obviously that such would not be the case.

Often today the composer is given an “all-in budget” and delivers the film score, and all too often the requirement now is that this be “unencumbered.” Unencumbered is another way of saying that for the music there be no union involvement, no AFM contract, and no back-end payments through the Motion Picture and Television Film Secondary Markets Fund (SMF).

In the case of “W.,” the music was composed by Paul Cantelon, whose prior credits include “The Other Boleyn Girl,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Everything is Illuminated.”

Musicians were called for sessions that were scheduled at Clinton Studios on Sept. 6 and 7. Musicians were told that the sessions were to score the new Oliver Stone film “W.,” and that the sessions were to be nonunion. Originally, at least three large string sessions were called.

The union learned that arrangements were done by David Campbell, a Los Angeles-based AFM musician. His office was called, and we were told that the music was not for the film score, but rather was music for a possible “inspired-by” soundtrack recording for the film. In that case we said, there should be no problem in signing the AFM’s Sound Recording Single Project Short Form, which would cover this particular project. 

It soon got interesting. Both Suzie Gilbert from Ixtlan and Eric Kopeloff, the film’s executive producer, told 802 that these sessions were not for the film, and they had no idea why musicians thought that was the case. Sue Jacobs, Paul Cantelon’s agent, then told the AFM and Local 802 that the music was not for the film and if the union insisted that it be done union, then the sessions would be moved to Prague.

The union’s response was that if the music was in fact being done for a possible record, then there was no reason to not sign the union agreement covering it.

Nothing the union said could prevent the cancellation of the sessions on Friday, the day before the first session was to take place. Supposedly, Paul Cantelon was on a plane for Prague on Saturday, the next day. As all who fly know, the purchase of last-minute international airline tickets is very expensive.


Our belief is that the international investors and the film distributor — Lions Gate — put the squeeze on the composer. There was no way that they were going to allow the music for this film to be done union.

Obvious lessons that we need to consider for the future might include;

  • A campaign against the film distributor, which refuses to do union music and profits enormously.
  • A campaign against firms that invest in films, including denying them New York State film tax credits if they engage in practices that require composers to “not hire union musicians” (restraint of trade).
  • The need to analyze and draw the appropriate conclusions. That is, true “indie” films from the past and also “low-budget films” may in today’s world have a different character, given the troubled economy and global nature of capital. Even indie filmmakers with true low-budget films are no longer calling the shots.

Finally, a personal note. It’s widely known that I’ve opposed George W. Bush and the policies of his administration for the past eight years. I very much look forward to this film contributing to the defeat of Bush’s third term. However, politics aside, we need to find creative ways of dealing with international investment and the continued erosion of film music scoring. 

Jay Schaffner is supervisor of Local 802’s Recording Department.