Musicians deserve residuals!

Volume 119, No. 5May, 2019

John Painting

About six weeks ago, the AFM and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers began negotiations for a successor agreement to the Theatrical Motion Picture and Television Film agreements. After three days of bargaining, both sides agreed to extend the contract and return to the table in November.

The issue at the heart of negotiations is the residual structure for content “made for new media.” Currently, musicians receive residual payments in films only when material made for one medium is sold into a “secondary market,” like motion pictures sold as home videos/DVDs or television series moved over to a streaming platform.

But the AFM does not have residuals in the primary market. Other unions and guilds were able to make inroads in this area through strikes in the early 1980s, but the AFM was unsuccessful. As such, the AFM’s contractual framework does not consist of a residual payment made to musicians within the same medium for which a film is made.

For example, that means a film can be exhibited in movie theaters as many times as a producer wants without incurring another payment to musicians. The same goes for a dramatic series airing on primetime network television, which may re-air multiple times on the same network.

However, it also means that when a television series is made for a streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, musicians won’t get a residual payment unless that series is sold into another market. That’s highly irregular; consumers are not likely to buy a DVD box set of a television series that they can watch on a streaming platform.

As the industry shifts to new media platforms, the AFM cannot afford to be left behind. Failure to capture a residual in this new market will make it harder, and perhaps eventually impossible, for musicians to make a living doing this type of work.

The AFM proposed a residual framework like the structure SAG-AFTRA currently has: paying a sliding scale percentage of a fixed-base amount over a 12-year period of streaming exhibition. This proposal would mean real money to musicians without being a huge budget item for producers. The industry side, however, was unwilling to listen to any proposals on primary market residuals.

The proposal that management put on the table – similar to the structure they have with IATSE – would apply to a very limited set of circumstances, when “made for” motion pictures longer than 96 minutes are moved into theaters. The payment would be a pro-rata splitting of 1 percent of the total scale wages (“crew cost”) earned over the course of a project. This structure makes some sense for IATSE (though they were very publicly unhappy about it,) because their crews are on set for a long period of time. For the AFM, however, who are often only involved in post-production over a handful of days, we calculated that the residual payment would work out to only about $10 per musician. That’s not a fair bargain.

The extension, which will run through Nov. 14, includes a 2 percent increase in wages while also increasing the pension percentage per the terms of the new rehabilitation plan.

John Painting is Local 802’s supervisor of electronic media services.