Should We Reconsider Special Payments?

President's Report

Volume C, No. 4April, 2000

Bill Moriarity

The last two issues of Allegro have contained letters from Canadian AFM and local officers which addressed the subject of so-called runaway film scoring. The writers told of their experience with this phenomenon, and the steps that have been taken to address it as it applies to Canadian product.

The first letter – from President Bobby Hales and Secretary Wayne Morris of Local 145 in Vancouver – says, in effect, that the work “may be running away from down there but it’s not showing up here.” To quote directly, “Canadian musicians, especially those in the Vancouver area and members of Local 145, are receiving no work in recording film scores related to the hundreds of movies and TV series being produced in British Columbia.” (emphasis added) They further contend that “scoring sessions for the multitude of films being produced here continue to be done off shore or with non-AFM members in the United States – as close as Seattle, Wash., in our case.”

In the March Allegro the second letter, from AFM Vice-President from Canada Dave Jandrisch, is unequivocal as to the underlying cause of our problem. Jandrisch states, “The letter from Local 145 explains this quite clearly. It is [the] ‘buy out’ or unencumbered product that lures film producers to non-member, off-shore or ‘dark sessions.’ Canadian musicians have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by refusing to provide a product to U.S. producers that is ‘unencumbered.’ ”

He goes on to describe the Canadian response to this dilemma for “certified Canadian” productions. It’s a buyout, and the results are encouraging. Canadian post-production is up and musicians are working in this limited but growing market.

The problem that AFM musicians and their union face, of course, is that of global competition. Only under AFM contract is there a requirement to make ancillary, future payments to musicians by means of a device like the Special Payments Fund. Employers complain that this is a bookkeeping and payment burden they would go to great lengths to avoid. A representative of a major entertainment conglomerate has told me that he would prefer to use New York or Los Angeles musicians and that, in fact, he would pay more for their talents and skills, but that there was a limit as to what his company would bear. He was clear that other options were available – in London or Prague or Vienna or Auckland, New Zealand – and that he would choose them, if forced to. Soon after this conversation, he took a project to Vienna.

At the end of their letter, Hales and Morris suggest that it may be time “for the Federation to revisit the way in which it does business with the film industry.”

Well, it won’t be easy. We have a lot invested in the Special Payments Funds, especially the fund established under the Television Film Labor Agreement. More than a few times during recent negotiations a decision has been made that wage increases would come in the form of Special Payments. Through the years, other back-end payments have been structured to go through these funds because of the relative administrative ease of utilizing a mechanism already in place. We have relied, in the past, on the funds’ auditing procedures to trace other ancillary monies. It forms an integral part of our payment structure and must be approached with great caution.

Nevertheless, it must be approached. We cannot continue to allow this pay structure to rule our business unless there is some good reason. There is no better time than now to begin the discussion.