The Color of Money is Blonde

Volume CVIII, No. 5May, 2008

Blondes may have more fun, but both blonde and brunette musicians are enjoying their recent trips to the Local 802 recording checks window. Why? Musicians who played in “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” will earn at least $166,962 in wages beyond their Broadway salaries for the use of their work on MTV.

According to Keith O’Quinn, the show’s house contractor, the producers had promised one thing to musicians and then delivered another. However, in the end, “we are pleased that the 802 committee worked diligently and was able to retrieve most of the money owed to us,” O’Quinn told Allegro. “We need to stay vigilant in our efforts to prevent these occurrences in the future. Our thanks to Local 802 for their help in resolving this issue.”

“Legally Blonde” was first a novel, then a 2001 movie starting Reese Witherspoon. In 2007, it went up as a Broadway musical at the Palace Theatre. MTV taped a special production of the show and broadcast it last October and November. But for the last five months, the musicians’ pay for one of the broadcasts and for additional use of recording material has been in limbo.

The waiting game is now over. This payment and others, a result of a hard-won agreement between Local 802 and the show’s producers, represents the largest sum of musicians’ wages in recent history for the telecast of a Broadway musical. Additionally, the agreement is a milestone in the long-term effort to unionize MTV’s work.

“This and other recent settlements with MTV show us that under the right circumstances, the AFM can in fact have work that is done for MTV as union work,” said Recording Supervisor Jay Schaffner. “This should bode well for the future and give musicians confidence that when they are called for an MTV show or project, just because it has been nonunion in the past does not mean that it cannot be turned around.”

The $166,962.81 in wages for musicians — before benefits — comprises: 

  • $46,417.60 to film the show and air it six times in a 30-day period; 
  • $26,411.34 for added rehearsals and an extra performance necessitated by the filming of the show.
  • $69,704.22 for the right to additional airing during the first two weeks of April, settlement of a union grievance over an unauthorized broadcast of the show last November, and limited use of one-minute clips in the upcoming MTV reality series “Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle.” 
  • $24,429.65 for music copyist associated with the show.

An individual pit musician with no doubles will have earned $6,269.74 to date. One with four doubles will have earned $8,229.03. In addition to doubling and synth premiums, other premiums for the conductor, the assistant conductor and the contractor are added to these base wages. Remember, these are over and above the wages musicians earn for the Broadway show itself.

Income generated by the agreement is expected to grow higher, as additional recording and rehearsals are required for the reality series, which documents the casting of a new female lead for “Legally Blonde.” 

Local 802 was represented in its negotiations by 802 President Mary Landolfi; Recording Supervisor Jay Schaffner; Local 802 Executive Board member Bud Burridge, who is a member of the show’s orchestra; Joel LeFevre, the union’s organizing director and assistant to the president; and union counsel Daniel Engelstein.

The Executive Board approved the settlement on March 25. 


In other Recording Department news, the department collected $648,432.62 for musicians in the first three months of 2008, which represents a total of 84 grievances and collections and 1,031 musician session dates. It’s starting to look like last year’s record grievance collection by this department could be equaled or exceeded in 2008.