The Musicians’ Voice

Volume C, No. 3March, 2000


To the Editor:

On Saturday, Jan. 15, I sang at Carnegie Hall, the greatest dream of my life. My show – Raquel Bitton Sings Edith Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs played to a sold-out house, and Seymour “Red” Press contracted the musicians (you are so magnifique!!!).

To all of you who played in the orchestra, you have my admiration and gratitude for your brilliance, your giving and your musicianship. Each and every one of you gave me your very best, and it is the very reason why the audience reacted so positively.

From my heart to yours, I say merci beaucoup.


To the Editor:

The letter in February’s Allegro from the officers of Local 145 (Vancouver, B.C.) concerning recording for motion picture film, which was written in response to an earlier Allegro article, brought several thoughts to mind.

The original article correctly pointed out that NAFTA created an environment wherein film producers could disregard borders in their relentless pursuit of getting things done cheaper. In response to that article, Messrs. Morris and Hales pointed out that both the federal and provincial governments in Canada have provided funding to “train world-class technicians” and offer substantial tax incentives to foreign (international) film and television producers. Combine these “carrots” with a Canadian dollar that averages out to a 32 percent discount on U.S. funds, and it would seem that many U.S. producers would opt to film in Canada, right? Right!

Since AFM fees for recording music for films are identical in the United States and Canada, a U.S. producer could pay Canadian recording musicians in Canada in Canadian funds – and therefore logic should dictate that U.S. producers would opt to record music for their productions (whether filmed in Canada or in the U.S.) in Canada, right? Wrong!

Why? Even with the 32 percent discount which brings the Canadian price (expressed in U.S. dollars) down to slightly less than the price for non-member or dark sessions advertised in one particular non-member recording venue in the Western United States, film producers do not want to sign a contract which obligates them to further future payments for exploitation of their product. The letter from Local 145 explains this quite clearly. It is this “buyout” or unencumbered product that lures film producers to non-member, offshore 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.”

In Canada, we really don’t have any “major” film companies. The overwhelming majority of films are done by independent producers who hope to sell the film to a “major” or to produce a “sleeper” that will make it big. The average Canadian film budget is 4.5 to 5 million dollars (in Canadian funds), with $10 million considered the Canadian equivalent of the Titanic budget. Therefore, every Canadian produced film would qualify for “low-budget” rates. The only problem here is that Canadian musicians “opted out” of low-budget rates, feeling that $150 (CDN) was not enough money for a three-hour call.

Most Canadian films do not go to the videocassette stage and, if they do, sell very few. Their best “secondary sale” is late-night TV movie spots on Canadian television channels (to fill government-mandated Canadian content requirements). Further, the federal funding sources – Telefilm Canada and the Canadian Television Fund – as well as the provincial bodies who provide production funding for Canadian producers, insist that they be repaid first by putting a “lien” on all income, and they insist that all final products must be “encumbrance free.”

All of these factors should mean that Canadian film producers would not use AFM musicians and sign AFM “paper,” right? Originally right, now wrong! Why?

This office, after conferring with Canadian film music composers, studio musicians and Canadian producers, came up with amendments to the Theatrical and Television Film Agreements for films which were certified “Canadian” by a government agency (CAVCO) or eligible as a result of meeting “Canadian criteria” (stricter than the CAVCO guidelines). What are the amendments (CCPR) for Canadian films that qualify?

  • Payment of $100 per hour per musician, with a three-hour minimum call;
  • A 10 percent AFM-EPW contribution;
  • Maximum 10 minutes per hour of final recorded music;
  • Once music has been synced with picture, the film may be released in all markets and all media (except the internet) without residual payments;
  • Soundtrack recording may be released without additional payment (original underscore by composer only – no “compilations”);
  • Music preparation fees are approximately 50 percent higher.

What has been the effect of these amendments, since being adopted and approved by the IEB two years ago?

“Canadian” film productions (television and theatrical) have increased from an average of 17 per year to 160 productions in the last two years! Why? Because the producers like the paper signed by the AFM that gives them a “clean buy” on their final product.

Why the incredible increase in work for Canadian composers and studio musicians? (Scoring in Canada and a Canadian composer are a requirement.) In order to get a buyout, Canadian producers do not have to:

  1. go offshore (Europe, etc);
  2. use non-AFM venues (Seattle, Salt Lake City, etc.); or
  3. use non-members in Canada or urge members to do “dark” dates.

For now, the system is working well for Canadian producers and studio musicians. An interesting aside is that, of the approximately 100 productions being filmed in Canada each month (many of which take more than a month to complete), approximately 25 to 30 percent are being done by Canadian producers, and Canadian “paper” covers about 20 percent of the total. Very few (less than five a year) of the balance of U.S. and foreign productions are scored in Canada. Where are the others going – AFM (U.S.), or elsewhere? I think it’s time to do some detective work to find out where the films we don’t get are actually scored. What do you think?

–David J. Jandrisch
AFM Vice-President from Canada


To the Editor:

I would like to share a very absurd story with Allegro readers. The story is absurd in two ways: what happened to me on a job, and the union’s continuing mishandling of the situation.

I was asked by Scott Rohrbacher of the now-defunct SRS Artists office to go into a steady hotel job. I was told that if things worked out I would be replacing him, as he was too busy in his office to work the job any more.

Things did work out; however, I never got a contract. The contract remained in Scott’s name. The week was split between myself and two other pianists according to each individual’s availability. Only one of the pianists had his own contract. The other pianist and myself worked as if we were Scott’s subs, even though Scott never worked the job again after hiring me. I worked the job with Scott’s ongoing promise that I would receive a contract at some unspecified time, and it went very well for about nine or ten months. I was building a loyal following.

Readers who are familiar with the hotel business will know that many of the lower-level “floor managers” who supervise the various public rooms tend to be very young, underpaid and inexperienced, and there tends to be a frequent turnover. During my tenure I saw a half dozen or more of these managers come and go, and had pleasant relations with all of them. A new young woman arrived on the job, and she started to spend a lot of time leaning on her elbows at the piano when the room was slow. She was friendly and at times flirtatious. I didn’t think much of it. This continued for a few months.

At a point, for no apparent reason, she became hostile. And during a period of the next few months the situation declined to where each and every time I worked she would call in complaints about me to the office. Generally these complaints accused me of having personal friends come in to see me. In fact, this was not the case. I had built up a substantial following and it seemed to frustrate her to see me getting attention from repeat customers. On a few occasions she had little tantrums when, due to my popularity, she had trouble closing up the room on time. The repeat business I was bringing in had pleased everyone, but now it was causing friction.

The situation came to a head when Billy Joel came in one night and played four-hands with me. (He had been in before and had done the same.) His presence was noticed by passersby and filled the room, and when he was finished many of the people stayed on to hear me. At closing time I went into the closet to turn the musak on, as usual, but when I re-entered the room a customer was at the piano offering me three 20-dollar bills to play a request. Common sense dictates that a table of four who are on their second bottle of Dom Perignon after having dined at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant should get what they ask for. All my past experience with hotel, club and restaurant management has corroborated this, including my experience with previous managers at this hotel. However, this manager went into a rage as she watched me agree to perform a song for them. As I went into the closet to turn the musak off again, she followed me.

Once in the closet with me, she prevented my exit by leaning her substantial body-weight into the door. She was very evidently irate, but was not communicating what she wanted. Several minutes went by as she and I had a stand-off in the closet. I asked her repeatedly to move out of the way and allow me to exit the closet and she did not. I asked her what she wanted and she did not answer. I offered her the tip I had received and she did not answer. I had a choice: to either physically force my way out, or to remain while this disturbed person came to terms with her tantrum. Finally she accused me of “manipulating tips to keep the room open,” told me to return the tip to the customer and go home.

Against my better judgment, I did as she asked. The customer was very angry and went to speak to her about it privately. When they returned, she had changed her mind and told me to play the song for the customer. But when I went to the piano and began to play, she came up in a tizzy and fired me in front of the room full of people, including Billy Joel.

I considered calling the police about being held against my will in a closet, but decided against it out of a misplaced loyalty to the upper management of the hotel. I knew that the situation had become unmanageable and had to be dealt with, and since the upper management was not in the building I decided to make a report to hotel security. The security man I spoke with was rude and uninterested in my story. As he and I were speaking in the lobby, Billy Joel came out of an elevator and approached, asking me about what had just happened, and wondering why this woman had a problem when I was, in his words, “just going the extra distance for a customer.” He asked if I needed his help with the situation, and I told him that I felt sure it would blow over on its own.

The next morning I got a call from Scott indicating that I had been fired – not for the situation with the manager, but for offending Billy Joel! The security man had evidently made some judgment about the conversation he and I had, and had written up a report about it, resulting in my immediate termination.

Shortly after my termination, the other pianist who was waiting for a contract got one. It seems the hotel was being pressured into signing two contracts, and used this opportunity to get out of signing one.

Segue to Local 802’s office, where we had a meeting with the hotel management trying to get me reinstated. I had been unable to contact Billy Joel. The union had also failed in doing so, even though he is a member of Local 802. By this time the story had been embellished to where I was accused of screaming obscenities down the hallway at Billy Joel, Billy had stopped patronizing the hotel, and I was being blamed for causing the hotel to lose this valued celebrity client. My story of this manager’s tantrum was being treated as absurd, even though she had a history of aberrant behavior and had been previously fired and rehired.

However, the union was able to prove that I was a tenured employee and not a sub, and I was offered an extremely small severance package. I had no choice but to take it, as by this time my finances had been decimated by this loss of work. Then, after proving that I was not a sub, they contradicted the premise of their case by reporting a severance settlement for a “sub” in Allegro!! I couldn’t believe it!

Subsequent to this decision, as I was trying to get on with my life, another incident occurred which made it imperative that the truth come out. A new client, a party planner, had sent me into that same hotel to work a party. The F&B manager told him not to send me there again. Determined that this man was not going to be allowed to continue to damage my reputation and prevent me from entering the building on freelance jobs, I realized that I had to get in touch with Billy Joel and set this situation straight. No longer believing his management when they agreed to forward my communications to him, I insisted that they put me in touch with his attorney. They did, and his attorney was willing to speak with my attorney. When the connection was finally made it turned out that Billy had no idea that Local 802 and I had both been trying to get in touch with him. He was concerned about what had happened to me, and he was surprised that the hotel had accused me of causing them to lose him as a customer, as he had never stopped patronizing them.

He wrote a letter to the hotel on my behalf. The letter stated his concern about my termination, stated that I did nothing at all to offend him, and further stated that no foul language was used. This letter was absolute proof that my termination was a snow job. The hotel was uninterested in the letter. Not surprising.

What has been surprising, however, is that Local 802 has also been uninterested. They have no interest in protecting my right to work in the building on freelance jobs. They have no interest in protecting me from having my reputation damaged on an ongoing basis. They take no responsibility in that their failure to contact one of their own members resulted in a very compromised presentation, due to lack of evidence. They take no responsibility in their resulting failure to have me reinstated. They have no interest in new evidence which absolutely changes the whole case. They have written me indicating that the meeting which resulted in the severance decision was in everyone’s best interest, and they are arrogant enough to speak for me in that statement.

Since there are now people working at the hotel on union contracts, they are content to allow me to have been the sacrificial lamb. They simply do not care about an extremely unjust situation. In fact, subsequent to the above-mentioned letter, Jim Hannen has stopped returning my calls.

I have not mentioned the name of the hotel as I don’t wish, by the story of my misfortune, to contribute to their reputation as a celebrity hang-out. I want Local 802 to reopen this case and I want to state publicly in Allegro that it is completely unreasonable that they have not done so already.

–Rich Siegel

President Moriarity Responds:

The incident described by the writer occurred six years ago, in 1994. At that time he came to the union to complain that he had been dismissed from a hotel engagement of several years’ duration.

In all that time, unfortunately, no payroll report for that hotel had been submitted which contained his name. Upon inquiring, the hotel informed the union that the writer had insisted that he be paid “off the books” and that they had accommodated him in this although it was a violation of our contract.

After a lengthy investigation and much discussion, during which it was discovered that only a portion of the work the writer claimed had taken place could be documented, a settlement agreement was reached for the documented work, including unpaid wages and pension, and a comprehensive release was signed by the writer.

The letter from Local 802 member Billy Joel was dated Aug. 26, 1997 – more than three years after the original incident and more than two years after the subsequent incident. It was not forwarded to Local 802 until January of 1999. However, even if it had been forwarded in a timely manner, nothing could have been done due to the settlement agreement and the language of the release. It states, in part, that the writer does “hereby irrevocably and unconditionally release, revise and forever discharge (the Employer), its agents, directors, officers, employees, representatives, attorneys, and their predecessors, successors, heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, and all persons acting by, through, under or in concert with any of them, (collectively hereinafter “Employer-Releasees”), and the union, its officers, agents, employees and representatives (collectively, hereinafter referred to as the “Union-Releasees”) of any and all claims (including, but not limited to, complaints, suits, charges, obligations, promises, agreements, damages, expenses and attorneys’ fees), of any nature whatsoever, in law or equity, which Releasees now have or may have against Employer-Releasees or Union-Releasees from the beginning of time to the date of this Agreement.”

It should be noted that the hotel in question has subsequently changed ownership and that total turnover of management has taken place.