Teamsters Say They’re Ready To Help Film & TV Composers Unionize at LA Meeting

Film Music Magazine • November 17, 2009

“If film & television composers want to organize,” stated Steve Dayan, “We, the Teamsters stand ready to help you.”

This was Dayan’s core message as he spoke November 16 in Los Angeles to approximately 450 composers in his capacity as an official of the Teamster’s Local 399. This initial and preliminary public meeting with regard to composer collective bargaining was co-chaired by composers Bruce Broughton, Alf Clausen, Jim DiPasquale, and Alan Elliott.

It was stated from the outset that film & television composers remain virtually the only non-unionized work force in the entertainment industry, specifically in the production of original music for feature films and television programming.

Statistics made available to the attendees at the Pickwick Conference Center allege a staggering drop in composer fees from the 1980s to the present time—as much as an 86% pay-cut on an average movie adjusted for 2009 dollars. Further statistics purport a 240% increase in actual minutes of music used in today’s movies in contrast to those produced in 1980.

Over this 30-year period while composers and lyricists have had no industrial representation, the composer-panel emphasized that overall compensation has drastically declined while the sheer volume of minutes of music delivered per-show has dramatically increased. Issues adding fuel to the fire include increasingly unrealistic delivery deadlines, punitive working conditions, lack of benefits enjoyed by most workers in the industry, plus the amalgamation of skill-sets turning many composers into regretful recordists, music editors, copyists, session contractors, and mixing, dubbing, and mastering engineers. These once-separate job descriptions are often demanded by producers without compensation to the composer nor his or her staff in what are labeled “package deals.”

Panelists Broughton, Clausen, DiPasquale, and Elliot made cogent presentations of the past and current state of affairs, disclosing that their work together during the past four years as an organizing committee in conjunction with the Teamsters was now ready for consideration by composers and lyricists. Said each in their own fashion, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

The questions and comments from the attendees ranged from enthusiasm to anxiety and frustration. Of particular rancor was the demand of some producers for composers to submit elaborate, virtually finished works as a condition of employment and without compensation. Further, any excessive demands by producers for composers and lyricists to surrender total rights of authorship and even forfeit writer’s royalties from the continuing sales and performances of their musical works in film & television.

There were a host of earnest and concerned questions by attendees, including if the proposed affiliation with the Teamsters would encompass composers working for production music libraries, in music for advertising, for games and other media.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” answered Steve Dayan of the Teamsters. “Our efforts to help organize the casting directors took four and a half years, but we’re very happy with those positive results. Taking on issues such as wages and minimums, working conditions, health benefits and pensions is what we do. But you have to decide if you want it, and then work together as a team.”

Said one composer, “This is a no-brainer for me. We already KNOW the consequences of having no industrial representation. It’s a bottomless pit. Better to band together than to see overall conditions go from bad to worse.”

Additional information on this composer/lyricist initiative with the Teamsters is available from the Association of Media Composers and Lyricists at http://theamcl.org

Comments

By Bob Safir on November 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

It was, I believe, a historic occasion. There a many challenges ahead. I encourage every composer who hears about this to go to the website above, http://theamcl.org, and find out more. We need everyone’s participation for this to work.

By albert on November 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

The Teamsters? Really? Composers and musicians? I suppose next we’ll demand a government bailout. Maybe we should all work for Government Motors. Is there anyone who got into music for some sort of guaranteed pay-scale? All this will do is drive more business to the door of Zimmer, Isham, et al.

This is beyond pathetic and gives a very clear message that Glen Beck is right.

By Peter Wetzler on November 17th, 2009 at 10:17 am

Ahh the cynics rise with aplomb and their typical lack of constructive alternatives. Are you from Fox News? Yes, we got into music (hopefully most of us) because we love it and that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stand for the value of our work.

By Michael S. Patterson on November 17th, 2009 at 10:33 am

I agree with Bob, I too believe it was historic. I look forward to seeing this moment build from the ground up. It’s quite obvious that there is a great deal of education among the composers and the entertainment industry at large needed. It was exciting to be there but sobering too. This is like the first step in a marathon.

By albert on November 17th, 2009 at 10:47 am

Yea, I’m from Fox news. This is actually Bill O’Reilly speaking because I have nothing else to do. Am I cynical of unions? You bet. Why shouldn’t I be? Listen.. I have been making a living in the music business since the 60’s. How long have you been in it? Is it more difficult to make a living now? You bet it is. Everyone with a laptop and a microphone is now a “composer”. “Power to the People” and all that. You can’t have it both ways. There are something like 500,000 bands on FaceBook/MySpace, etc. Most are willing to work for food.

Thanks for the personal attack. Very typical from someone who feels the need for more regulation and belongs to the entitlement culture. Unions are a HUGE reason we are in mess we are in. I can’t stop you from wanting to pay dues to a very “reputable” organization like the Teamsters. And how “valuable” is your work? I guess you want some set, government schedule to define that. Right?

By Adrian Peek on November 17th, 2009 at 11:15 am

So either we seriously consider unionization, even with all its inherent difficulties (which can be addressed), or we continue on with the complete and total devaluation of our work. And to set some common standard values for visual music, even by the (oh no!!) government is better than the everyone-for-
themselves-screw-all-the-other-composers pricing schemes we have now. We may even be able to address the pay discrepancies between instrumental and vocal music royalty payments by PROs.

Yes high tech has “democratized” our chosen line of work, and in many cases lowered the quality of visual music. But as Al Gore and Current TV have recently discovered, there is vast difference between “talented” amateurs and trained/experienced professionals. The audience notices the difference, and will make their viewing choices based upon “quality”. So eventually, those “bedroom composers” with no talent/training will go away.

What fee/royalty environment will the “real” folks be left with? At least having a union will guarantee the best deal for the biggest number of composers HOPEFULLY.

By chris tedesco on November 17th, 2009 at 11:29 am

Composers have nothing to lose and everything to gain……you just have to come out of your cave’s and recognize your colleagues and start the dialogue – if you guys dont “get her done then” at least get a code of un-spoken ethic’s that you “wont work for crappy money and crappy working conditions anymore……since I’m a trumpet player and musician contractor here in LA – I’m tired of hearing the whoas of you guys – I’m sick of watching my recording work done out of town or done non union here in town. Composers cannot go forward as they are right now – that’s a no brainer……..talk to other composers today – go to the next meeting I think in JAN – keep the ball rolling – if you dont ask for change then there will be no change….the power is getting minimums and working conditions and getting all composers from all media (not just movies and TV) to at least start somewhere – for the betterment for you all…..

By Joseph Renzetti on November 17th, 2009 at 11:35 am

One of the problems is defining what a composer is. We should not be mixed in with lyricists [not that there is anything wrong with being a lyricist] but this dilutes, confuses and compromises our goals as composers.

Band members, song writers, may also be musicians, but are often not composers, again don’t be confused, a GUILD should be for composers only.

A say we composers should be in a GUILD not a union. It’s the WRITERS GUILD, the DIRECTORS GUILD, get it?

Yes, unions like any human entity gets too powerful; no reason not to have one.

We should define what a composer is, and understand the implications of a GUILD versus a UNION.

Later,

Joe R

By Michael Andreas on November 17th, 2009 at 11:40 am

Even though (for the sake of a frank and open discussion)there weren’t supposed to by any reporters at this meeting, this is a fair and balanced article which sums up the evening’s proceedings very well.

One of the main points brought up at the meeting was the need to reach out to young composers (and director/producers)to educate them and help them realize the importance of this movement to their future.

I believe the Film Music Network (a branch of this magazine) shares in this responsibility. So, when they allow ads for projects that don’t pay, or require the composer to give up ALL rights to a piece in exchange for a shared licensing fee, they become part of the problem. When such projects come in, they should be rejected or the Producers asked to meet a set of minimum compensation conditions before their ads are accepted. Otherwise FMN becomes an enabler of the practices we are trying to stop.

By Michael Andreas on November 17th, 2009 at 11:57 am

In re: to Joseph’s ‘Guild’ request… it’s been tried and the NLRB ruled against us. The only group powerful enough to take this on is the Teamsters. They have the power, the $$$$ and the desire. In re: your point about lyricists… when a studio wants a song to be written for a TV show or film, you need both the composer & lyricist covered. If you had written the lyric to Moon River and the composer was covered by acontract and you weren’t, you might change your tune.

In re: to albert’s (the only person so far unwilling to give his last name)comments. If you think this is such a horrible idea, I would like to hear an intelligently thought out option from your side that would address the dismal situation we Composers find ourselves in. Or is ‘dog eat dog’ your preference?

By Stephen Ridley on November 17th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

I personally think that unionizing would be good for composers. I also think that it’s important to have balance. Teachers unions, for instance, seem to have *too* much power, which can be a detriment to the quality of their work. Because of the working conditions we are currently facing, unionizing will help us as long as we don’t over do it. In some industries, unions have become *too* powerful and have created the feelings of anger we’re hearing from people like Albert here. I don’t think that has to happen to composers.

By Keith on November 17th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

While some of the unions’ over reaching demands certainly play a significant roll in “the mess we are in”, the problem falls squarely in the laps of private industry, banking and Wall Street. We clearly need government regulation to try to stem the tsunami of unmitigated greed which now clearly defines American business practices. Without government regulation America will become, and is becoming a third-world-nation/corporatocracy where the rich get richer and the middle class and the poor are marginalized or completely irrelevant.
Your attitude is typical of a person who would reference someone as absurdly ridiculous as Glenn Beck. “I have been making a living in the music business since the 60’s.” Well, you got yours during the good times, didn’t you, when composers got some respect, so now all the little whiners from the “entitlement culture” need to just suck it up and take whatever crumbs you want to throw our way, right?
Here’s a news flash. I work my ass off under crushing deadlines. Everything I produce comes out of my own pocket with no money up front. And then, the studio, after demanding my music day before yesterday, takes up to 90 days to pay me. I have almost no bargaining power over my fee. The attitude is – take it or leave it- there are lots of other composers who are waiting in line, or we can use library music… These are the the threats during any negotiation.
And no, I’m not some MySpace band. I did my undergrad at Berklee and I have a graduate degree in Film Scoring from UCLA. I have plenty of experience and, yes, my work is valuable. If there is a possibility to improve the lot of film and television composers, I’m behind it 100%!

By Stephen Ridley on November 17th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Joe – You said:

> We should define what a composer is, and understand the implications of a GUILD versus a UNION. <

Would you elaborate on the differences for us? I'm a young'in. Explain! :]

I'm curious – why is it that there isn't already a 'composers guild'?

I agree that we should pattern ourselves after writers and directors rather than the artisans / craftpeople who are typically associated with the 'union'.

By Chris Alpiar on November 17th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

This is one of the most excellent directions to see for the future of composers. While I could not be in attendance at the meeting I have had several detailed descriptions of what happened last night. Monumental indeed! It may be too little too late, but this idea of unionizing in the manner they plan (i.e. you can still take non-union jobs as long as you report them) is a first step towards preserving the existence of this craft _at_all_ and while it in itself is not the cure all, the ideas going forward will be. I also feel that lyricists have no place in this and that the Teamsters dues is way too high for the current state of composers, but those are small concerns against the tremendous momentum that this can create. The AMCL has my full support in every way I can offer!

By Joseph Renzetti on November 17th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

So if it’s failed before, that is, calling us a GUILD, should we give up? We “failed” on legal grounds not structural.

Question: Can we be in the Teamsters and call ourself a Guild? Answer needed here.

I know you are saying “what’s in a word?” Words are concepts, ideas

The reason I suggest a GUILD, the Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild of America, are capable of exercising very strong control in Hollywood because of their rigid system of intellectual property rights. Copyrights, remember those.

Guilds, are better at representing self-employed skilled artists, with ownership and control over the materials and tools they need to create music. Guilds are more like small business associations, with less in common with trade unions.

Had I written “Moon River” believe me I wouldn’t be typing to you guys.

I have written many songs for film, and the lyricists had no problems, nowhere near what we composers have.

Johnny Mercer had a contract on “Moon River,” trust me. p.s. I would never change that tune.

I need more evidence for us being tied into lyricists than offered so far.

GUILD – COMPOSERS ONLY

Good luck with it,

Joe R

By albert on November 17th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Well, this got interesting. My original post simply asked why a musician would want to be part of the Teamsters. And yes, the absurd reference to Beck was just that. I am immediately jumped on as being from Fox news. I should have known better. I grew up in Detroit. Have you been there lately? Its a UNION town. Everybody, and I mean everybody, in my family was/is in the auto industry and a member of the wonderful UAW. The result: really crappy, over-priced products that nobody wanted, and the rest of us paying for their “Cadillac” pensions. Music was my ticket out. Its amazing to me that the cliche, “Those who don’t understand history are bound to repeat it” is never adhered to. Its a universal truth. It WON”T be different THIS time.

To respond to a few of you: I am not angry. Not in the least. And I didn’t have anything “given” to me because I have been around awhile. To the clown who thinks I didn’t bust my ass to make a living, and had years where I just squeaked by, well you have no idea what you are talking about since you do not know me. Oh yeah, no last name. Have you ever heard of Anonymous Pamphleteering? (Clue: 1st Ammendment) Thats what this wonderful internet is best at. But I know you’d rather attack a person then discuss ideas.

Oh well.. life is tough. Sorry if I ruffled anyone’s feathers as it does appear true that pretty much all of you are in the same flock. (its that anti-diversity, disguised as diversity thing) I do sincerely wish all of you the best in your endeavors. And after you pass this, which it sounds like will surely happen, and the Teamsters arbitrate your hourly rate (and WHY should you make more than their truck drivers?), there will still be outrageously talented individuals doing fantastic work and getting hired because of it. NOT because Jimmy Hoffa the 5th is forcing them to. btw, whatever happened to The Musicians Union? Shouldn’t they be handling this? Or, aren’t they thuggish enough?

By Keith on November 17th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I never suggested that you ever squeaked by. It was hard then, it’s hard now. But there was a structure in place back in the day whereby if you did good work, you were duly compensated. That no longer exists except at the highest levels. I have no idea who you are or what your credentials are, only that you appear to have contempt for younger composers who want to improve their working conditions. Perhaps I misjudged you based on your Glenn Beck comment. I come from a family of conservative Republicans so I’m a little overly sensitive to the tired rhetoric from that side of the isle. Yes, I’ve been to Detroit. My whole family is from there on both sides.
Unions are still a good idea, they just need to be revised for the current economic and labor conditions. If we can’t all meet somewhere in the middle we’re not going to solve the problems facing our society. However, it’s still good to have a heated debate from the polar extremes. Speak your mind, my brother! I’ll just go put on my clown wig now…

By Chris on November 17th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Does anyone know if there is anyplace to get more specifics about what questions were asked at the meeting and what the answers were? The specifics that have been posted up to this point at the AMCL site leave something to be desired. A transcript or webcast of the meeting would be great for those that can’t attend.

In the above discussion, one thing really struck me…where Chris Tedesco mentions that he is “tired of hearing the whoas of you guys – I’m sick of watching my recording work done out of town or done non union here in town.” I’m not suggesting I’m against the idea of unionizing composers but clearly there will be limits to what a union can do for us, as proven by the struggles of the AFM and codified by Chris Tedesco’s comment. Chris-no slight to you intended-I just think your comment points out that there is no holy grail to being treated fairly-even if you are union member.

Further I wonder how a union will really help anyone working in the B and C leagues, like many cable shows with a wide variety of producers who (in my opinion) will really have no interest in becoming a signatory to any union we might form. I wonder if this will mostly help those in the A leagues and whose clients are more likely (and more used to) becoming signatories of the various guilds. These are just some of the questions I have about this. I think there does have to be some cost to benefit ratio in all of this. Meaning, I wouldn’t want to join the union and part with $1000 a year just for the privilege of being in the union. If there was a real benefit for me and my work then it would make sense. If it simply means I would have to report all of my non-union work and reap no reward then that simply doesn’t make economic sense. Unless maybe I could continue to do the non-union work and pay dues and be a part of decent health insurance or some kind of pension program that I simply contribute to directly. I say this as I think there are a whole lot of independent production companies who will simply want nothing to do with this. They aren’t used to dealing with guilds (meaning they don’t use DGA or WGA people already) and it will be just one more pain in the ass for them which they won’t want to deal with. Many of these companies produce tons of cable shows as well as smaller network shows and syndicated programming. Is there a plan of some sort to bring these hundreds (thousands) of companies on board? I think that would be a real challenge. Will it be up to the individual composers who work for them to try and get them to be signatories? I doubt that would prove very successful if that’s the case. What’s more, the last thing I would want to do is push MORE productions companies into using library music. I have some reservations that if there is an effort made to get these production companies to become signatories that SOME (of course not all) would just tell us to “F” off and might just start using canned music for more and more projects. There are certain unintended consequences that are too difficult to predict in things like this and to the best of our abilities it makes sense to think about what those unintended consequences could be. My concerns might not pan out at all and everything could be just great or it is possible that things get worse and not better. I think the struggles the AFM have had to deal with over the past several years are important to pay attention to. Again-I’m not anti union by any means (I’m an AFM member) but I would want to have these concerns addressed before becoming a member.

Again, I don’t mean to put the kybosh on any of this. In many ways it’s very exciting and maybe a great thing BUT…is anyone else concerned about what kinds of shows would really benefit from all of this and which ones wouldn’t. I wonder if there isn’t a large part of the composer population which simply won’t have much to gain. If anyone has any specific info or answers from the meeting that addresses some of my concerns that would be great to hear.

By alan elliott on November 17th, 2009 at 2:38 pm

we want to thank everybody for their time and energy last night. we had nearly 450 folks and tho we didn’t ask for it… almost 200 folks SIGNED UNION CARDS (and we were only passing them out to show people what they looked like!).

it’s a long journey… but… if we can get behind the idea of creating a community that values music and doesn’t screw each other by undercutting… we can get this together faster than we think.

i urge EVERYBODY to start talking this up. people are hearing us. they know we deserve better… and they are waiting for us to say it out loud.

people inside our world: students, musicians, studio execs., composers- EVERYBODY- need to feel what was in the room last night: we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

if anybody wants to come and pitch in- send us an email. we are her to make this happen.

info@theamcl.org

By Gael MacGregor on November 17th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

For those in an uproar about what any contract negotiations via the Teamsters and the studios, producers, etc. will include, y’all need to step back a few paces. We are nowhere near that yet. We first have to get the word out to other composers, set up steering committees and discuss, discuss, discuss amongst ourselves. As Dayan said to the group, the Teamsters will only negotiate what we bring to them as what we need and want. When they organized the casting directors (something pretty much everyone said was impossible), no minimums were set because the CD consensus was that they didn’t want minimums imposed yet (or perhaps ever). That was honored by the Teamsters in negotiations.

WE have the power to decide what we want, how much we want, and what we do NOT want, but we have to come together to actually agree to TALK with each other and develop a real community; otherwise, the Teamsters won’t go to bat for us.

To address the “no press” aspect: the article for FMM was written by a composer who attended the meeting as a composer, not as a journalist, and was doing what all of us were admonished to do — get the word out to other composers so we could move forward as a community. Whether via email, blog, phone calls, conversation over coffee or whatever, all were also encouraged to communicate with other professional colleagues, including agents, producers, etc. Folks need to know we’re serious about gaining some respect and parity in our industry. That this composer is fortunate to have a forum such as Film Music Magazine that will put forth his writings isn’t the same as having a non-composer journalist writing an article for Variety.

There was no video or audio taping allowed because the organizers wanted to make sure everyone there felt free to speak their minds without feeling they’d show up on YouTube or jeopardizing their professional relationships. According to my hubby (a union coordinator/organizer), who also attended part of the meeting, this is normal procedure to keep management from intimidating anyone in the efforts to unionize.

Some other salient points made:

* For twice as much music being demanded for an hour-long prime time TV show, composers are currently paid (on average) $14,000 vs. the $35,000 they were paid in 1979 (which would be $104,117 in 2009 $$$). Conversely, writers received $8,655 for their hour-long teleplays in 1979, but are now paid $32,700 for the same (on average). Guess who had the union (and calling it a guild doesn’t change things at the bargaining table).

* In the ’80s, the studio/network paid for the orchestra/musicians at AFM scale, the arrangements, copying, recording, messenger, cartage, rentals and everything else required to turn the composition into reality. Composers were being paid to COMPOSE, not to be engineers, conductors, editors, etc. Everything happened at the session and producers got to see how much work was involved in the process. There was a level of respect missing today — producers seem to think that all a composer has to do today is push the “cue #9” button on their computer to spit something out. (In the past, the studios foot the bill, and they got the work-made-for-hire. W4H is a standard copyright issue, not necessarily something that can be negotiated or dispensed with, since we’d be in the same sort of situational ’employee’ situation that covers all the other unionized participants in film & TV (not being considered independent contractors as is currently the notion). It is similar to working for a company, inventing something while in their employ using materials and space for which the employer is paying, and the company keeping the rights to the invention because they were not only paying you to create it, but paying all expenses that culminated in making the idea a reality.) Unfortunately, we still have the W4H, but are paying all the bills with the package deals, PLUS creating free music (demos and temps of cues) and unlimited rewrites/re-records. So the studio still gets the W4H, but isn’t footing the bill. A union contract could set standards that would put that fiscal burden back on the studio, so there would at least be some sort of ownership justification other than “we want it.”

All of these things need to be discussed within our community, a consensus on the major issues brought back to the Teamsters and have a continuing dialogue between the two groups BEFORE we go onto the process of setting up the negotiating points and send the Teamsters in to negotiate. As Dayan pointed out, WE need to educate them our needs and wants, just as the casting directors did during their (successful) efforts to unionize, in order for them to effectively negotiate on our behalf.

Our task RIGHT NOW is to agree to communicate, disagree, agree and build our community into a juggernaut that refuses to continue to sit by idly and watch it continue to decline into oblivion.

SOMETHING needs to be done, and with the Teamsters’ expertise in the fields of film/TV and organizing the workers within the industry, it’s not just about the drivers (a short-sighted comment, since each unionized craft has different minimums based on their respective, separate negotiations). It’s not just about minimums, but about health care, working conditions (including reasonable delivery deadlines), pensions and other benefits that every other person in our industry receives (except for PAs and extras). WE have to decide what we want, and the only way to do that is to talk with each other.

We have to stop screwing each other over and acting like prostitutes fighting over a street corner and stop standing alone. If we don’t come together, we’ll deserve what we get (what we have and less). And YES, lyricists ARE in this mix. Lyricists who write for TV and/or film (such as theme songs, non-licensed opening/closing title songs) need to be covered as well, since they are participants in the creation of the works being written, recorded and fiscally exploited. I’ve worked with many composers and lyricists for over three decades, and in all those years have encountered only two lyricists who didn’t also contribute in some way to the musical composition (whether or not they received official credit). Anyone involved in the work’s creation deserves to be a part of the process.

On the other side of things is the murky water of the PROs. The #1 question posed of the committee was what effect this would have for the PROs. The answer? We don’t know.

Something to keep in mind here… if you want lyricists to stand up for composer rights and equitable treatment by the PROs, composers need to stand up for lyricist rights in film/TV composition. As the panel said more than once, the main reason strikes fail is when picket lines are crossed. Musicians crossed writers’ picket lines because in the past, writers had crossed those of the musicians in their fights; producers (some of whom were also writers) crossed their own picket lines during the lengthy WGA fight and precious little was gained and much more lost.

Dayan stressed the common union themes: unity and solidarity. We stand together or we all fall.

What was touched on, but not stressed emphatically enough, was how long this will take. This is not for the faint-hearted or those with a Sesame Street/MTV attention span. We’re looking at YEARS to get this to the bargaining table with the studios, so don’t expect it to happen overnight, or in a few months or even in a year or so. Be in this for the long haul.

Alf Clausen and Bruce Broughton don’t need to stick their necks out for us, but they have. They haven’t needed to bust their behinds for several years getting us to this point, but they HAVE. They see the bigger picture. They see the ‘pros’ that far outweigh any ‘cons’ in unionization.

Unionization delivers context, which gives bargaining power. A composer’s union gives the AFM context and hope for a betterment of that union. A composer’s union puts us into the position for serious dialogues with WGA, DGA members, showrunners, etc. for the betterment of all the creative aspects of our industry.

Dayan said it best: A union contract doesn’t end the issues but is the start. It takes a long time to get good contract.

It’s up to us to commit to the PROCESS in order to get the Teamsters to actually represent us at the bargaining table. They have resources and bargaining power we do not have. We can’t shame the studios into doing the right thing, and while it took four-and-a-half years to get the casting directors their first contract, they GOT ONE and are working on there second one now. They fought the independent contractor mindset and won. While CDs are at the top of the process and we’re usually near the end, we both get the same whine: “We don’t have any money.” CDs because sometimes all the funding isn’t in when the casting process begins, composers because money that was (or should have been) earmarked for the music was diverted elsewhere due to some overage or another during filming. The point was made that there’s already money in the line item budgets that should be ours that we never see because it gets shifted elsewhere. A union contract provides for the money to be budgeted at the top for specific jobs, all of which goes where it belongs (instead of being hidden somewhere to be dumped into another column).

We have to move the rock up the hill together, folks. Yes, we’re going to disagree on certain points and what is/is not necessary in the fight, but at least we’ll be moving in a direction, instead of sitting isolated in our studios for 96 hours a week trying to crank out what amounts to yet another $20/hour (if you’re lucky) gig, and yet another (free) rewrite.

As Gary Tucker (casting director) put it: “If we could do it, you can do it.” It will, however, take a lot of dedication, effort and speaking to our peers. The DGA told the CDs and the Teamsters they’d never be able to unionize the CDs, but they did it, despite the fact that the studios (as they’ll attempt to do to us as well) tried to pit them against each other, get them to agree to non-affiliated benefits and then negotiate with everyone separately, and anything else to keep them from actually organizing.

Why NOT a union? Unionization contributes to industry respect and better working conditions. If that’s in question, just remember that composers are getting 86% LESS than in 1979 to compose twice as much music, and having to take on all the additional technical duties as well as expenses in the package deals. It’s only going to get worse unless we band together and move forward toward common goals. Unionized/guilded folks are getting more money and benefits (including health care and pensions), even if things aren’t perfect for them. We got nothin’ kids, so don’t have a lot to lose. Go find health coverage for $83/month (Teamsters monthly dues).

And on a more altruistic level… Don’t just do this for yourselves, but for those who will come after us. The Teamsters will fight hard, but WE have to organize ourselves toward common goals. We need to start looking at ourselves as a family, not as individuals. While we can still retain our individuality, we need to commit to work toward common ground or we’re all sunk.

As for some of the Q&A stuff:

Q. How will the PROs be affected?
A. We don’t know yet.

Q. Can we work non-union shows?
A. Yes, but you’ll need to contact the union so they can try to organize the production. [IMHO: the more shows/productions are contacted for organizing purposes, the more seriously our unionization will be taken, and the more signatories will eventually come to the table.]

Q. Could a show be mostly union but leave us out of the loop?
A. Composers would automatically be covered/included in any agreement the Teamsters contract with a production or studio.

Q. Should we set minimums?
A. That’s something you will need to decide and vote on amongst yourselves. You tell us what you want and we will try to negotiate those points. We will try to guide you as to the workability of your goals, but you have to let us know your wants and needs.

Q. Assuming there are minimums set, what incentive is there for productions to pay more?
A. Minimums just set the floor, not the ceiling, and we can negotiate more. Robert DeNiro certainly isn’t working for the minimum SAG rate, but lesser-known actors are assured they’re not going to be working for $40 a day and a box lunch. Orchestrators set their own rates far above the normal AFM page rate. The Teamsters also have classes in how to negotiate deals.

Q. Why the Teamsters?
A. The WGA was contacted first, but they had their hands full with their fights and problems and suggested the Teamsters. It was a natural fit and after a few conversations felt we had someone to help champion our cause.

Q. What about strikes?
A. The Teamster’s last strike was for about a month in 1988, after the initial anti-union push via Reagan’s administration. It was an unsuccessful strike and we were locked out. The cost of any strike is huge — if it lasts more than a week, you often lose what is gained in a 3-year contract (the normal contract length in the film/TV industry). It should be noted, however, that the threat of all Teamsters going out on strike helped the casting directors to get their contract.

Q. How much will it cost studios, producers, networks, etc. to become signatories to a composer union contract?
A. Minimal, since (unlike other industry disciplines), there’s usually only one (maybe two) composers on a show. Composers are already getting benefits in line budgets on paper, even though they don’t actually receive them — they get shuffled around to pay for overages in other areas.

Q. Will music composed for advertisements, video games, exclusive web series, etc. be covered under a Teamsters contract?
A. Currently, the thought is no. It will, however, include lyricists to the extent to which they contribute to the creation of a musical work.

Q. Can we ‘particulate’ our functions to be covered (recordist, engineer, mixer, etc.) and have multiple classifications to cover all areas?
A. Yes. The CDs have different sub-classifications as well. Remember, though, the initial contract needs to be as palatable as possible to the studios, and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Q. What about the whole “independent contractor” thing?
A. Voluntary recognition from the studios is the goal, rather than going to the Labor Board, but should not be an impediment because there are precedents in other related film/TV professions.

Q. What will the main contract points be?
A. Don’t worry about those yet. You need to organize yourselves as a group first. Steering committees are the next step — perhaps one for the TV side and another for the film side. Volunteer to be on one and participate. Focus on small steps first. Get together in small groups to discuss the basic principles and desires. Filter that info back to the steering committees and the group as a whole.

Q. What about getting A-list composers to come on board? Why don’t we have any?
A. We do. You may not recognize some of them in this room, and others are having dialogues with their agents who are afraid of the whole unionization push because they don’t have any other experience than being the only one negotiating for their client. Realistically, though, why should they put their butts on the line unless the rank-and-file composers have come together as a group to show they’re serious about becoming organized? In the past they HAVE come forward and it hasn’t made much difference because there’s been no real, committed organization to back up the fight.

One composer brought up the “800 pound gorilla in the room” — the music libraries that are already undercutting composers. With a union contract in place for TV shows and film, however, the live musician provisions would be included, which means that while certain cues still might be able to be needle drops, the bulk would remain with the composers. With the glut of library music out there, it still isn’t the main source of music for film & TV because directors and supervisors want “perfect” fits and there’s nothing a director loves more than to know he/she “guided” the composer’s music or picked the song of their dreams to license from the newest baby band they “discovered.” Egos are involved — BIG ones. The libraries (some of which have been around for 50 years) would have more of the market share if they could stroke those egos.

Two things bothered me, however:

(1) Web series and other so-called “new” technology is not being addressed or covered. I’m not so worried about the advertising aspect of things because it truly is such a small part of the amount of work performed in comparison to film/TV. We do need to negotiate ahead of the technical curve, and so far the talk is geared toward old technology and business models. Networks and studios are trying to get all online, on demand and Internet streaming and airings to NOT be a “broadcast” of the show/film/music, and as such, performance royalties would be 100% lost in each of those arenas. We are also in a global economy, and with our technology, global creative partnerships. A new rock opera includes a composer in L.A., a composer/producer in Houston, an artist in Australia & a producer in Sweden; with tracks recorded in three countries. This is something we need to be looking at as well — how would contracts for a film/TV show with co-collaborators in other countries be handled?

(2) The other 800-pound gorillas in the room: the PROs. With SAG & AFTRA and the other unions/guilds, their residuals and/or royalties are paid directly from their unions. We have the third-party PROs who are already treating instrumental music as the bastard child to the vocal music. The very folks who claim to care about their rights are currently cheating composers out of income. We need to figure out just how those film/TV royalties will be paid (including foreign theatrical). Do we demand that the PROs start paying by HOW music is used instead of what KIND of music is used? What legal fights might occur if those royalty payments were put into the hands of our newly formed union within the Teamsters’ purvey? This is a serious matter with a lot of implications and some serious legal investigation needs to happen to clear what is very murky water.

Those concerns don’t sway me from the belief that a union is needed to protect the composers’ dwindling rights.

We need to band together, agree on common goals (even if we disagree on others) and stand in solidarity toward the betterment of our profession.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. While unionization doesn’t automatically create it, it certainly contributes to taking us seriously for the first time in almost 40 years.

Get involved. Stop whining and start advocating for your rights. Stop fearing Goliath and pull out your slingshot — after all, this time you’ll have the Teamsters’ battering ram right behind you. 😉

By Bob Safir on November 17th, 2009 at 5:49 pm

To Chris, who asked about the specifics of last night’s meeting:

There is no transcript or webcast. By design, the organizers wanted everyone to be be able to speak freely.

But you might be happy to know that everything you wrote about in your post above was exactly what was brought up last night. It’s almost as if YOU just wrote the transcript!

There are a ton of issues to deal with. We need to “start talking them up,” as Alan Elliot says in his post above. The good news is that all of us have just graduated from an environment in which all we could do was complain – to a situation in which we can actually do something about it.

It’s okay to be skeptical. It’s okay to ask any type of question. It will take some time and a lot of work to surface and address all of the issues that have developed of the last several years.

I encourage everyone to get on board (even if it is occasionally a bumpy ride).

– Bob

By Bob Safir on November 17th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Correction: there IS a transcript. Gael just posted it (her post) above. 🙂

Thanks, Gael, for filling in the details…

By Charles Wilkinson on November 17th, 2009 at 6:58 pm

It is time for a Teamster to make a comment. It seems to me there is a necessity to articulate in a very concise and compelling way why many people, including myself,believe that there is an essential and vital need for organized labor. The following may accomplish that purpose: There is a great struggle in our nation and throughout the world that has been continuous for as long as there has been a human race. People have always struggled in this very old world to gain sustenance from the ground, to provide themselves with warmth and shelter, and to protect themselves from others who might attempt to gain unfair dominion over them. This is the fundamental purpose of any union. This battle is larger than civil rights, gender, and nationality issues because it encompasses all of these and more. Collective bargaining is the most important feature of any union, though there are those who conclude that this procedure is an unreasonable intrusion into the rights of management. I tell you now that collective bargaining is the ultimate, most beautiful example of freedom of speech and democracy. Those who oppose this freedom would rather subject us to their opinions and judgements. They would prefer to make absolute and final decisions for us without our involvement and without our consent. These decisions would certainly affect our future, our childrens future, and generations that would follow. It is of the greatest importance then, that all members of any organization (or their representatives) come together and discuss in a very dignified and respectful way, how best to strengthen that organization, to clearly define duties and responsibilities and to make certain that every individual is rewarded adequately and fairly for their accomplishments. Do not, because of your own fears or intimidation from others relinquish this important freedom that has been handed to us by generations that have gone before. Many people have worked hard to acquire this freedom and some have died. This struggle will continue with or without us but it is my passionate conviction that we should. that we must play a part in this important endeavor. Charles Wilkinson

By Gael MacGregor on November 17th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Not exactly a transcript or direct quotes (unless noted), I just put together a lot of hastily scribbled notes. 😉

By Joseph Renzetti on November 17th, 2009 at 8:46 pm

BTW – A composer’s GUILD should not include music supervisors either.

By Mike on November 18th, 2009 at 6:32 am

I’d like to know the names of 5 current “Hollywood” big budget movie composers with a major release in the last 5 YEARS…Who think this is a good idea….OR 3 TV composers on major PRIME TIME currently running shows who want this union to move forward.

I’ll wait……

By Joseph Renzetti on November 18th, 2009 at 10:46 am

I’d like to hear from the new generation of composers. What do they need, want?

By alan elliott on November 18th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

to Mike (above)…
if you were at the meeting, you would have seen MAJOR reps from tv and film… we don’t need these guys- we have them. when we canvassed the community two years ago, we have over 85% of the big names. we;ll get them. what we need is YOU. we need you to come and be positive and be helpful and try to improve our community. come help, matt. we need you and all the other matts…

By Stephen Ridley on November 18th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Joe I can speak to that. I’m one of those younger composers who really suffers from the C-list producer’s mentality of “no upfront pay for composers – only royalties and credit”. What I want / need (to answer your question) is to be able to say ‘no’ to these guys without losing the job. Right now, I’m not able to say ‘no’ because I know that there’s another guy out there who is only 1 year out of school (as opposed to 6) who is willing to do that job for the credit alone. By organizing (and giving those new composers good incentives to join the organization), we create an environment in which every serious young composer can insist on a minimum scale and actually receive it. I also want a way to differentiate myself as a trained composer who understands the orchestra and how to work with real people – not just software. I think the union could help in these respects.

By Mark Henderson on November 19th, 2009 at 8:05 am

Any chance that as this develops there might be some webstreaming function that would allow those of us a bit too far to commute to LA some interaction? Or just to watch? I can only speak for myself, but as a non LA area composer, I feel a bit out of the loop.

By Chris on November 19th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

There does need to be some kind of out reach that enables composers from anywhere to access any kind of on going discussion. Considering the way people interact now, the union movement needs to embrace the technology that enables people to share ideas easily and from anywhere. The way the AMCL website is set up is very old school and not particularly functional. Why isn’t there a blog or comment board already set up on the AMCL site directly? The meetings need to be recorded in some way. There needs to be a way to input ideas easily and directly to the organizers via the website. This IS the way things work now. This is what’s great and useful about the web. It should be put to use and embraced by the people who are organizing the union movement. I think it would really make a big impact in getting the message out there…

By Phil on November 20th, 2009 at 2:45 am

I was very excited to attend the meeting. I left the meeting kind of in a daze though. Since that meeting I have felt angry, depressed and somewhat powerless to change the circumstances that we composers face today. We have all screwed it up so badly by not organizing a long time ago. I guess that I always felt that once I made it to a higher level as a composer that things would be better… what I heard at the meeting was that we are all in the same boat together. Those who have the better paying shows are still doing it for little pay by the end of the project. On many projects I would just quit counting how many hours I had put in because it was just too depressing to be honest with myself that the guy working at McDonlad’s had better benefits than I do and made more per hour. WE HAVE ALL BEEN IN DENIAL!!! SAY IT!!! We all have a responsibility to fix this thing and get it right. The composer who has been doing this for forty years and those that are just starting out, we need to make this right for today and generations to come. Free is not a business last time I checked… We all need to get together as a unified group or we will have nothing left to try and save. and…. if you’re one of the ones thinking this doesn’t apply to me, you are wrong! It applies to all of us. Do you think things would be the way they are today if we would’ve had a good union for the last 39 years? Tell every composer you know to be at the next meeting and maybe we can save our livelihoods. TOGETHER WE STAND, ALONE WE PERISH!!!

By Brian on November 24th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Let me get thi straight: you need a union so you can all b employees, and then everything you do will automatically be work-made-for-hire, no negotiations over that issue any more.

You need a union to set standards because you are afraid of what to ask for in negotiations and you don’t want to hire an attorney to represent you because youre afraid of them, too.

In 1971 when the union struck, nobody cared–they all got their musi from Europe.

Go ahead, be less independent. But will any of this increase the quality of the product? Little of the music written since the 21st century began is any good. Either it’s Zimmer-template or 100 musicians making as much noise as possible.

Once Schifrin, Williams, even Horner die, it’s over. Long live the 16 year old with guitar hero! Long live Mariachi scores, long live Arabic moaning.

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