“There will be no press credentials at all this year,” said IATSE spokesperson Katherine Orloff. “It’s a new policy, but it will be the standing policy from now on.” Daily updates on the proceedings, she said, will be posted on the convention’s website at IATSEconvention.com.
Asked why the press was being barred, she said: “There isn’t any reason for the press to sit there for a week. Anything that’s newsworthy that comes out of it will be available.”
This year’s convention will be held at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, FL, from July 17-21, where IATSE president Matt Loeb is expected to be re-elected. The convention will be proceeded by four days of general executive board meetings.
IATSE isn’t alone in barring reporters from its convention. The DGA convention later this month and the SAG-AFTRA convention in October also don’t allow reporters to attend.
Claiming that “the entire visual effects industry now operates on race-to-the bottom conditions,” IATSE president Matt Loeb has extended “an open invitation to all members of the VFX community to offer assistance.” The offer comes in the wake of this month’s bankruptcy of ARC Productions in Toronto, and allegations that Nitrogen Studios didn’t pay overtime to animators on Sony’s recent release Sausage Party, which was shot in British Columbia.
The union says it has offered to work with former ARC employees “to help them with paperwork required by the government to claim a portion of unpaid wages,” and with the former employees of ARC and Nitrogen by “arranging a meeting with our legal counsel to determine if there is a process by which we can move forward.”
“Visual effects workers are in an untenable situation, and something’s gotta give,” Loeb said in a statement posted on the union’s website. “IATSE does not want to see this situation continue to go unchecked, so we urge those in the VFX community to contact us for support and assistance. These workers deserve better.”
The union says it’s been “working closely with VFX artists for years, many of whom have relayed stories of unnecessary hardship and unfair treatment in the workplace. Many VFX artists have voiced an interest in union representation, but due to a number of factors they have expressed — including the temporary nature of their work and its portability – standing up and uniting has been challenging.”
IATSE says it’s “familiar with the situation and is encouraging these workers to reach out and begin the conversation.”
The union is a bit late to the Sausage Party dispute, however, as Unifor Local 2000, a union representing media workers in British Columbia, recently filed a complaint with the B.C. Ministry of Labor’s Employment Standards Branch on behalf of the animators.
Nitrogen said the claims are without merit. “Our production adhered to all overtime laws and regulations, as well as our contractual obligations with our artists.”
Arc Productions, the studio behind the Thomas & Friends animated kids’ show, shut down its operations August 2. “We regret to inform you that Arc is experiencing significant financial difficulties and a liquidity crisis,” CEO Tom Murray wrote in a letter to his staff. “Despite the very best efforts of management to find a solution to this financial emergency, we have not been able to resolve this matter with our lender.”
Arc was formerly Starz Animation until it was bought by a group of Canadian investors in 2011.
Tea Party activist Norm Novitsky’s In Search of Liberty, a crowdfunded feature film about the U.S. Constitution, has been shut down in Savannah, GA, after 30 members of his crew walked off the job. The group, made up mostly of students and recent graduates from the Savannah College of Art and Design, had been seeking union representation, living wages and reclassification as employees rather than independent contractors.
The film, which stars Food Network host Bobby Deen, son of reality star Paula Deen, bills itself as a “a straight-to-DVD release that tells the story of a captivating statesman from America’s past” who takes a present-day family on a series of wild adventures that “opens their eyes to the origins and importance of the U.S. Constitution, the degree to which it is under attack and what can be done to save it.
IATSE has filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming union reps were subjected to threats and acts of intimidation during their efforts to organize the workers. A member of the crew is scheduled to present evidence Monday to the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor that crew members were not paid minimum wages and did not receive overtime pay.
Novitsky did not return calls for comment on this report.
“The conduct of this company is utterly disgraceful,” said Darla McGlamery, business rep of IATSE Cinematographers Guild Local 600 in Atlanta. “These courageous young people have sought only to be treated as industry professionals consistent with the employment and labor laws of the United States.”
Said IATSE internal rep Scott Harbinson, who led the drive to unionize the production: “The irony and hypocrisy of a Tea Party activist like Norm Novitsky misclassifying employees as independent contractors in order to push payroll tax burdens from themselves on to employees – all the while seeking a $300,000 incentive from the taxpayers of the state of Georgia – is lost on no one.
“This is a million-dollar film by a Tea Party activist whose crew was probably 90% kids from the Savannah College of Art and Design,” Harbinson told Deadline. “They were very excited to work on a real movie. But when they took the job, they got an ugly taste of what the real world can look like. One of the older students let us know that they were abusing the kids – not just with the pay and conditions, but verbally abusing them. Many of these kids were making less than minimum wage and had to sign deal memos saying they that were independent contractors and declaring that they were not members of the union.”
Harbinson, an IATSE organizer for 28 years, flew into town last Saturday and that day received cards from 26 crew members authorizing the union as their bargaining representative. But when the film company, BlueNile Films, refused to recognize the union, he said, “We directed the entire crew to convince the company that we represent them by not showing up for work.”
The crew, most in their early 20s, went on strike Sunday. Later that day, the company then sent them emails threatening to have them arrested if they didn’t return company equipment in their possession.
“We understand that you have broken your contract as of today,” the emails said. “We will be doing an inventory of all the equipment and other possessions of the production company. If you have any items that belong to the production company, all items in your possession must be returned by 3 pm, July 3rd, 2016. Any items not returned will be reported to authorities as stolen, including cars, keys, walkie-talkies, prepaid debit cards, etc.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Harbinson said. “So I told the kids to bring all the stuff to our hotel. Darlalogged all the equipment and gave the kids a receipt. They gave the director of photography a picture car – an SUV – and he brought it over to hotel parking lot and gave us the key. He was scared. I then called Chip Lane, the show’s production manager, and told him that the crew had turned the property over to us and to come pick it up. He told me he was going to have me arrested and that the police were on their way and that I’d ‘never see the outside of a prison gate.’”
Harbinson piled all the equipment into the SUV, wrapped the key in tin foil to defeat the car’s anti-locking device, tossed it on the seat and shut the door, locking everything inside so it couldn’t be stolen.
When the police and the production manager arrived at the hotel, Harbinson said, “The cop looked like he wanted to arrest me. I asked him to hear my side of the story, and explained the timeline to him. He said, ‘Where are the keys?’ I said I locked them in the car. Chip was screaming and waving his arms. He told the cop that there are no other keys. The officer seemed amused by all this.”
The policeman said, “I have no basis to arrest y’all,” and a few hours later, a locksmith showed up to unlock the SUV.
That Monday was a holiday, but the union set about to make sure the company wouldn’t be able to find “scabs” to replace the striking students. After word came back to organizers the company was looking for replacements, they told local IATSE members to go ahead and accept the jobs — with the understanding they would not show up for work.
“They were dark Tuesday and Wednesday,” Harbinson said, “and they finally issued call sheets for Thursday. And then the wheels came off. They had 70 extras and a band and a camera crane all set for a big day of shooting, and they were very smug thinking they’d beaten these kids.”
It didn’t take long for the film’s producers to realize they’d been punked, and that no one was going to show up to take the strikers’ jobs — even though some of the “scabs” they’d thought they’d hired had been promised five times what the original crew had been making.
On Thursday, the company shuttered the production. “The union is shutting the production down and we will not be filming anytime in the foreseeable future,” the company told the crew in an email yesterday. “We appreciate your effort over the past couple of days, and you will be paid for the rate agreed upon for the days you were on board.”
The young crew lost a few days of work but gained a valuable experience.
“This is the most rewarding organizing effort that I can ever remember,” Harbinson said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted – with a contract – but it expressed the fundamental mission of labor, which is to empower workers to stand up for their rights. These kids are the true heroes of this story, and every one of those kids now has a card with the IATSE. And I’m willing to bet that they are going to be some of the best members we’ve ever had.”
A day after ending one walkout, IATSE has launched another. The union today went on strike against the producers of a City National Bank commercial shooting in Los Angeles. IATSE is telling its members not to render services for the shoot’s production company, Powershot Productions, until a deal on a union contract is reached.
“We remain hopeful that the company will respect its crew and sign a contract,” the union said in a statement.
The strike is just the latest in the IATSE’s ongoing campaign to organize nonunion productions in the city. Last week, the union led a walkout of safety trainers at the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund. That strike was settled Tuesday, and the instructors returned to work.
The House of Representatives has approved a bill that would crack down on producers who bring unqualified directors and movie crews into the country to take the jobs of American film workers.
The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to require the Department of Homeland Security to give the DGA, IATSE and management’s AMPTP a copy of any decision regarding the approval or denial of O-1 and O-2 visa applications of foreign directors and crews seeking to work on films and TV shows shot in the U.S. Currently, the unions and the AMPTP only have the right to offer their advice about the qualifications of those visa applicants, but are not informed about whether the applications were approved or not.
The bill, known as the Oversee Visa Integrity with Stakeholder Advisories Act (H.R. 3636), received the support of the DGA and IATSE, which called it an “important step in providing a level of transparency that will help ensure the security and integrity of the… O-1B and O-2 visa program.” Administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the program admits foreign directors, members of the director’s team, and craftspeople with “extraordinary ability” to work temporarily in the U.S on motion picture production.
“While the vast majority of those seeking O-1B and O-2 visas use the programs appropriately,” the unions said in a statement, “for years we have expressed our concerns that the USCIS has been approving fraudulent applications that have not been subject to any review, and has refused to even notify us when insufficient applications are approved over our valid objections – undermining the statutory mandate and preventing us from fulfilling our obligations to Congress in this very important area. By requiring the USCIS to give us notice of a final visa ruling, we will be better able to assist them in identifying fraud and abuse, as well as protecting our national security.”
The bill must still be approved by the Senate and signed by the president before becoming law.