Last night in Burbank, approximately 435 people from the film composing community turned out for the Composers Unionization information meeting that was hosted by the Teamsters Local 399, and moderated by composers Jim DiPasquale, Bruce Broughton, Alf Clausen, and Alan Elliott. Teamsters union rep Steve Dayan was also on hand to answer questions about the proposed Teamsters/Composers relationship.
Online, in print, and in the private circles of our community, there is no shortage of opinions on this issue, and in some cases the battle lines have already been drawn. Up to now, I have personally held off on making my own ruminations public or offering my own opinions on this issue of composer unionization. In addition, the values that were the impetus for me creating SCOREcast in the first place have also motivated me to stay temporarily neutral in an effort to help to facilitate a complete and all-encompasing conversation amongst this community. I’ve tried to keep my comments as unbiased and as neutral as possible – mostly because in anticipation of last night’s meeting, we didn’t know anything about what was being proposed, but also because I simply felt I didn’t know what the right answer was.
I’m still not sure I do, and so I’m still willing to listen. However, while theoretically the idea of a composers union sounds like a swell idea — and one that is arguably long overdue — unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), last night I came away with more questions than answers.
ISSUE #1: The mantra of the panel, and especially that of Steve Dayan, the Teamsters representative, was that unionizing under a collective bargaining agreement was simply “The Right Thing to Do”. We heard several times that “it is not about money, it is not about prestige, it is simply the right thing to do”.
My Question: Why is it the “right thing to do”? Nobody ever followed that statement up with a hard argument as to the “righteous” need for a union. If it is the right thing to do, then why did I feel string-armed the second I walked through the door, signed -in, and was handed a “yellow” card (Teamsters representation authorization cards)? Add to that, we were all told several times during the meeting that those cards were “only to obtain information. Fill them out if you want, but you do not need to.”
ISSUE #2: The panel stated numerous times that they’ve been working on this proposal to bring to the community for four years now. They explained that they’ve had “plenty of time” to explore and analyze all options, and that the Teamsters is the clear choice in organizing composers.
My Question: Why then did the panel seem so ill-prepared for several of the attendees’ most basic questions about numbers and constituency? When asked by an “A-list” composer last night what they would define as “critical mass”, none of the panel members could answer. In fact, several of them actually looked at one another as if to say, “I was under the impression there’d be no math during this debate!” After four years of intensely scrutinizing all of the angles to composer unionization, I would have thought the questions of “How many legitimate working composers are there now?” would be a fairly simply data point to produce to the attendees.
ISSUE #3: Steve Dayan mentioned more than once that “agents, managers, and producers are against this, and will fight it with everything they have.”
My Question: Has anyone asked those people what they think? It’s too convenient to ask those people to all “leave the room”, and then talk about them as if they are the enemy. I happen to like the people I’ve enjoyed collaborations with over the years. They have become friends — friends that want to see me succeed as much they strive for success themselves. To vilify the very people responsible for giving us the majority of our work seems like getting started out on the wrong foot.
ISSUE #4: Steve Dayan also made a comment on the heels of an attendee’s (mistaken) suggestion that there weren’t “many A-list composers here”. Dayan said that the organization effort cannot start at the “top of your industry. It has to start with you guys.”
My Question: Why do the people who are trying to break into the business have to be the ones to shoulder the cost for something that the previous generation has been 100% content to abide with all these years? If unionization is “the right thing to do” (See issue #1 above), wouldn’t ANY composer — no matter what stage they are at in the game — put on the war paint, damn the torpedoes, and come out in support of such a righteous cause? We look at those men and women as our leaders — our Generals. If they don’t love the craft enough to stand for change, then as those who look up to them, why should we? (As a personal aside, it has already been reported across the internet on several sites, so I don’t mind repeating it here: Chris Young, Mike Post, Rick Marvin, Lisa Coleman, Danny Lux, Ed Sheamur, Richard Bellis, George Clinton, and several other “A-list” composers attended this meeting. I’m sure they all have a lot going on in their schedules. But they were there last night.)
ISSUE #5: The panel framed their enthusiasm for a union with the Teamsters around the fact that the Teamsters were able to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for casting directors four years ago in Hollywood.
My Question: Why is this accepted as an “apples to apples” comparison? Wouldn’t a more appropriate comparison be “actors and composers” or “writers and composers”? The writers have a union — it’s called the WGA (which, by the way, we were told doesn’t want to deal with us composer-types!). Casting directors are responsible for “casting” a cast. Composers don’t cast anything… we GET cast. We ARE the cast. We are the musical cast of the show. So, that analogy doesn’t hold water.
ISSUE #6: While we are on the subject of casting directors, there was a gentleman that was there to speak from the perspective of the casting directors, and he had a few nice things to say. One of those things was, “All that casting directors were looking for was some recognition and medical and pension benefits.”
My Question: Really? That’s it? Okay… then maybe we ARE comparable groups of people, because since the panel made it clear that minimums are simply “a floor, and you will be able to negotiate a higher rate if you’d like”, then all that is really left IS medical, pension, and recognition by the NLRB. Sweet!
So, with that then, here is what I propose: Since I already pay dues to a great organization called “The Society of Composers and Lyricists” (which I found out last month at their membership meeting is now comprised of over 3,000 members), why doesn’t the SCL just take out a group health plan that would cover all of those people? I’m pretty certain if there had been a Blue Cross/Blue Shield rep at the meeting last night, he/she would have had to try and keep the saliva from dripping out of the corners of his/her mouth.
Don’t get me wrong — last night was incredible. As someone who is in absolute love with this community, I was overjoyed, not only by the attendance of this meeting but also by all of the views expressed. I’m sure that this is only one of many conversations that will be had over the next several months — maybe even years — about this issue. My only hope is that people do not get amped up about belonging to “a cause,” but rather, with skeptical optimism, carefully weigh out the long-term pros and cons of such a major decision.
What we need more than anything, rather than jumping on a bandwagon, is a more robust discussion. I openly invite anybody on the AMCL steering committee, or any studio people (producers, directors, heads of music, etc.) to grant an interview to SCOREcast to address these issues.
As for the rest of you: SPEAK. TALK. QUESTION. COMMENT.