Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” I tend to agree with that sentiment, and it’s a good thing I do… because I don’t think that the AMCL wants me very much.
Although the actions of the AMCL Steering Committee—the eleven men who have taken it upon themselves to spearhead the effort to unionize composers in Los Angeles under the Teamsters Local 399 banner—have run a somewhat confusing gamut from ill-prepared to scatter-brained to misinformed to moderately victorious, one thing is particularly clear: The AMCL and the Teamsters Union have zero intentions of unionizing ALL composers. They only want the “working ones”.
What does that mean? AMCL Steering Committee member Mike Post, one of the most successful (if not THE most successful) composers in television history, said at the last AMCL meeting at the WGA that he will not “be part of a union that is run by non-working people”. Well, so far, the Teamsters have not been too picky about who has turned in one of those all-important orange cards that Steve Dayan makes certain to mention every time he speaks into a microphone. I’d like to meet the poor bastard that the AMCL is paying to make sure that each one of those orange cards was turned in by a composer who is… working. He must be one hell of a researcher!
Which leads me to my first of many questions: What IS a “working composer”, anyway? Is it someone who is doing commercials? Working on a short film? Is it someone who only composes a feature film score once every 18 months… maybe in-between concert music commissions? What is the AMCL’s definition of a “working composer”? Because let’s face it—there’s “working” like Mike Post works, and then there’s “working” like the rest of us work. Pretty different stories, methinks.
The AMCL has stated that they are “in the process of” determining what they deem is a working composer. They’ve stated that they are in the midst of “looking into how many composers are currently working”. Who are they kidding? That’s not even possible. Laughable, yes, but possible? No. They’ve also stated that the way in which they are going about documenting the number of productions that are potential union signatories is to scour through IMDb and single out every production that has a casting director attached. “If there is a casting director working on a production, surely those productions will also have a composer”, said Steve Dayan at the first AMCL meeting at Pickwick Gardens in Burbank.
In that case, I hereby make it public that I’ll buy a pizza for the first person to go over and educate the Teamsters on how movies are being made these days in Hollywood. They seem to think that each film being made has the budget to hire someone to come in and set up a process by which they will audition actors for their roles. Oh. My. God.
These things seem to me—you know… ME: The guy that doesn’t currently have a primetime network franchise that he’s composing for—to be Unionizing 101. A clarified mission, realistic goals, and attainable objectives all seem to me like things you might want to hammer out BEFORE you get a large number of people together and pitch a union to them. But, that’s just me.
The recent “confusion” over the AMCL’s focus when they start negotiations with the AMPTP is another thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s like the Bush White House every time we all get together in a group in front of the AMCL dais: They tell us one thing, and then a week later, they circulate information that stands in contrast. Benefits only… wage minimums. Benefits only…. wage minimums. Benefits only… wage minimums. I feel like I’m at the World Table Tennis Championship.
As far as the Teamsters involvement? I thought that it would be a complete disaster, but honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. That is until the two big ballbusters from the Teamsters got up in front of everyone at the last meeting and proceeded to tell us things like “we know how to inflict misery”. Throughout this process, Steve Dayan has only alluded to the history of the Teamsters via a few well-placed jokes, yet it has remained one of the elephants in the room out in the community. After the display of Teamster support at this last WGA meeting, I found myself giving a little more credence to some of the stories I’ve heard about our Teamster “friends”. Try as I might, I can’t seem to reconcile the concept of pencil-on-manuscript with the image of tire iron-on-kneecap. But again, that’s just me.
There’s just too much cloak-and-dagger, secret-society bullshit going on with these two groups, and it’s starting to make this composer (I’m STILL not sure if I’m considered a working composer, or just a regular guy yet) a little uneasy. I’ll oblige with yet another example.
In recent months, mysterious letters and reprints of emails sent by Steve Dayan to other professional film industry unions were popping up around our community like heads on a Whack-A-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese’s. These letters and emails outlined a request for support from these unions on the basis of several criteria that the AMCL would negotiate for with the AMPTP, including, but not limited to, working conditions and wage minimums. Shortly after that, the AMCL issued numerous statements (both verbally by Bruce Broughton at the WGA meeting and through a mass email sent to his AMCL mailing list) telling us that an underground rogue group had been disseminating false information in an effort to screw with everybody’s heads on this Benefits Only vs. Wage Minimums issue. Ummm… okaaay. Who could that possibly be? Who could possibly have access to the AMCL’s mailing list, other than the guys running the……..WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!
The guy who started the AMCL and then mysteriously “resigned” right after Mike Post and Co. signed on to the committee. The guy crying at the top of his lungs at the initial meeting about how minimums would “get us back to the way that things used to be 30 years ago when film music was a respected art form.”
This is just my opinion, and there is no evidence—zero, zip, zilch—that Elliott was behind leaking those emails, but it makes sense that the guy who is asked to leave his own organization because he’s too much of a loose cannon retaliates by sending confusing messages to the constituency. Steve Jobs, eat your heart out!
Even so, what the hell is going on here? Not many people are making public mention of the fact that it looks as though the AMCL is saying one thing, yet doing another. At the WGA, someone brought up the question as to whether or not this new AMCL stance of “Benefits Only” was a Trojan Horse—that the committee was using that as a catalyst to build the union, and then start piling on the non-starter issues that everyone is embarrassed to even talk about anymore, seeing as they made no sense from the get-go. After those leaked emails from Steve Dayan, how can you NOT wonder the same thing?
The members of the AMCL Steering Committee want “pro” composers ONLY. I get that. I completely understand why, and I see that it makes perfect sense. I really do. Nobody wants a government run by non-taxpaying citizens, either. Unfortunately, despite the interest of the committee in the “pros” in our community, I could fill twenty pages with examples of the “un-professionalism” that is leading this effort from the dais. Having said that, I DO believe that the intentions of the committee are of the purest. I REALLY do. I totally believe that. I do not think for one minute that the men on this committee desire to see anything but good come of this possible union with the Teamsters Local 399.
However, until this committee starts showing us composers—working and non-working—that they are capable of acting professionally in the deep water that they now want to swim in; until they can clearly identify the TRUE reason for their wanting to unionize composers, with no interference from “rogue” groups and no mysterious letters to other industry unions popping up left and right; until they can give us a clear and honest reason as to why they blatantly and openly solicited orange cards from young, emerging, student composers in an effort to get the first seedlings of their grass-roots effort off the ground, yet are now avoiding that particular demographic like the plague—my little orange card is staying right where it has been since the first meeting back in November… in my dresser drawer.