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Cinematographers worldwide unite in support of IATSE action for better working conditions

Oct 5, 2021

Hollywood has moved precariously close to a production shutdown after members of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), which covers camera crews, prop masters, hairdressers and other craft workers overwhelmingly voted to authorise strike action.

IATSE Members are demanding better work conditions, as well as fairer pay from streaming services to cover their share of labour. Over 50,000 workers voted overwhelmingly – 98% in favour to 2% against – to approve a work stoppage. Should they carry out the stoppage, the strike would be the biggest labour walkout in Hollywood since World War Two.

After a board meeting on Monday 5th October, the ASC released a statement saying, “The American Society Of Cinematographers wholeheartedly supports the aims of Local 600 and the IATSE in their negotiations with the AMPTP.”

As Cinematography World reported in August, fourteen of Hollywood’s top cinematographers – including Oscar winners John Toll, Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki and Erik Messerschmidt – signed a letter urging the member companies of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to finally address “the hazards of unsafe working hours” that have been common in the film and TV industry for decades.

However, despite their concerns, negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down last month after the IATSE walked away from a deal that the Alliance said would have improved wages and rest periods and included a nearly $400m (£293m) pension and health plan.

Nevertheless, with the vote, the union has “spoken loud and clear” said its president Matthew Loeb.

“This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry,” his statement on Monday said. “For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

Following the vote, the AMPTP said that it “remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working. We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”

After months of pandemic lockdowns in 2020, Hollywood’s film and TV sets have been booming in recent months – and crew members say the hours and demands placed on them have become worse than ever. Like many around the world, Hollywood’s crew members are re-evaluating how and when they want to work.

“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,”  Loeb said today, “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”

Here’s a video about the dangers of long hours made by the Cinematographers Guild:

Support for the strike action is evident, with solidarity being offered from a number of individuals and societies.

The International Federation of Cinematographers, IMAGO has said it “wholeheartedly supports IATSE in the fight for a better industry for us all,”

IMAGO co-presidents, Elen Lotman ESC and Ron Johanson ACS, on behalf of the federation’s new board, added:

“In the era when global culture is dominated by audiovisual communication, the workers who are the basis of the whole industry should not be suffering from inhumane working conditions. We stand in solidarity with our fellow filmmakers in the fight for a better industry for as all.”

The Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) has also issued a statement supporting IATSE, commenting:

“This decision will have far reaching affect on a global industry that is already experiencing hardship and surely the increases requested should be met. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues fighting for a fair days pay.

In addition, The Society of Camera Operators (SOC) Board of Governors has announced that it stands in solidarity with all members of IATSE in their efforts for a fair contract and safe working conditions and urged its members to vote for a strike authorisation, stating:

“Together we can create positive change for all members across the Film and Television industry.”

The discussion surrounding working conditions affecting both the physical and mental health of film industry employees has been a topic of increasing urgency for quite some time now and as you can read in our feature article published today, Richard Crudo ASC says the madness of abusive working hours in the film industry needs to change.

“No other occupation puts in the time we do – and in so many volatile combinations and environments. But while the human body is resilient and capable of staggering endurance, no one should have to call on those reserves to make a living.”

In related and timely news, a proposed change to the working conditions for many crew members that make commercials in the UK has been put forward. A large number of freelance production grades have come together under one banner: The APG. The central remit of this guild and its membership is to act as one voice for freelance production crew, setting a framework of best practice that its membership will follow.

The APG states: “Whilst our endeavour at the beginning was to change the way that freelance production worked it has been clear from the sheer numbers of Crew speaking to us from all departments that the conditions in the workplace are truly horrendous and people’s mental health and safety are suffering. We have therefore come at this from an angle of wanting to put in more stringent safeguards for all Crew making it harder to push them into a situation which is inherently dangerous or unhealthy.”

An online survey has been set up to get a picture of what needs changing in the industry to foster a reasonable work/life balance along with ensuring good practice with regards to Health and Safety – you can take part here.



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