Movie unions are organizations of professional film and television actors, writers, directors, producers, and other film industry workers.
They negotiate talent contracts, set minimum salaries, and working conditions, and provide health benefits.
The unions also protect their members’ rights if they get into an on-set dispute or legal trouble. But unions can also make it more difficult for people to work in the film industry.
Unions are basically monopolies – a sort of government-authorized cartel for movie workers.
What are movie unions?
Like any union, they negotiate with employers to protect the rights and safety of workers.
But they also negotiate contracts that set conditions for casts and crews in the entertainment industry.
Movie unions have been around for more than a century. They have weathered changes in technology and trends in film-making to maintain their influence in Hollywood.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is one of the largest unions in the entertainment industry.
Tasks handled by IATSE members include:
- set decorators,
- prop makers,
- property masters,
- camera operators,
- lighting technicians, and
IATSE also represents special effects technicians, projectionists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and stunt coordinators.
One early union was founded by Mary Pickford in 1913. It merged with another union four years later to form the Motion Picture Operators’ Union No. 70.
This group changed its name several times before becoming Local 659 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).
By 1915 it had 8,000 members who worked as carpenters, painters, camera operators, and other jobs.
Though the union’s main purpose is to ensure that everyone gets paid fairly for their work, these organizations also serve as a sort of cartel for movie workers – restricting competition among themselves by preventing new talent from entering the market.
What Are Movie Unions?
Unions have been around since the early days of Hollywood, and the current system dates back roughly to 1915.
As with most such groups, unions are adept at persuading governments to legitimize and enforce their cartel’s business interests. This makes it very difficult to start a new union or create a new union chapter within an existing one without government approval.
Movie studios often hire union members at higher-than-normal wages because they don’t want to deal with strikes or other disruptions. Movie unions are groups of actors, actresses and extras that are represented by labor unions during the filming process.
Unions protect the rights of those who work in the entertainment industry and negotiate for benefits for members. Get to Know a Union Movie unions are based on contracts between members who work in a specific field.
These contracts stipulate pay, working hours and other terms for employees. For example, unions exist to represent actors, screenwriters, voiceover artists and extras. Each union negotiates its own contract with employers.
Transcribing, dubbing or subtitling movies is another field that has its own union. Most people don’t realize how much goes on behind the scenes in making a movie come to life on the big screen.
Actors, actresses and extras all need to be represented so they can get fair compensation for their work. In addition, many people don’t realize that those who dub or subtitle movies must also be represented by a union; this is important because it ensures that their work is done accurately and to professional standards.
Film Unions And Guilds
If you are a filmmaker, you should be aware of the film unions and guilds out there. They play an important role in protecting your rights as an artist. The following are some of the major film unions and guilds that you need to know: The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA)
The Writers Guild of America is an organization representing writers in the media industries — film, television, cable, internet, and new media. The WGA negotiates contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members; conducts programs, seminars, and events on issues of interest to writers; and presents writers’ opinions to various bodies of government.
Film Editors Guild (FEG)
The Film Editors Guild represents all film editors who work in motion pictures or television. The FEG provides education, networking opportunities and advocacy for its members. As a member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the FEG also has access to DGA’s health plan, pension plan and other services. American Federation of Musicians (AFM)
The American Federation of Musicians is a labor union that represents professional musicians working in the entertainment industry. The AFM was founded in 1896.
The Writer’s Guild of America — East and the Writers Guild of America — West are both trade organizations for writers. They negotiate labor contracts and represent writers in disputes with producers and studios.
They also impose certain rules on their members, such as restrictions on who gets credit for what. In addition to the WGA, many other groups also offer work for film or video professionals. These unions and guilds are either organized by job category or by specific employer.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) organize performers, while directors and producers are members of Directors Guild of America (DGA).
Production companies are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Other groups include the American Federation of Musicians, which represents musicians; the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, which covers camera operators,
grips and set designers; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which handles lighting technicians; the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which handles makeup artists; and the Teamsters, which has jurisdiction over drivers, stunt coordinators and animal handlers.
Alliance Of Motion Picture And Television Producers (AMPTP)
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is a trade association that represents the major film studios, television networks and new media content producers of the U.S. motion picture and television industry.
Their members include: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; NBCUniversal Media, LLC; CBS Corporation; Showtime Networks, Inc.;
The CW Network in partnership with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); the Directors Guild of America (DGA); the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW); International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); United Screen Actors Guild (SAG); and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP).
The AMPTP is headquartered in Encino, California. The current president is Carol Lombardini. The AMPTP was formed in 1985 by the major film and television studios, as well as leading independent producers, to represent their collective interests and protect their intellectual property in both domestic and international markets.
The AMPTP members produce the vast majority of all entertainment programming distributed and exhibited worldwide, including blockbuster movies and top-rated network, cable and syndicated television shows.
Over the past thirty years, the AMPTP has successfully negotiated hundreds of agreements with companies that license movies, television shows and other entertainment content for use in broadcast, cable and other distribution channels around the globe.
These agreements have generated billions of dollars for our members’ creative efforts and tens of billions for the businesses that exhibit these works for consumers around the world.The AMPTP’s mission is to ensure that its members receive a fair share of revenues derived from production and distribution of motion pictures and television programming around the world;
promote high standards of creative excellence; ensure efficient production practices; establish a forum for joint discussions on industry issues; develop mutually beneficial relationships with governments, labor organizations and other interested parties; and provide leadership in protecting intellectual property rights.
American Society Of Cinematographers (ASC)
The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) was established in 1919 by a group of the earliest film directors, including D.W. Griffith, William C. deMille, and Thomas Ince, to promote the art and science of cinematography and to advance the members’ professional status.
The ASC currently has over 450 members, representing all branches of the motion picture industry: feature films, television, commercials, video productions and motion pictures photographed on digital media.
In addition to its advocacy role with governments and industry organizations worldwide, the ASC provides a variety of services to its members including educational programs such as filmmaker boot camps, seminars and workshops; an annual awards ceremony honoring outstanding
achievements in cinematography; a quarterly publication; career counseling; insurance services; a financial assistance program for members experiencing temporary financial difficulties; and a number of networking activities such as parties, mixers and social events presented throughout the year.
The ASC also supports ongoing education in the field by funding scholarships for aspiring cinematographers through its ASC Student Awards Program. Brought to you by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), ASC Club Cinema is a resource for cinematographers, directors, production and post-production professionals working in film, television, commercials and new media.
Description:ASCs (American Society of Cinematographers) are responsible for creating and maintaining the visual standards of a film. The Society began in 1919 as an informal group of cinema pioneers who gathered to share ideas and discuss innovations in their art form. The ASC has continued to uphold its original mission: “to advance the art and science of cinematography.”
The ASC offers two levels of membership: Active (ASC) and Associate (ASC). Active members are distinguished cinematographers who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in the art and craft of cinematography. Associate members are those who hold an interest in cinematography but who do not work regularly as a cinematographer.
Description:The ASC established several Committees in order to promote continuing advances in knowledge and proficiency regarding the art, craft and science of cinematography. These Committees are made up of representatives from each area of the motion picture production community.
The Committees include: Camera Committee; Cinematography Competition Committee; Digital Cinema Committee; History Committee; International Relations Committee; Laboratory Committee; Lighting Committee; Previsual.
What Were The First Movie Unions
What were the first movie unions? The earliest film industry trade unions were of course the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886, and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), founded in 1933. However, before these unions came along, there were unions for actors.
The first actor’s union was none other than the Screen Extras Guild, founded in 1915 by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The group was conceived during a meeting held at New York City’s Hotel Astor.
There were about 300 members who each paid dues of 50 cents per week, which was supposed to entitle them to unemployment benefits and a death benefit of $1,000. The group disbanded by 1918 because it had no authority to demand anything from directors or producers and therefore could not enforce its contracts.
The Actors’ Equity Association was formed in 1919 as a successor to the Screen Extras Guild. This union was formed by actors who felt they should have better working conditions and greater control over their careers. Equity is still around today, although it is now officially known as SAG-AFTRA.
The first unions appeared in the early days of the film industry. Before unions came into existence, film workers were at the mercy of producers and directors. It was common for producers to pay actors nothing, or next to nothing, for their work.
It was also common for producers to demand that actors work long hours without breaks or meals. Tensions finally boiled over in 1915 on the set of The Birth of a Nation . Actors who worked on this film were subjected to extreme racism and bigotry from director D. W. Griffith .
He forced them to perform extremely dangerous stunts without any safety measures, and he refused to pay them anything for their work. The actors went on strike against Griffith, and were joined by other film workers in solidarity. This strike is considered to be the first screen actor’s strike in history. Unions continued to develop over time, but they had a shaky start.
In 1919, unions attempted another major strike against Paramount Studios. This time around, they were joined by some sympathetic members of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). However, they failed to gain the support of most AFL members because they wanted the AFL’s endorsement in exchange for not going on strike.
Film Unions In The Mccarthy Era
The 1950s were a time of great anxiety for Hollywood. The Motion Picture Production Code, or Hays Code, was in place and strictly enforced. According to the code, homosexuality was forbidden, and any suggestion of abortion was strictly prohibited.
Sexual relations of any kind outside marriage were frowned upon. If the Hays Code had been rigorously enforced throughout the decade, the cinematic landscape would have been very different indeed. Because it wasn’t. One group in particular challenged that code: film unions.
The year 1954 marked a turning point in Hollywood’s attitude towards the film unions. In April 1954, a group known as the “Committee for the First Amendment” held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City to support the right of Congress to investigate Communism in Hollywood. The rally drew 20,000 people and featured notable speakers such as Gary Cooper and John Wayne.
Film studios were fearful that another Senator McCarthy-style investigation would follow this event, so they organized their own anti-Communist committee: “Reagan’s Raiders”, headed by Ronald Reagan himself. Among other things, this committee created “blacklists” of suspected Communists working in Hollywood.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities had a particular interest in the unions of the film industry, because of their power. It was probably no accident that they chose to interrogate the leaders of the industry at the start of October 1947, just as union activity was reaching a peak.
The industry was forced to recognize that it could be held responsible for its employees’ political beliefs and activities. This meant that if it were to protect itself against government intervention, it had to discipline its own members strictly.
Film writers and directors were formed into groups known as guilds or unions around 1920. The Directors Guild was established in 1936, and the Screen Writers Guild followed in 1937. In 1940, there was an attempt by Hitler to form a national creative organisation for German artists, which alarmed those in Hollywood who were fearful of what such political control might lead to elsewhere.
They therefore established the Motion Picture Alliance for Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). The MPA produced pamphlets and advertised its message in cinemas (through such slogans as “Don’t let this happen here”).
It also sponsored a major rally at Madison Square Gardens in New York on 18 October 1941. This featured Walt Disney, Cecil B De Mille, Gary Cooper and other leading figures from the film industry.
Below-The-Line Unions in Filmmaking
Do you have a passion for film making? Are you looking to learn more about the art of filmmaking? If so, you may be interested in learning more about below-the-line unions in filmmaking.
Below-the-line unions in filmmaking are groups that are dedicated to the production of films and television shows. Becoming a member of such a union will provide you with many benefits along your career path, such as health insurance, job placement assistance and retirement benefits.
But before you can begin enjoying these benefits, you need to understand how union membership works.
If you want to be a member of a below-the-line union in filmmaking, you have to fulfill several requirements. First of all, you must be employed as part of the crew on a union production. Once this is ensured, your employer will file an IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) or DGA (Directors Guild of America) application on your behalf.
This application is processed by the union and it determines whether or not you are eligible for membership. Membership dues vary depending upon your occupation and where you work, but they are generally deducted from your compensation on each job.
Film and TV productions have union rules just like every other industry. Because of this, it is important for producers and production companies to be aware of how union members are hired and how unions affect the bottom line.
These days, with rising production costs and strict budgets, producers are focused on keeping costs down. However, overtime, double time, and fringe benefits all add up. The below-the-line unions in the film industry help producers keep a check on expenses while providing necessary protections for workers.
Writers Guild of America (WGA) – This union represents writers who work in film, television, radio, and new media. They negotiate contracts that protect the rights of writers and ensure that they receive fair compensation for their work.
The WGA also monitors compliance with its contract in order to prevent employers from taking advantage of writers or using practices that violate their legal rights. A few examples of violations include: not paying writers for work performed; failing to pay for rewrites; refusing to hire writers based on union membership; or requiring writers who are not credited to sign a waiver against suing over their status as uncredited writers. Writers can earn anywhere from $500 to $10 million per project.
Issues For Hollywood Unions And Guilds
If you are a member of the Writers Guild of America, East or West, your employer is now legally obligated to offer you a health plan that covers 96% of the total cost of health care. This has been a long time coming for writers in Hollywood.
In order for the unions and guilds in Hollywood to get employers to cover employees under health plans, they had to agree to a certain salary cap per employee. The cap was based on what a studio could afford; the studios could not afford the salary demands of their creative talent.
Therefore, to come up with the salary cap for writers, the studios used the Writers Guild’s own formulas and formulas from other entertainment unions and guilds.
Accordingly, what many people don’t realize is that all of their current salaries have been artificially reduced since they were first hired and they were hired at levels that can no longer be sustained by their employers.
The salary caps are as follows:
SAG/AFTRA – $51,000**WGA – $71,000**DGA – $71,000*IA – $45,000**
*DGA has different rules governing television shows budgeted at over $2 million per episode. The DGA is currently fighting hard against these rules.
I am a member of SAG-AFTRA and I am in a guild. When I speak to other people about the union, they tend to get confused and think that being in a guild actually means you are in the union. Let me clear this up for you…
Being in a guild does not equal being in a union. So what is the difference? Well, there are many, but one of the main differences is that when you join a union (SAG-AFTRA) it is an exclusive club that only accepts members who have worked under their rules and their guidelines. Guilds are not exclusive at all – anyone can apply to be part of them.
A great example of this difference is if you have ever been on set. If you have been on set, then you know that there has to be a stunt coordinator, stunt performers and other crew members called 2nd unit directors and assistant directors involved in filming physical or dangerous scenes for film or television.
The union will only allow actors who have been trained and certified as stunt performers to perform stunts or any physical activity that involves running, jumping or fighting with another person (or persons). These performers can be called stuntmen or women.