AMCL Founder Alan Elliott on Unionizing, the WGA and More

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Note: This article was also published in SCOREcast Online, an excellent resource for film and television composers.

We need to make plain one fundamental fact and then let’s start the debate:


The AMCL committee does its supporters no good by confusing the WGA with the AMPTP and this must stop.
This parsing of words hides a potential cancer which can eat up what we have worked 4+ years to help organize. When we parse words instead of explaining positions, we sow the seeds of disloyalty and mistrust.

We must create a union that does what is right, not merely what is convenient.

The “benefits only” position works if we believe that two completely separate issues are one and the same. They are two SEPARATE issues and they have nothing to do with each other. I hate to sound redundant… but it’s the key to understanding that this is not just black or white… there are many shades of grey. So here are the facts we have yet to hear from the committee; there are:

the AMPTP negotiations (“benefits only”); and
the WGA agreement, the SAG/AFTRA/and other potential alliances.
The AMCL board should say this… clearly.

Then let’s discuss “benefits only” and the WGA agreement and other potential issues.

Personally, I believe our union should be able to do good for many — on many different levels… NOW, but… It’s hard to order off the menu when you are only presented with one option of “benefits only.”

I believe, after 4+ years of living these issues that if we fall into the previous generation’s peril of solely waiting for an AMPTP agreement, we are screwed.

We will be playing a game that the previous generation has already lost, and… for THIS generation, I believe we may not even need to be playing this game — as the WGA agreement provides relief NOW and has NO EFFECT on any potential AMPTP agreement.

Look, if there is to be a union… we are going to need a lot of smart people thinking of different ways to help the community… but this is not a black and white issue — there is a lot of grey and if we are to mobilize… people need facts… not demonization. If we have a union, everyone will have somebody they don’t like in it. But that shouldn’t preclude our trying to set up a system that respects everyone.

I believe our union — and our organizing committee — should be a healthy democracy with room for dissonant voices.

For instance, if I disagree with war in Iraq, I am still an American. And… if I disagree with an AMCL issue, I am still for the union. So with regards to the cause from here on out, let’s unite and resolve to debate the strength of positions, not demonize personalities.

That said, we need to have the facts straight — and THEN argue positions. In the words of Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your own opnion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Further, to put a dagger through the “Was it a draft? Was it agreed to? What happened?” RE: the WGA agreement… the details are as follows:

* For four months, Bruce Broughton, Alf Clausen, Jim DiPasquale, Steve Dayan and I negotiated with WGA exec. director David Young before presenting a letter (not a draft) for presentation to the WGA board.

* On Nov. 16, 2009 at the AMCL’s November meeting, I detailed my conversation with John Wells which began/led to the present WGA agreement.

* On Feb. 2, 2010 the AMCL executive committee and Steve Dayan, Teamsters 399 organizer, sent a final version of a much-drafted letter to David Young.

* On March 1, 2010, David Young presented the aforementioned Feb. 2, 2010 letter at the WGA board meeting where the letter was unanimously approved by the WGA board.

In sum:

The WGA letter passed unanimously through the WGA board at the WGA board’s March 1, 2010 meeting.
The letter was supported by the WGA board wholeheartedly, without reservation and in support of improving our community- and mutually helping the WGA (as evinced in Steve Dayan’s well stated quote at the end, “The Guild believes once writing at any level is seen as ‘free’ it compromises writing on all levels”).
Though the letter has nothing to do with “benefits only (AMCL/AMPTP negotiations)”, the current AMCL board will not implement it.
Lastly, and most importantly so there is no confusion:

The WGA agreement can change the dynamic of WGA showrunners and composers the day it is implemented.
(Editorial: That’s how important I believe the WGA agreement is — it’s a paradigm shifter… and it’s 21st Century unionization in that it solves issues EVEN BEFORE WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE PRODUCERS.

That’s why I believe it is important to say how important the WGA agreement could be RIGHT NOW — and… again:

This agreement is completely separate from any “benefits only” conversation with the AMPTP.)

Now that these facts are, ahem, straight, let’s discuss the positions.

ALAN ELLIOTT has composed, orchestrated and arranged scores for the movies LET’S GO TO PRISON, SEEING OTHER PEOPLE, SECRET WINDOW, CHEER UP! and HITCH, and for the television shows HERE AND NOW and THE NAKED TRUTH for NBC, THE ORTEGAS and THE NFL ON FOX for FBC, THE HOLLOW MEN for Comedy Central, in addition to twice composing the opening and closing themes for the Grammy Awards.

Elliott is the founder of The Association of Media Composers and Lyricists (The AMCL), which in partnership with Teamsters Local 399 has reached an agreement with the Writers Guild of America to help end the practice of free music and spec music for film and television.

For more information on Alan Elliott, please visit his website at


  • GrisGrisJouJou
    May 24, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    This is really helpful. The conversation does need to become about issues and it needs to become inclusive so we can all trust that our best interests are being considered from the beginning. Bravo!

  • May 25, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    Unfortunate, given these facts, that the AMCL did not celebrate the WGA’s support at the April 19th meeting, and bring the deal to fruition. I’m disappointed.

    What would be the best way to go forward with finalizing the WGA agreement. Petitions?

  • Jai Meghan
    June 3, 2010 @ 7:15 am

    Wasn’t this originally published at


  • Mark Northam
    June 3, 2010 @ 7:49 am

    Hi Jai –

    Thanks for the note – Alan submitted the piece to us as well but since it was first published at SCOREcastOnline you’re right, a “first published by” would be appropriate and thanks for pointing that out – will add that now! No sleight was intended towards Deane or his excellent site.

    UPDATE: Upon further checking, it turns out this article is a copy of Alan’s comment post in Film Music Magazine in response to Bruce Broughton’s comments published with Chris Alpiar’s article “What I Hope, Want and Expect from a Composers Union” – Alan’s comment was originally published in FMM on May 22, and was reprinted in SCOREcast Online on May 24. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Jai Meghan
    June 3, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

    Wow, Mark. Don’t I feel stupid! ;-)

    My apologies for jumping the gun. I never realized this was kind of all over the Internet. Alan never mentioned it was “boilerplate”. Well, as long as the message gets out, that’s the important thing.

    My bad for not digging a little deeper.
    Keep up the great work!


  • Mike
    June 18, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    what was the name of the piece that Alan Elliott wrote for the movie Hitch?

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