I want to start out by saying that I have a lot of respect for Bruce Broughton, esteemed composer and spokesperson for the AMCL, the group that is attempting to unionize at least some composers. Bruce has put a lot of time, energy and effort into his work with the AMCL which has the potential to do great things for composers. But a recent statement he made responding to Chris Alpiar’s concerns about the AMCL really surprised me:
“You’ve called Richard Gibbs and you’ve heard from me. You will find different versions of the same message. The bottom line is that if you or any other person is distrustful of the committee or any of its members, then stay away from the process. “
I think my message to those who have concerns about the AMCL organizing committee might be a bit different:
“If you or any other person is distrustful of the AMCL organizing committee, then ask MORE questions, and get INVOLVED in the process!”
With this language, the AMCL presents itself as a closed group that has already made up its mind, and delivers a “take it or leave it” response to composers who may have issues with the goals or policies of the AMCL. At the initial AMCL public meeting in December, there was lots of talk of benefits, minimums, opposing free music demands and much more. 250 people signed union cards at that meeting, based on the message of that meeting. Fast forward ahead to April and suddenly the founder of the AMCL Alan Elliott has been pushed out, Mike Post has become the leading voice on the organizing committee, and Post’s “benefits only” position has quickly become the official position of the AMCL on all matters. The WGA letter opposing free music, after 4 long months of negotiations between the AMCL and the WGA resulting in unanimous approval by the WGA Executive Board on March 1, has suddenly been dismissed as something for the future, maybe.
The lack of involvement of the industry, other than the 11 folks on the AMCL organizing committee working in private, in this major change in direction is as troubling as the “take it or leave it” stance the AMCL is now taking about it’s policies and plans. It is simply not right for a single powerful composer or group of composers to commandeer the agenda of an industry-wide group behind closed doors, then present those decisions to the industry as a done deal. It smacks of the same kind of edicts handed down by the ASCAP Board of Directors, who also works behind closed doors, when they tell us they have “decided” that a minute of score music is only worth 20% of what a minute of background song is in film and television. These political decisions are designed to avoid any accountability for individual board members, and to present the “decisions” of the board as an edict or pronouncement by a monolithic group.
While the AMCL was always “benefits only” regarding negotiations with the motion picture and television producers (AMPTP), the sudden change of course for the AMCL regarding the WGA letter and any other similar workplace conditions deals that might be possible with related guilds including the Music Editors, AFM and others, is troubling. The AMPTP talks are years away, and assuming an AMPTP benefits-only contract is negotiated, expanding that to take on any of the urgent workplace issues that composers face today is even more years away. The WGA letter delivered benefits now, and has been put into cold storage by the AMCL, apparently because they are afraid that addressing issues that they think might cause composers not to want to be part of the AMCL.
I don’t quite understand that, though. Most composers I know would jump at the chance to oppose being forced or expected to write music for free as part of being hired. Far from being a dividing issue, taking on the free music problem would help galvanize composers to finally start taking on the immediate, critical problems that exist in our industry. And the lack of employer-funded health insurance and having a juicy pension plan are not problems that most composers I know would consider immediate or urgent, especially in light of the new healthcare reform passed by the US government. Who among us is actually in favor of working for free? That’s a very, very interesting question given the AMCL’s recent choices.
It might be interesting to know how many of the AMCL organizing board members have actually been required to write free music as a condition of being considered for a job. This is an issue that affects “rank and file” (to coin a union term) composers far more than the upper level of full-time, working composers on big films and network TV shows. For that matter, AMCL organizing board member Mike Post has declared that he’s perfectly willing to work for free, with his famous “If you want to compete with me, you’d better be willing to work for free!” declaration from the dais back at a memorable SCL event in the 1990s. As a new film composer in LA, I’ll never forget how I felt after hearing Mike’s booming voice make that stunning declaration. For me and others I knew who were there, it was a jarring, yet educational wake-up call about the cutthroat competition of film and TV composers in LA.
We wanted to ask Mike about his feelings about free music and other union matters, but he declined our request for an interview, as did Steve Dayan of the Teamsters.
While the AMCL organizing committee may believe that they and people like them are the only ones who stand to win or lose if a composers union is established, I believe that every composer in our industry has a stake in the outcome. After all, those not eligible for or unable to afford union membership will by default become non-union composers, and there are more than a few among us who may have some issues being classified as such.
I urge you to make your voice heard in the Film Music Magazine Composer Unionization Survey by visiting http://www.composersurvey.com and speaking up – it’s completely anonymous. In the meantime, if you care about a composers union, get involved in the process! Volunteer for the AMCL Organizing Committee and if you’re turned away, get a reason and share it with the industry. See what other volunteer positions the AMCL may have open, and become part of the process.
Bottom line: There is room for only one film and television composers’ union in the industry, and if the AMCL is to be that union, then we owe it to ourselves, our careers, and our families to get involved in shaping that union to be as representative and inclusive as possible to composers at all levels of the industry. In the final analysis, there are people who have no problem having terms dictated to them about what will and will not be possible when it comes to business and other matters in life. As you might guess, I’m not one of those people…