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With The Studios Away, Indies Deal With N.Y. IA

While the major studios are making little headway with the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees unions in a contract dispute that dried up studio location shoots here, independent producers continue to take advantage of newfound IATSE flexibility.

The IA East Coast Council, empowered to make deals for low-budget projects after IA absorbed NABET Local 15 last fall, has brought three more New York projects into the union fold.

The new projects are: “Juice,” a $3 million pic that will lens in March; “Father And Sons,” a $1.5 million film also shooting next month; and a new Grosso/Jacobson tv documentary series called “Bellevue Emergency.” The first productions to take advantage of the new IA flexibility were the the tv series “Urban Anxiety” and the pic “The Cabinet Of Dr. Ramirez.”

If other producers with low budgets can make union deals similar to the one given “Father And Sons,” fears that the elimination of NABET 15 would kill indie filming in Gotham will prove unfounded, said producer Jon Kilik. Kilik produces Spike Lee’s films, all of which were done with crews from NABET 15, which thrived on low-budget work.

“There’s only one way these things happen in financing productions like this, when the script is not commercial,” said Kilik. “A financier says, ‘We’ll spend $1.5 million, if you can make it work, fine, if you can’t, no hard feelings.’ Then we pass on the information to the actors, crews and the unions. They were able to make it work.”

Despite the minuscule budget, “Father And Sons” will star Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette, Joie Lee and stage actors like “Buddy” star Paul Hipp, and “Mambo Mouth” star John Leguazamo. Kilik also got a full IA crew for the shoot, which will shoot for four weeks in March.

“It doesn’t mean they’ve established a permanent low-budget structure yet, but what they’re doing is looking in a case-by-case basis,” Kilik said.

“The idea here is to try making this $1.5 million film in New York, give union crews the opportunity to decide to be part of it or not. If they say yes, we’d be there to make contributions upfront, with deferments for salary and pension plans. They’re participating in a profitsharing situation. NABET never went that far. It gives us access to the best pool of actors and techs in the business. You can’t argue with the facts: 10 of the films shot in New York last year got Oscar nominations.”

Ernest Dickerson, who is director of photography on Lee’s films, also is taking a temporary hike from Spike to direct his first feature, a $3 million coming-of-age film to be shot in Harlem. He too was surprised by the union’s new cooperative stance: “There’s been a lot of nonunion [ filming] in this town, but we were determined to work it out with the union. I’m a New York filmmaker, and want to continue shooting here.”

At least four more films and one tv series are close to being signed, said Louis D’Agostino, business rep for IA 644 (cinematographers), and chairman of the East Coast Council, which has spearheaded the low-budget deals. He wouldn’t disclose specific breaks given productions, but said, “these are still evolving models, and each film has a different type of contract. We’re still experimenting.”

Local 644 also ran a 20-hour festival of Gotham-shot pics at New York U. over the weekend to let New Yorkers know they’re still around.

D’Agostino wouldn’t comment on the status of 644’s stalled negotiations with the studios. Walter Stocklin, head of Local 52, couldn’t report any progress with studios either, but said another negotiating session would likely take place within one month.

While indie producers are overjoyed to give backend residuals, studios are equally resolved not to offer IA the same residual deal it made with the Los Angeles IA unions. Because the unions refuse to cut overtime costs without the residual benefit sweeteners, the standoff continues.

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