Gotham Still Sees Lotsa Indie Lensing

Even though the j ors won’t return to Gotham until new contracts are hired with the locals of IATSE, there has never been a better time for independent producers, particularly those with modest budgets, to get top union crews and shoot in Manhattan.

“You can’t argue with the fact that nine films that were shot in New York got Oscar nominations,” said Jon Kilik, who produces Spike Lee’s films and made a deal with IATSE to get a full union crew for “Father And Sons.” Those nominated films are: “Alice,” “Green Card,” “Longtime Companion,” “Godfather III” (partial), “Ghost,” “Reversal Of Fortune,” “Awakenings,” “Goodfellas” and “Metropolitan.”

Louis D’Agostino is business rep of IA 644 (cinematographers), and chairman of the East Coast Council, which was empowered to make deals for low budget projects after IA absorbed NABET last fall. He said he’s made deals so far with five tv and film projects with bare-bones budgets, and said the union’s stance toward independent work has improved markedly from the old days.

Some of the new projects are: “Juice,” a $3 million pic which will lens in March; “Father And Sons,” a $1.5 million film also shooting next month; a new Grosso/Jacobson tv documentary series called “Bellevue Emergency.” The first to take advantage of newfound IA flexibility were 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 Kilik. All Spike Lee’s films were done with NABET crews.

“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 a $1.5 million budget, “Father And Sons” will star Jeff Goldblum and Rosanna Arquette, Joie Lee, and stage actors like “Buddy” star Paul Hipp, and “Mambo Mouth” star John Leguazamo.

Case by case

“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 profit-sharing situation. NABET never went that far. It gives us access to the best pool of actors and techs in the business.”

Ernest Dickerson, director of photography on Lee’s films, makes his helming debut on “Juice,” a $3 million film about four youths; pic will be shot totally in Harlem. He, too, was surprised by the union’s new cooperative stance: “There’s been a lot of non-union 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. It’s unfortunate that the union dispute with the studios has driven some production out of town, but that doesn’t have to be the death of filmmaking in New York.”

At least four films and a tv series are close to being signed, said D’Agostino. He wouldn’t disclose specific breaks given, but said “these are still evolving models, and each film has a different type of contract. We’re still experimenting.”

D’Agostino said the union cooperation with indies won’t fade once the studios return. The majors left the city last November, when new contracts couldn’t be worked out with locals 644 and 52 (studio mechanics).

The studios want New York IAs to work regular wages for any five of seven days and cut overtime to time-and-a-half- terms to which IA unions in Los Angeles agreed. The Gotham unions want residuals paid to their health and pension plans.

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