In a microcosm of one of the major issues underlying the runaway-production issue, the indie film “Flat Dog” has shut down production in California and is planning to move to Canada due to a conflict with IATSE.
The $1.2 million horror pic, helmed by “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper, had been shooting for about a month in Santa Clarita. However, on Aug. 17, at the request of a majority of the crew, which was working under nonunion agreements — the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists & Allied Crafts — organized a strike and formed a picket line that lasted until Friday when the production was shut down.
According to “Flat Dog” producer Frank DeMartini, nonunion crew members were brought in as replacements, but alleges that harassment and threats of violence caused him to stop filming.
“We brought in a crew that was willing to cross the picket line and things started getting violent,” he said. “Tires were slashed. … There were death threats made to a couple of my crew members.”
An IATSE representative said that the union was unaware of any such actions and would never condone them.
‘Wages are not acceptable’
Joseph Aredas, in charge of IATSE’s West Coast office, claimed that the real issue is the production’s unwillingness to pay its workers a decent wage. “The wages that they are trying to pay just are not acceptable to anybody in this trade,” he said.
According to calculations done by IATSE, the flat weekly wages of between $550 and $1,750 paid by DeMartini work out to as little as $8 an hour for some of the workers. IATSE’s low-budget agreements have floors of around $12.50 an hour.
Reps from both sides, as well as distributor Nu Image, met Saturday but failed to come to an agreement. Nu Image chief financial officer Trevor Short confirmed that they refused to accept IATSE representation on the production, saying the slim profit margin on such low-budget films doesn’t allow for the higher costs of union labor.
A majority of “Dog’s” crew had asked the union to represent it, however, and, after receiving a unanimous vote of confidence from that majority, the union refused to back down.
“The crew at all times had a vote,” Aredas said. “They were very adamant about getting benefits and the wages under our agreement.”
After having begun filming in the U.S., DeMartini said that it will actually increase costs to move production up north, but claims he is doing it on principle.
Both DeMartini and Nu Image said in the future they will film any low-budget films outside the U.S.
DeMartini said that with tax incentives and the favorable currency exchange rate, it costs about the same to make a movie with union crews in Canada as it does with nonunion crews in California.
“I can tell you honestly for a fact it’s not the tax incentives causing people to leave this country,” DeMartini said.
Aredas, however, maintains that IATSE won’t back down in its defense of higher wages and benefits.
“Our 10,000 members in Canada work for the same wages we do,” he said. (Although the exchange rate will make those wages a bit lower than wages in the U.S.) “If there’s any benefit to going to Canada, it’s not anything the IA can control, it’s a federal problem. Should the little guy who’s doing the work have to bear the brunt of that?”
(Nick Madigan contributed to this report.)