Choreographers kick up storm over vid credits

Saying they are tired of the industry’s continuing “lack of respect” for their work, a group of seven choreographers yesterday publicly attacked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for its decision to release a video titled “Oscar’s Greatest Moments” without giving them proper credit or residual payment.

“This one instance is only a symptom of the greater problems we’re facing,” said Debbie Allen. “We’re targeting this tape because we believe it’s time that the industry give us equal time and respect along with all other creators. After all, the industry goes to great lengths to make sure it credits the caterer on a set, but not the choreographer.”

Allen’s comments came during a morning press conference that brought together choreographers Rob Iscove, Michael Kidd, Walter Painter, Vincent Paterson, Scott Salmon and Alan Johnson, all of whom have worked on Academy Awards shows.

The video, released last spring, is the first effort by the Academy to chronicle moments from 21 years of Oscar shows as a salable item. Funds raised from the sale of the video will go to the Endowment for the Center for Motion Picture Study.

While officials at the Academy, including exec director Bruce Davis, have apologized to the choreographers in letter form, Allen and the others said yesterday it was not enough.

“There is something wrong here ethically for the Academy to release the video , 20% of which featured choreographed dances, without giving the choreographers proper credit,” Alan Johnson said. “It smacks of dirty politics.”

Rob Iscove pointed to his own experiences as the choreographer on the film version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” as an example of how choreographers are treated.

“It was a rock opera where literally every member of the cast except for two were dancers,” he said. “I cast the dancers, I worked very closely with the director, choreographed the dances and received no credit nor any residuals.”

Michael Kidd, well known for choreographing such films as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,””The Band Wagon” and “Guys and Dolls,” said he believed the reason choreographers continue to be abused is because they are not represented by a union.

“Since credit or compensation in this town is not mandated by fairness, then it must be mandated by unions,” Kidd declared.

In 1984, a group of more than 100 choreographers approached the Directors Guild of America seeking representation. The DGA agreed to include them in its membership, but was not able to reach an agreement on the issue with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

“I’ve been fighting this battle since I did ‘Fame,’ ” noted Allen. “It has to do with money. Choreographers do a lot more than create dance … we design storyboards, write lyrics, set up music, lighting, costumes. And right now we don’t have a collective voice.”

To date, the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers–a union representing talent on Broadway, and in regional and dinner theater nationwide–has agreed to change its bylaws and accept them.

“We’ve been working for two years with the choreographers,” noted SSDC exec director David Rosenak. “The first thing we did was to change our bylaws to allow us to represent choreographers in other media including film, television and video.”

The SSDC board has been working with the choreographers to develop a contract for minimum coverage–including health, welfare and pension–which should be done within the next month.

While the SSDC has yet to initiate discussions with the AMPTP or any other producing affiliations, Rosenak said choreographers soon will have a contract that producers will have to sign if they want that particular artist.

Meanwhile, the choreographers are looking for some sort of guarantee from the Academy to not repeat the same mistake again, should there ever be a sequel to “Oscar’s Greatest Moments.”

Specifically, they would like to meet with the Acad’s executive staff to discuss both credit and residual payments, which were paid to the various Guilds before the video was released.

Meanwhile, Academy officials apparently are smarting over the allegations. As an Academy spokesman ruefully noted, “we’re sorry it ever happened.”