The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has issued a “do not work” order to its members against Stan Brooks and his Once Upon a Time Films banner, alleging nonpayment of over $1.4 million to cast of “Sordid Lives: The Series.”
In a written response, Brooks denied the nonpayment allegations Sunday. He also said that Sordid Prods. and two other parties are engaged in “ongoing, good faith” negotiations with AFTRA and is seeking a “full resolution” prior to an Aug. 17 arbitration hearing.
The union posted the “do not work” order on the front of its web site. It also issued an order Friday to AFTRA Franchised Talent Agents, telling them not to make deals for AFTRA clients for Once Upon a Time Films or Sordid Prods.
AFTRA asserted that under the terms of its agreement covering “Sordid Lives,” cast members are required to be paid for each domestic rerun of an episode. The union alleged that the nonpayments include residual payments, late payment penalties and health and pension contributions.
AFTRA said an arbitrator has issued an interim order finding that the production companies are liable for payments and noted that “Sordid Lives” has been rerun on Logo and run in Canada and internationally. It also said that it had demanded payment in late 2008 and early 2009, and that Brooks and his companies promised to pay initially but have subsequently stopped responding to AFTRA.
Brooks is a longtime TV producer through Once Upon a Time with credits including “Broken Trail,” “Prayers for Bobby,” “At Risk,” “The Capture of the Green River Killer” and “Call Me: the Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss.” He denied that he’s stonewalled AFTRA, asserting that he’s sharing “extensive documentation” with AFTRA and is awaiting a response on his settlement proposal.
Brooks asserted that his production company lost $700,000 due to the 2008 bankruptcy of payroll company Axium International while “Sordid Lives” was shooting. As a result, Brooks asserts that he completed production on the series by mortgaging his home and securities and has subsequently been forced to obtain $1.5 million in credit facilities to continue to operate Sordid Prods.
“The irony of this uwarranted and falsely-based attack is that Once Upon a Time Films and Mr. Brooks may be the only parties in the industry to call upon their personal resources in order to address and resolve residual claims arising from the Axium debacle,” Brooks said. “Every member of the Sordid cast has been paid his or hers full acting wages, all health and pension entitlements and all other government payments. The sole issue that remains outstanding concerns residuals.”
AFTRA also noted in the announcement that Brooks is also chair of the California Film Commission. “Sordid Lives” cast members Ann Walker appeared before the commission on Friday and told Brooks that the alleged failure to pay residuals had “caused great hardship” to her and her fellow cast members.
Walker also said that Brooks should resign his post if he’s unwilling to make the payments.
“Are you willing to guarantee me, a performer on that production, that you will pay us what we have rightfully earned so that you can continue to serve as Chair of this Film Commission with the credibility and moral authority that the position deserves?” she said. “If not, don’t you think you should step down from the Commission to save the credibility of the position? We believe actions are louder than words.”
“Sordid Lives” co-star Jason Dottley, who also attended the meeting, said Brooks didn’t respond to Walker. “He just pulled out his phone and started texting or something,” he told Daily Variety.
In his response Sunday, Brooks said he and other exec producers on “Sordid Lives” had been subject to a “steady stream of harassment” from the creative team on the series.
The comedy series premiered on Logo in 2008 and starred Bonnie Bedelia, the late Rue McClanahan, Olivia Newton-John, Beth Grant and Caroline Rhea. Bedelia issued a statement Friday condemning Brooks.
“I joined AFTRA in 1958 and have been a member of SAG since 1960,” she said. “In my career, I have never seen anything like this. I have always been paid my residuals for the work I have performed. It’s simply appalling that Stan Brooks is still allowed to produce while completely ignoring his contractual obligations to the artists who worked well below their fees.”
Del Shores, who directed the series, said the lack of payments has resulted in his losing his home to foreclosure. “I’ve moved on and trust that the unions will continue to do their jobs,” he added.
The Writers Guild of America West won an arbitration award last November of $165,907 on behalf of Shores in an unpaid residuals claim against Once Upon a Time. Brooks and Once Upon a Time are on the WGA West’s “strike list,” which covers an array of violations by signatory employers such as failing or refusing to abide by the final award of an arbitrator.
Shores also said that Brooks has defaulted on a recent payment of $27,896 to him that was part of a settlement with the Directors Guild of America.
Brooks asserted that he’s been in “constant” negotiations and communications with the WGA, AFTRA and the DGA since last year. He also said he had reached the settlement with the DGA earlier this year and started making payments.
Brooks said Sunday he doesn’t have the funds to pay the residuals.
“There are no funds or credit facilities available to pay all of the residual obligations without forcing us into bankruptcy (as it has been with most of the other companies affected by the Axium debacle),” he said. “We are doing everything we can to avoid bankruptcy, including trying to find equitable payment amounts and plans with the WGA and AFTRA (as we did with the DGA).”
Brooks also said Sunday that the interim arbitration order against him was imposed improperly as a sanction rather than on the merits of the case. “The company intends to challenge this ruling by the arbitrator, if and when a final arbitration award is issued,” he added.