You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Is union helping or hurting film, TV composers?

Work continues to leave L.A. for London, Prague

On Thursday night more than 500 musicians, composers and others active in the Hollywood music biz heard a panel of experts warn that film, TV and videogame scoring continues to leave L.A. because producers are unwilling to meet union demands.

If work continues to dry up at the current rate, they speculated, one or more of the three remaining large scoring stages (Fox, Sony, Warner Bros.) could close “within the next two to five years,” leaving London as the new scoring capital of the world and cheaper locations like Prague and Bratislava as second and third choices.

Union officials, who were not present at the meeting, are disputing the version of facts as presented Thursday night. They say that although work is down, a larger percentage of current film work is actually staying in the U.S. They deemed it “no coincidence” that the meeting was held just as the American Federation of Musicians was negotiating with the AMPTP for a new film and TV scoring contract.

The meeting at Santa Monica High School was organized by Cinesamples, an El Segundo-based company that has run up against AFM opposition to its plans to record L.A. musicians for its music-sampling business.

The mood among musicians during the three-hour session ranged from confusion to desperation about the recent decline in demand for L.A. musicians to score major features and nearly all videogames.

Composer manager Richard Kraft (who represents Danny Elfman, Alexandre Desplat and others) said that the “automatic assumption” that a film would be scored here has recently become more like “how quaint, we’re going to be recording in L.A.”

AFM long ago negotiated contract clauses that provide for union musicians to benefit from the sale of movies to TV and other ancillary markets and also provided for additional payments if the music recorded for a film or game is later used in another context such as a soundtrack album. Game publishers generally refuse to sign any deal with the union that doesn’t allow them to own and control all the music in perpetuity without having to spend more later.

Producers and publishers avoid this in non-AFM locales (London, Prague, Bratislava, Seattle, etc.) through a “buyout” clause that enables producers or game studios to pay more to musicians upfront and then walk away without future financial obligations.

According to Kraft, the AFM demand for producers to agree to make future backend payments to musicians based on the sale of films to TV and other ancillary markets has become a “conversation stopper.” Increasingly, he says, producers simply opt for London.

The widespread perception, Kraft said, is that L.A. is no longer competitive. Only one of the five top-grossing films of the year (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) was scored here; “Brave,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Avengers” and “The Hunger Games” were all scored in London.

Composer Christopher Lennertz, who is active in all three areas (currently scoring TV’s “Revolution”), reported that scoring decisions “always come down to the backend,” meaning the demand for later payments by producers. “If there was no backend, I could record anywhere,” he said.

Lennertz shared a memo from Steve Schnur, music exec at game publisher Electronic Arts (and a longtime proponent of scoring games in L.A.), that indicated he has given up on L.A. and will now score everything elsewhere. “Basically, they are driving me out,” he wrote about the AFM. “Till it changes, we’re gone.”

Composer Garry Schyman (“BioShock”) said that the latest AFM game contract, which takes effect Dec. 1, will assure that “millions of dollars’ worth of scoring work is not going to come here,” going instead to places like Nashville, where union musicians are allowed to work non-union because of Tennessee’s status as a right-to-work state.

He proposed a six-point plan to stem the tide of work leaving L.A., including more competitive rates (currently it costs about $100 per hour to score a game in London vs. about $150 in the U.S., panelists said) and a “change of attitude” on the part of AFM officials. “A serious percentage (of the work) could come back to L.A.,” he said, if musicians become more active and convince union leaders to shift positions.

According to Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund administrator Dennis Dreith, “Yes, there is less work. That’s not in dispute.” But, he points out, fewer films are being made (about 150 wide releases per year, down from 375 a few years ago), and according to Dreith, a larger percentage of those films is actually staying in the U.S. to score.

He notes that the fund — which receives that backend money from the studios — just had its second biggest year ever, collecting $84 million for musicians, and is on track for another record year, having already collected $44 million in the first half of this year.

He also points out that working musicians have, since 1960, benefited from the fund. “Every other guild and union in the industry has a backend payment structure exactly like ours, except at a much higher percentage,” Dreith says. “We get the lowest percentage of any guild.”

Reached on Friday, AFM president Ray Hair said that “work has always left town. I’m not going to answer these questions by gutting our agreements with employers. I understand that folks wish the rates weren’t so high. But the mistake people make is thinking that if you do away with (rights) that we have bargained, all of a sudden they’ll have what they want. Show me a situation where that’s ever happened.”

More Music

  • Jay Frank

    Jay Frank, UMG Senior VP and Digital Music Veteran, Dies at 47

    Universal Music executive and digital music veteran Jay Frank died Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 47. UMG chief Lucian Grainge remembered him in a message sent to the company. “Dear Colleagues,” it reads. “I’m deeply saddened to tell you that our colleague and friend Jay Frank has passed after a recurrence of [...]

  • Boomtown Rats Feature Doc Launches From

    Boomtown Rats Feature Doc Launches From New Music Banner BeyondTNC (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bob Geldof and the re-formed Boomtown Rats will talk about their legendary punk band in a new feature doc, “Boomtown.” It is one of the first two films from a new music producer-distributor that has been formed by Beyond Entertainment and TNC Media – BeyondTNC. BeyondTNC will be launching “Boomtown” to international buyers in Cannes, [...]

  • Zedd

    DJ Zedd Banned From China After Liking 'South Park' Tweet

    Zedd has been “permanently banned” from China after the German DJ liked a tweet from the “South Park” Twitter account. Zedd, whose real name is Anton Zaslavski, announced the news via his own Twitter account: “I just got permanently banned from China because I liked a @SouthPark tweet,” he wrote. I just got permanently banned [...]

  • Kim Gordon album art

    Album Review: Kim Gordon's 'No Home Record'

    The line between art and artifice is one that Kim Gordon has explored throughout her four-decade career, first as cofounder of Sonic Youth and more recently as a visual artist, memoirist, fashion designer, actress, and one-half of the experimental duo Body/Head. When we’re perusing a corporately designed bauble or experience, are we genuinely imagining the [...]

  • Dana Walden Awkwafina Chaka Khan Mariah

    Variety's Power of Women Celebrates Honorees' Voices and Activism

    When Jennifer Aniston was 11, she was casually dismissed from the dinner table by a parental figure “because I ‘didn’t have anything interesting to add to the conversation.’” That belittlement has stayed with the “Friends” and “The Morning Show” star through to adulthood, prompting her to muse at Variety‘s Power of Women luncheon on the messages [...]

  • Neil Young

    Film News Roundup: Neil Young Documentary 'Mountaintop' Set for Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Neil Young’s “Mountaintop” is coming, AMC replaces its CFO, Bob Weinstein is starting anew, and Ed Begley, Jr. and David Koechner join “Reboot Camp.” MUSIC DOCUMENTARY Abramorama is partnering with Shakey Pictures and Reprise / Warner Records to release the Neil Young documentary “Mountaintop.” The movie, which chronicles the making [...]

  • Pusha T and Nicholas Britell Create

    Pusha T Joins Line of 'Succession' by Adding Rap to Nicholas Britell's TV Theme

    After being inundated with requests from fans, composer Nicholas Britell decided to remix the the original main title theme for “Succession.” Hip-hop star Pusha T has added rap vocals to the show’s instrumental theme, creating a new track titled “Puppets (Succession Remix),” released two days before the “Succession” season 2 finale air date Oct. 13. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content