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Musicians Union Holds Rally to Protest Outsourcing of Film Scoring Jobs

Using the Kevin Costner film “Draft Day” as an example, the American Federation of Musicians on Thursday launched a campaign designed to stop producers from sending scoring jobs to musicians outside the U.S.

At a Westwood rally attended by about 75 musicians and members of other unions, AFM president Ray Hair contended that Lionsgate accepted $5 million in Ohio tax credits but then “outsourced” the music by recording it in Macedonia.

Lionsgate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although Lionsgate and “Draft Day” (pictured) were in the spotlight, the union rally was designed to launch a campaign, called “Listen Up!”, to focus attention on the precipitous decline in work for L.A. studio musicians because of a growing trend to record film scores in London, Prague, Bratislava and other cities. Union officials said their goal is to have the use of union musicians be a condition for productions that receive tax incentive coin.

“Over the last decade, music employment has dropped dramatically,” Hair said, complaining that many production companies and independent studios are going overseas to record, effectively picking “millions of dollars from the pockets of taxpayers and professional musicians.”

He cited Lionsgate’s “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” franchises as other examples of movies shot at least in part in the U.S. but not scored by American musicians.

AFM Local 47 president Vince Trombetta said that some L.A. musicians have seen their income decline by as much as 50% in the past few years. L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz decried runaway production generally and said that below-the-line film workers such as musicians are often hurt the most.

The reduced workload for L.A. musicians is currently a hot topic in the music community, and a controversial one because of the role of residuals paid to U.S. musicians who play on union scoring dates.

The major studios and TV networks are signatories to the AFM contract which demands these payments, but many production companies and smaller studios (including Lionsgate and Marvel) are not, allowing them to record scores outside the U.S. and avoid these payments (which can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands depending on the success of the film).

There is movement among some musicians to try and reverse the tide of overseas recording by urging union execs to give up these back-end payments that have been in the AFM’s contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers contract since the early 1970s. Those residuals provide big checks annually to hundreds of the most in-demand studio musicians.

Many composers say they are told by these companies that they will not score union specifically because of the residuals clause, and that if they insist on scoring using AFM musicians they will not get the job.

Hair, however, told Variety that the AFM will not give ground on residuals.

“The AFM is not going to bargain away the residual structure that we have,” he said. “All the other guilds have residual structures as well, and the folks who sign our contracts say that the residuals for musicians compared to residuals for the other guilds is so minor, they don’t even pay any attention to it.
“Trying to focus on the residual portion of our agreement isn’t really the total picture,” Hair said. “The answer lies in getting state governments to (include) post-production in their tax credits.” He said the AFM is now talking with California legislators about making this a reality.

The AFM has been joined by other unions in this effort. Reps from AFL-CIO, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA and WGA joined the musicians at the event, as did reps from the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.

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