Winter 2012

Working Together

IATSE president Matt Loeb looks at the challenges facing the industry and the people employed in it.

Ten Questions Matt Loeb1. After SAG, IATSE is the world’s second largest entertainment union; how many members do you have?
We have 113,000 members. New York and L.A. are the two most populous areas, but we have sizable Locals throughout the country and also in Canada.

2. What has IATSE’s relationship been with the Directors Guild of America over the years and what would you say it is now?
I would say it has always been strong, and we’ve had a good relationship over the years. Today relations are probably as good as they’ve ever been, and we’ve been united on industry issues, not the least of which have been digital theft and other sorts of legislative issues. There have always been common issues because we bargain with the same employers, and trends in health care and pension funding affect [both] organizations. So those lines of communications have been open and mutually beneficial, but digital theft is a really practical campaign we’ve joined together on. It has given us something in common to really sink our teeth in to, and the natural opportunity to become closer, and I think we have.

3. Your efforts fighting Internet theft have included partnering with the DGA and other Hollywood guilds and the studios through the Creative America coalition. How is that working?
Creative America is just one of the many things we’ve done. It’s aimed at opinions about the issue of piracy, and hopefully it will aim at the cultural change that needs to take place so that digital theft will be recognized as a crime. In conjunction with the DGA and to some extent with the other unions and guilds, we’ve also engaged in all kinds of lobbying in Washington, meetings with the FCC, with the vice president’s office, with the Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator—anybody who will listen. But we are coordinating daily with the DGA in all those efforts.

4. Can you explain how Internet theft affects working people in the industry?
First of all, the theft of the product we work on creates erosion of the capital and the profit that goes to the companies that employ us. So the major issue, in my estimation, is about employment. It’s about whether a company that knows it’s going to lose a certain amount of its income [to digital theft] will be able to recoup its investment and continue to invest. And that’s the direct impact because obviously if there are less movies being made, there are less people working. I think that’s primary before we talk about downstream revenue and residuals. There’s no downstream revenue from a movie that doesn’t get made. But those secondary issues are also extremely important because when your residuals become part of your wages, which they do in many cases for the creators and performers, that’s how you put food on the table. And for us, if those revenue streams are choked off, the challenge that health care has already created becomes magnified.

5. The rising cost of health care was a key element of your last contract negotiation, and not coincidentally, it was for the DGA as well. Do you see maintaining quality health care for industry workers and their families as one of the crucial issues going forward?
There are many important issues, but I would say it’s the most important one. And we’re going to have to continue to deal with this double-digit inflation, so there’s no end in sight. It’s pretty difficult to bargain for other improvements until you get past the 800-pound gorilla, which is health care.

6. Do you see a time when workers in the industry will benefit significantly from new media?
I hope so. You know, new media has sort of hobbled along since we started discussing it and the monetizing of new media productions hasn’t, at least so far, become the bombshell we thought it was going to be. But having said that, there’s no question in my mind that convergence is going to happen, and that the television, the computer, and communications are all becoming more unified. And so in that respect, I think it’s critical that we stay abreast of new media, that we capture work in new media for our members, and we reiterate that it’s our jurisdiction and we become a really crucial part of its production process. Because as things change, whether it gets added to the current production structure, or erodes it or cannibalizes it, thereby replacing it, it’s the business we’re in.

7. The DGA has stressed research in its approach to new media. How important is that in determining future actions and goals?
I think it’s very important. We have rights for auditing in the agreement that we made, and that was a really key component in the last round of negotiations—to be able to measure where the business is going and quantify the value of what it is we bargained for and how important a piece of this business new media is. So I think it’s really important to reassess periodically.

8. Do you think the broadcast television model is going to continue as we know it?
Network television doesn’t exist today the way it did before. There are broadcast networks that own cable networks that are faulted to some degree for eroding their own markets. So I don’t know how media consolidation has affected that, but I suspect that those companies are going to want to be in the [network] business. It’s going to evolve but I think that the networks still hold such a significant share of the market that they’re not going to be extinct. Look at the ratings: Cable has been around a long time and there are still more people watching network shows than any other shows.

9. What impact do you think the financial crisis has had on the industry?
The businesses that are engaged in motion picture and television production and distribution, and make their money on the product we work on, are owned and operated by diversified companies. So I think in that context it’s difficult to measure the impact of the economic crisis because our industry’s just a piece of those broader businesses. But I would say so far, looking at our numbers, people are still going to movies and still watching television. So we’re weathering the storm pretty well. The production numbers, while they may have shifted regionally to some extent, aren’t terrible. On balance, the production business has been healthy for us. And I think it’s fair to say we’ve done better than most businesses.

10. In regard to the challenges facing organized labor today, you’ve said, ‘We cannot sit back and let others fight our battles, we must join with our brothers and sisters in organized labor.’ What’s the importance of a unified front in the entertainment industry at this time?
Well, the attacks on labor are really attacks on progressive politics, in my opinion. I think that’s dangerous for entertainment unions and for all unions. It has implications for everybody who works. I believe going after public employees is the Trojan horse of the attack. So we as union members in the industry and in the labor movement at large really need to consolidate for power. That’s a basic premise of unionism.

10 Questions

Question and answer sessions with prominent figures outside the Guild about current creative and business issues.

More from this issue