April 30th 2005
FTAC BOOSTS BURBANK BOARD'S BACKBONE
By Mark London Williams
"After all these years, FTAC has reached a point of maturity.” That was Michael Everett's feeling as he gazed across the Burbank City Council chambers on the last Tuesday of April and saw the room-and the stairs below-overflowing with people, Hollywood workers, who had all come to watch a vote.
Below the Line was there, too, and the evening's events caused a literal holding of the presses, and the very issue you're now reading to come out late.
Everett, an executive board member for IA Local 728-the studio electrical lighting techs-was there with a lot of his peers, like Gary Dunham, president of IA Local 600, Ronnie Cunningham, business agent for the property craft folk at Local 44, and Tony Cousimano, president of Teamsters' Local 399.
They were there, with nearly 200 other supporters, to see if the City of Burbank would go officially on record to endorse the Film and Television Action Committee's 301s petition-a formal legal "organ," as they like to say in D.C., filed with the United States Trade Representative (USTR) requesting that he investigate the Canadian subsidies to film and television production.
FTAC and its supporters in the guilds and locals didn't have to wait until morning for the smell of victory; it was delivered to them that evening by the council, which voted 3-2, to more than a few peoples' surprise, to endorse the FTAC resolution.
In the 60 days since FTAC first showed up in the Burbank Council chambers -getting them to agree to calendar the item on an otherwise quiet weeknight-the sound, fury and intrigue around the proposition has grown.
Perception often creates reality in politics, and Everett stated this was the "tip of a huge iceberg.” The cities of Pittsburgh and Santa Monica had previously gone on record in support of FTAC, but Burbank is the home of Warner Bros. (owned by AOL Time Warner) NBC Productions (owned by GE), and Disney (owner of ABC, ESPN, etc.), as well as scores of film and production-related businesses, equipment houses and post facilities. Thus the reverberations would, well, vibe a lot stronger there.
Both sides were aware of that, and letters were furiously circulated to city council offices, and among rank-and-file workers, staking out both sides of the issue. In its letter to Burbank mayor Marsha Ramos the MPAA stated that film production "falls under the category of 'audiovisual services’ and there are no remedies for incentives or services.”
In 399's letter to the council, signed by secretary-treasurer Leo T. Reed, the Teamsters noted that the MPAA, however, has "utilized the same trade law FTAC wants to use" in its "well-publicized campaign against foreign film piracy.”
Ramos was joined in support of the measure by council members David Golonski and Todd Campbell, with member Stacey Murphy and vice-mayor Jef Vander Borght voting no.
Melissa Patack, vice president of California Government Affairs for the MPAA, said, "While we are disappointed by the vote at the Burbank City Council last evening, their action will not result in a single production locating in California, nor will it protect or create a single job.”
The majority of people in the council's chambers were there to disagree. Not only disagree, but to call for new tactics in light of the victory. Cousimano stood on the city hall steps to declare that job loss is "an industry issue; we need to put aside our political differences,” he said, not only of his Teamsters, but also the numerous IA locals and the above-the-line guilds. Hollywood, he averred, was "the poster child" for outsourcing, and he disputed MPAA statistics showing a merry domestic picture on the production gig front.
He called their stats "a lot of window dressing," and allowed that an uptick of work hours on the East Coast did little to address California issues, which also include the flight of postproduction jobs and related disciplines like visual effects.
Alan Dunn, attorney from the D.C. firm of Stewart and Stewart, who is doing all the legal wrangling on the trade resolution front for FTAC, called the evening "a momentum change,” saying the vote "adds to the political support for the organization.”
Dunn was hopeful that an increased political dialogue over the issue would lead to the conclusion that "a subsidy war is counter productive" if cities, states and countries compete to keep hurling incentives at producers, to the exclusion of everyone else, to lure film biz to their locales.
Or as 399's letter put it, "history shows us that matching a competitor's subsidies serves only to create a bidding war of which the only winner is the recipient and not any of the participants.”
While such comments may have gone beyond the scope of what Burbank's council could reasonably consider, they serve as a salvo for framing the debate as it moves forward from the self-described "Media Capital of the World's” council chambers.
Cousimano told BTL that "this issue needs to be brought in front of the AFL-CIO,” which, of course, will nationalize it, and is precisely the sort of thing the MPAA probably wishes to avoid. Forcing an AFL-CIO-wide position on the issue will also cause some soul searching among those IA locals and IA leaders that have been resolutely anti-FTAC since the beginning, owing mostly to that "I”-for International-in IATSE's name.
Dues, in other words, flow into their coffers from more than one set of borders.
FTAC's victory was ironic-or bittersweet, pick your word-in light of the passing of FTAC co-founder and past chairman Brent Swift the day before. Swift was there when FTAC was regarded as a kind of fringe group. After the Burbank Council's vote, they've definitely come in from the cold.
Below the Line staff contributed to this story.