Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Today's big family news: the looming IATSE strike.

IATSE (an acronym for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is the union that covers the vast majority of off-the-screen film and TV workers. It serves an enormous number of professionals, from special-effects teams, to makeup artists, to grips. Its largest subgroup is my son James's cinematographers' local--alone, his local includes 60,000 members.

James, as you may know, is our 27-year-old wunderkind: the kid who parlayed a 6-week internship that involved fetching coffee and halting traffic during street filming into a high-level camera-crew job. He is now first assistant camera for a primetime NBC TV show, second on his team only to the camera operator and the director of photography.

It sounds like a dream job, and in many ways it is. But his hours are horrendous--always long, many late or overnight, often cutting into weekends and holidays, and changing constantly at the whim of the studio. The job involves much time outside in bad weather, often in dangerous conditions involving special-effects explosions or crazy vehicle driving.

Issues of overwork came to a head during the pandemic, when crew members put in even longer hours to cover for sick colleagues but also discovered, during periods of shut down, that their work lives didn't have to be so brutal. Now that studios are back in full swing, the producers have gone back to driving the crews as hard as possible, but IATSE members have had enough. They want rational working hours, guaranteed time off, meal times during their work days, more compensation from streaming services, and a living wage for the members on the lower rungs of the pay scale.

Almost 90 percent of IATSE members participated in the authorization vote. Of those participants, more than 98 percent voted in favor of the strike. The mandate is overwhelming. Directors' and actors' unions are standing alongside them, as are a number of members of Congress. The situation is a huge deal for the entertainment business. If IATSE strikes, not a single camera will roll, coast to coast. Filming will shut down everywhere. The industry has not endured a strike of this magnitude for decades, and the studios and the producers had better think hard before they refuse to address the union's basic quality-of-life demands.

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