March 28, 2006 in City

Strike sends movie crew packing

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Quotable

“In terms of the economic benefits to the city, it’s a major loss. It’s got to be in the millions.”

- Rich Cowan, of North by Northwest

“They were using roughly 32 union members. They wanted to take advantage of their skill and expertise, but they didn’t want to pay union wages and benefits in return.”

- David Robinson, of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians (IATSE) Local 488 in Washington and Oregon

Spokane can say goodbye to Samuel L. Jackson, 50 Cent and more than 100 movie jobs.

“Home of the Brave,” the Spokane-filmed movie, packed up Monday and moved to Vancouver, B.C., after a strike by the union that represents crew members. Just three and half days of filming had been completed out of a planned monthlong shoot.

“In terms of the economic benefits to the city, it’s a major loss,” said Rich Cowan, of North by Northwest, which provided the local production services for Hollywood director Irwin Winkler and a consortium of producers. “It’s got to be in the millions.”

In addition, he said the strike resulted “in the loss of over 100 high wage jobs for Spokane-area workers.”

“If these were really ‘high wage jobs,’ there wouldn’t be any issue at all,” said David Robinson, the business manager for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians (IATSE) Local 488 in Washington and Oregon. “They were using roughly 32 union members. They wanted to take advantage of their skill and expertise, but they didn’t want to pay union wages and benefits in return.”

He said union representatives came to Spokane last week because they considered “Home of the Brave” a major motion picture with a $12 million budget.

“They signed with the Screen Actors Guild and the Director’s Guild of America, but they didn’t want to sign with IATSE,” said Robinson.

According to Cowan, “Home of the Brave” was using a mix of union and non-union crew members. Some were local and some had come in from L.A., Portland, Seattle and other cities.

“We pay good wages,” said Cowan. “There were not complaints from within the crew. This came from outside.”

Andy Barden, a non-union set electrician from Spokane, said that many crew members opposed a strike.

“The (union) used the crew as pawns to force the shoot to shut down and go union,” said Barden.

Robinson said the union allows its members to work non-union jobs. But if the union calls for a strike, it expects union members to honor the strike. In this case, key production members were unwilling to cross the strike line. Negotiations with the producers over the weekend were unsuccessful.

“They (the union) wanted to pay wages and benefits equal to New York and L.A. rates,” said Cowan. “As a result of those demands, it would have made a huge increase in our costs. So the financiers decided to move the production to Vancouver.”

Now, said Barden, even some of the union members on the shoot are out of work.

Robinson said the producers were paying competitive wages only to certain key groups – including electricians, grips and the camera department – while paying many other crew members far below standard.

“Numerous people in Spokane are not so happy with the way things have been going there,” said Robinson. “Numerous people were not getting paid at all, and many other people were extremely underpaid.”

He said that the difference between what the union was asking and what the producers wanted to pay was “only about 2.4 percent of the total budget.”

Cowan disputed that number, saying it was “a lot more than that.”

“If we ever signed a deal, it could take us out of the film business,” said Cowan. “Right now, we’re evaluating the future of making motion pictures in Spokane.”

James Acheson, one of the producers of “Mozart and the Whale,” which filmed in Spokane in 2004, said he’s also concerned about what this will mean to the future of the Spokane film industry.

“We were going to Spokane because it was cost-efficient,” said Acheson by phone from L.A. “We could do these pictures in an efficient way, which is what we like to do. But when we get struck like this, we can’t. So they go to Canada. It’s unfortunate. It’s really unfortunate.”

About 25 local actors have lost their chance to be in the movies. Joyce Cameron of Spokane landed a speaking role as the mother of a soldier. She had filmed only one of her three scenes when the movie shut down.

“It would have been a lot of fun to get involved with,” said Cameron. “But I’m sad for Spokane. It would have helped put Spokane on the map and created a lot of income for the city.”

Ironically, the setting of “Home of the Brave” may still be specified as Spokane. Cowan said the producers will probably use most of the footage shot in Spokane, including a big funeral scene at Greenwood Memorial Terrace.

“They’ll be filming mostly interiors in Vancouver,” said Cowan. “It was actually a pretty easy film to move.”


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