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Home » Officer Columns » At Last!

At Last!

  -  AFM Vice President from Canada

Lire cette chronique en français:

It was almost 30 years ago that the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) approved a document for use in Canada to cover theatrical motion pictures and episodic television film, which were considered Canadian content. More specifically, the productions had to comply with established criteria, such as certification through the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) and attain sufficient points on a system where Canadian actors, directors, composers, and other professionals were engaged. That document was called Canadian Content Production Rules (CCPR).

The genesis of this was based on testimony from musicians and composers who did the work and found that “Canadian content” had such a low global impact and uptake, that residual payments through the Film Musicians’ Secondary Market Fund (FMSMF) were miniscule or nonexistent. CCPR provided for a higher front-end payment with no participation in the FMSMF. By all measures, the exercise was successful—until it wasn’t.

In terms of technology, shifting global markets, emerging platforms (new media) and big tech companies, the landscape has changed dramatically. Scoring budgets were reduced, sometimes dramatically, to accommodate small internet productions because “new media was an experiment and there’s no money in it.” Composers were pushed to give up part or all their writers’ share, and score cheaper using digital audio workstations, as opposed to using live musicians. Or they sent their score overseas to Prague or Bratislava to be recorded by European musicians.

Added to this has been a shift from traditional broadcasters (e.g., Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) producing in-house, to outsourcing via independent producers. The amount of work contracted through broadcast agreements shrank, but the number of signatories to CCPR has declined as well. Meanwhile, TV and film production has boomed, and the “experimental” internet streaming platforms have exploded. Still, musicians and composers are earning less and have been coerced out of copyrights and deprived of residuals. As usual, everyone was getting rich except the artists.

At the centre of all the action is the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), which boasts nearly 500 member production houses across Canada, a mix of small mom-and-pop shops to very large companies. To place this work under contract, several efforts were made in the past to engage CMPA in collective bargaining. They refused. And since these producers are of provincial jurisdiction, they could not be compelled to bargain by virtue of federal Status of the Artist. What to do?

In 2018, I made the brash decision to withdraw access to CCPR. That meant, if a production was commissioned by CBC, it had to be done under our General Production Agreement. Within two days, our office was asked to attend an emergency meeting with some producers and lawyers, all extremely agitated by this turn of events. At that meeting, we were given assurance that CMPA would, indeed, come to the table and bargain an independent production agreement. And so, it began.

Negotiating a new agreement from scratch is challenging. It was made even more so in that we initially tabled our General Production Agreement as the model. It became clear that there were major differences between a broadcaster who produces and owns the intellectual property, and a gun for hire production company. Suffice to say, there were many areas of contention, including a philosophical difference between what employers believe artists deserve and how an artist views their contribution to the creative process. One such example led to a heated exchange during the fourth round in Vancouver. CMPA continued to demand a “rights acquisition” package, in perpetuity, which included moral rights of the artists. Incensed by their arrogance, we walked away from the table.

Months later, both parties agreed to continue bargaining, as CMPA now saw the value of such an agreement. Then, of course, the pandemic struck, and negotiations were relegated to sporadic bouts over Zoom. Progress over that medium was slow, and not conducive to sidebar discussions. However, by November 2022, we were able to resume in-person bargaining. Upon conclusion of those meetings, the number of issues remaining were less than a dozen. Another round was scheduled for April 2023.

I am happy to report that in the wee hours of the last day, we were able to reach a tentative agreement. As in all negotiations, neither side gets everything they want; there is always some compromise, and such is the case here. For instance, the producer is still able to acquire distribution rights in perpetuity, however, there are more hoops to jump through and the cost is greater.

There are two options. In the first, upon payment of the base rate plus 15%, the producer can acquire the rights for a two-year period, and an additional 15% per year after that up to four, where it becomes 10%. The second option allows a 10-year buy for an additional 55% above the base rate. They may then acquire perpetuity for an additional 10%, or a total of 65% over the base rate.

What does that mean? The current base fee for CCPR (three-hour session) is $386. This new agreement begins with a 3% increase over that, and 3% more for each year of the three-year deal. That means, if the producer picks up all the options to acquire perpetuity, the musicians will now see a contracted fee (by the end of the agreement) of $671.64, plus 12% pension. I would call that a win.

There is another area of compromise, regarding new media productions where the total budget per episode is less than $25,000. In this case, the base rate is reduced by 15%; however, all the step-ups under both options are still applicable.

There is still much to do in terms of editing, then sending out for ratification. However, we are projecting an effective date of January 1, 2024. I would like to extend my gratitude to the CFM team, which has changed somewhat since the negotiations began five years ago. Those who were at the last two rounds are: AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife; Local 149 (Toronto, ON) Executive Director Dusty Kelly and Vice President Dr. Rea Beaumont; Doug Kuss of Local 547 (Calgary, AB); Local 571 (Halifax, NS) Secretary-Treasurer Varun Vyas; and CFM Executive Director Liana White, Director of Administration Susan Whitfield, and Contracting and Licensing Coordinator Carl Schilde. All these folks went above and beyond, enduring frustrations, outbursts, and conflicting ideologies to deliver the best possible agreement for Canadian musicians. I am forever in their debt.

Women in Music Canada Names New Committee Members

Women in Music Canada (WIMC), an advocacy group dedicated to advancing the cause of gender equality in the music industry, announced its 2023 board of directors and executive committee.

Liana White, executive director of the Canadian Office of the AFM and member of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) and Local 518 (Kingston, ON), who served as secretary for five years, has been named chair. The previous chair, organization founder Samantha Slattery, has stepped back to assume the role of board chair. Trisha Carter has been elected vice chair and Kristy Fletcher (CARAS/MusiCounts) will serve as secretary.

White says, “Along with these many Canadian women, I applaud Samantha for her years of sacrifice to build Women in Music to help sound our voices and advance our careers.”

Women in Music Canada has been an inspiration for women across Canada to form provincial chapters of the organization. Slattery founded Women in Music Canada in 2014 and has guided the organization over the past decade, building a membership of more than 2000, developing the WIMC director, and launching collaborations such as the Allies in Action program with the JUNO Awards. White adds, “This is not a farewell, as we will continue to work alongside Samantha in her continued endeavors in our industry.”

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