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Home » Recent News » Fair Film and Television Streaming Contracts Affect More Than Just Recording Musicians

Fair Film and Television Streaming Contracts Affect More Than Just Recording Musicians


Marc Sazer

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

Fair contracts for streaming film and television aren’t just for AFM recording musicians—the consequences for our Pension Fund and all AFM musicians are profound.

For recording musicians facing devastating pay cuts when they get work calls for feature film and television projects designed for streaming, the pain is up close and personal. Imagine all the work, dedication, sacrifice, and competitive survival to establish a career, only to see pay cuts of 50-75% looming. Imagine knowing that those pay cuts aren’t being imposed by stressed non-profit organizations but by hugely profitable multi-billion-dollar corporations.

And how are these corporate titans—Comcast NBCUniversal, AT&T Warner Media, Disney, CBS and the others—doing?

The new U.S. Federal tax law of 2017 gave a special gift to these media giants. At the same time our ability to deduct our musician’s expenses was taken away from us, filming was made 100% deductible. Uncapped. Think about it—you can’t deduct the cost of repairing or purchasing the instrument you play on, but a major studio can deduct every penny of producing a $300 million movie.

But of course, that’s only the beginning for this set of employers. New York, Georgia, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts—more than 30 states give these companies tax incentives to film, on top of the federal deduction. Money flows as well from multiple Canadian provinces. This works great for crew, for carpenters, electricians, drivers, and grips—their work has blossomed (along with their pension funds). I recently heard the head of the Teamsters in Hollywood say that as a direct result of the California tax credits they put more pension hours into their fund last year than in any year in history.

And how has this worked out for musicians?

Well, let’s look at it like this. For one major studio film that was, in fact, scored AFM, we have real numbers. This film was released to theaters in 2018, and cost $100 million dollars to produce. Having been filmed in California, it received $18.1 million dollars in tax credits from the state, along with whatever the US tax deduction was worth. The total AFM wages? $340,000. Total. (The film earned $33 million in its opening weekend.)

Take another major motion picture—a Marvel project, filmed in Georgia. A much bigger project, the budget was $356 million. The studio was able to deduct all of its federal taxes and get tens of millions of dollars on top of that from Georgia. The studio took the scoring off to London—and took what would have been contributions to our Pension Fund and put them in its own pocket.

While federal and most state and provincial tax schemes require that at least 75% of the production take place locally, nowhere does that apply to music scoring. Imagine if 75% of the scoring had to happen within AFM jurisdiction in order to receive tax credits. We would still have organizing issues, but without the threat of offshoring we would be on much, much stronger ground!

And what would the impact be on our shared US pension fund?

We undertook a brief survey of a limited number of theatrical motion pictures released in 2018. We looked at just those films that we can demonstrate both got tax dollars and were scored overseas. Had those motion pictures been scored here, between the direct contributions and the portion contributed unallocated by our residuals fund, it would have been in the range of $800,000, with our Pension Fund gaining new long-term stable revenue from the film fund over time.

These film and TV companies are feeding deeply at the public trough throughout North America, in Canada and the United States. It’s time for them to treat musicians according to industry standards. Please stand by for further information about how you can help!

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