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Cameron and Unions

July 31, 1994

Regarding "Can He Do Side-Splitting Action?," David Kronke's interview with writer-director James Cameron (July 17):

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes, representing more than 24,000 members in Southern California who are engaged in the "below-the- line" crafts on motion picture productions, deeply resents James Cameron's statement to The Times. Quoting from your story:

"They really stuck it to us," he says of the unions. "But I'm not gonna be stuck twice. We tried to negotiate with them and I told them that if we were not able to come to terms that I would shoot out of the country next time."

Unfortunately, Cameron failed to inform The Times that IATSE has negotiated with him on his productions, including "True Lies," where the union agreed to cuts in wages and working conditions. Although it was difficult, IATSE agreed to such changes because of his threat to take the picture out of the country and deprive our members of work opportunities. Now he publicly criticizes the craft unions and again threatens that he will deprive American workers of jobs.

We would like him to explain to the public, our members and the motion picture industry why, with outrageous budgets of reportedly more than $100 million per picture, he can be so insensitive to the needs and very livelihood of American workers.

Cameron is an example of how greed can take precedence over love of country and his fellow workers.

HARRY J. FLOYD

Assistant to the President

IATSE West Coast Office

Sherman Oaks

*

James Cameron asserts that he is taking "Spiderman,' his next picture for 20th Century Fox, outside the United States because he was unable to negotiate satisfactory terms with film industry unions on his latest extravaganza, "True Lies."

Yet the film technician's union scale is the same whether the picture costs 100, 50, 25 or 10 million dollars. Naturally, the bigger the picture, the bigger the crew, the more paychecks to sign. But if one compares union costs to the creative "above-the-line" salaries, fighter jets and state-of- the-art special effects used in "Lies," they are merely a nick in the sign that says "Hollywood."

Cameron stated: "We tried to negotiate with them (the unions) and I told them that if we were not able to come to terms that I would shoot out of the country next time." This marks the first time in memory that a major director, in clear and forthright terms, told of his plans to eradicate jobs from the lifeblood industry of Southern California, not because of story, time period or location but solely because of the American film unions.

Cameron's claims that the unions will not "negotiate" are preposterous, for these are anything but negotiating sessions. Producers meet with union representatives in pre-production and essentially decide how much the union is going to give up on the contract. No holiday pay, no vacation pay, the hiring of non-union personnel to fill more and more positions--the list goes on and on.

This is about simple ethics. Right from wrong. What's good for the community and what's not. Either way, Cameron and 20th Century Fox will make millions, but who's going to be left to fix that sign?

DAVID ELTON

Los Angeles

*

As a proud member of Local 659, International Photographers Guild, I take exception to James Cameron's comments.

The article quotes Cameron as vowing to bring down costs on his next feature by avoiding working with American unions. What specific unions is he speaking of? He is very vague. Is he referring to the unions of which he is a member--the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild?

Once again, is a high-powered director-producer attempting to shift the blame for a feature film gone way over budget onto hard-working, middle-class craftspeople who create and execute his "carefully sculpted image"?

I don't begrudge the actors' high salaries. They are very talented, and using Arnold Schwarzenegger's name and face can garner a studio a high return on its investment. I don't begrudge Cameron's high salary. He is a very talented director-writer with a proven track record. I am hurt that these well-paid individuals would begrudge we union members a decent middle-class living, safe working conditions and health and welfare benefits.

I love being a craftsperson in the film industry. I just hope that in the future the studios, producers, directors, and craftspeople can adhere to the equitable agreements already reached through fair negotiations, so we can all just do what we do best, make films and television.

STEVEN L. ROGERS

Reseda

*

So director-writer Cameron feels that American unions share the blame for the absurdly high budget of "True Lies"? While I doubt that Cameron was willing to listen to the crew's feelings about his own ridiculous salary, he says that he asked for concessions from them.

Well, the record shows that IATSE has been giving more than it has been getting throughout the last several contracts. Unions are in enough trouble without critiques from rich filmmakers.

What about Cameron and his own unions, the directors and writers' guilds, as well as the actors' union, the Screen Actors Guild? They cruise along quite nicely, even on shows without IATSE contracts, where crews are frequently overworked or underpaid.

So when a big-budget show like "True Lies" comes along, under the self-admitted demanding tutelage of a mega-director like Cameron, featuring a mega-star like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a mega-schedule, is it any wonder that the hard-working crew wants to benefit from the (rarer and rarer) opportunity to earn good paychecks?

Perhaps Cameron and his ilk (remember Bruce Willis?) should consider this karmic compensation for past (and future) abuses and short-changing of the below-the-line craftspersons in the film industry.

J. P. HAYS

Altadena

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