Bushwick is famous for its community of filmmakers. A quick GoogleMaps search brings up nearly two dozen small studios in the neighborhood. In all of New York, the film industry supplies around 185,000 jobs. But the reality of being a film worker can be quite dark.
In August, Brooklyn-based lighting technician Ben Gottlieb started an Instagram page called “IATSE Stories” that shares horror stories of working in the industry. In screenshots of submissions, workers detail low pay, long hours, emotional abuse and the cumulative effects on their mental and physical health.
The account has amassed 52,000 followers and attracted press coverage from major news outlets across the country. An article in Vanity Fair even cited the account as inspiring the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) strike. The union has around 150,000 members and includes workers in TV and movies, live theater, concerts and the construction and equipment workers who support these industries.
The IATSE strike passed with an impressive margin. Ninety percent of the around 60,000 eligible voters cast a ballot, and 98 percent of those people voted to authorize a strike. Talks are still going on, and a strike has not yet been declared as of October 12.
Despite the strike’s national news coverage and its buzz here in New York, it does not directly apply to film workers here in Bushwick. The negotiations broke down over two specific agreements: the Hollywood Basic Agreement (whose negotiating local chapters cover around 50,000 workers in Los Angeles) and the Area Standards Agreement (whose local chapter covers around 10,000 workers in filming hotspots like Atlanta and New Mexico).
Beyond the New York IATSE members who are not part of the strike, there is the additional trouble of getting into the union at all, especially for young people, who often freelance for years before getting a full time job at just one company. These young freelancers are many of the workers whom Bushwick Daily spoke with.
For many, at the start of their careers, joining IATSE is nearly impossible. For example, to join the IATSE Local One, New York’s union of stagehands, you must prove that you have worked for a company that holds a collective bargaining agreement with IATSE for three consecutive years and earned a salary of $35,000 or above during that time. (You can also go the route of the “much more difficult” organizational method or join a competitive apprenticeship program.)
Once you get into IATSE, membership fees can be costly, which can prove impossible for people getting started in the infamously low paying field. Although dues vary from chapter to chapter, the initiation fee is consistently in the hundreds of dollars. Yearly dues can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and some take a percentage of your salary.
Once you’re in the union, you report all jobs you take. Some chapters can bar you from working non-union shoots, which can be a monetary lifeline for workers breaking into the industry.
“Being barred from non-union shoots, often commercials or really indie films, can be a burden if you’re not already clicked into a scene,” said a 25-year old production manager who lives in Bushwick.
So for the large community of Bushwick film workers, the strike doesn’t have much of an impact. However, they did express they were hopeful that the strike will change the industry’s culture, even if it does not affect them now.
“I think it can have a ripple effect into non-union jobs and work expectations,” said a film freelancer in Bushwick.
“Marathon shoots are a result of poor planning and should never be part of the filmmaking community,” said Frederick Trevino, owner of Beambox Studio in Bushwick.
From his small studio on Jefferson Street, Trevino described a nearly unrecognizable side of working in film. He told Bushwick Daily he never works long hours in his small studio.
“All projects benefit from well-rested, happy crews,” Trevino said. “Long hours only hurt a production and everyone involved, including the stories being told.”
Meanwhile, the IATSE Stories Instagram page continues to post its horror stories, and more and more people are hitting follow and reading them.
Featured Image: @ia_stories
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