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Film production in Wilmington proceeds as scheduled Monday

Film production in Wilmington is happening as scheduled Monday after a union representing tens of thousands of crew workers nationwide reached a tentative agreement with movie and television producers over the weekend, seemingly avoiding a nationwide strike that would’ve brought most productions to a halt.

According to a news release from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, the agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, includes sought-after wage increases and mandatory rest periods for crew workers.

The AMPTP represents such major film and TV producers as Amazon, Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Warner Bros. and others. IATSE represents workers including grips, camera technicians, costumers and other jobs essential to film production.

The release said the agreement — which must still be approved by union members — “affects 40,000 film and television workers represented by 13 West Coast IATSE local unions.”

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That agreement, however, does not immediately apply to 36 other IATSE locals, including IATSE Local 491, which has offices in Wilmington.

“Our folks are very confused right now,” said Darla D. McGlamery, business agent for IATSE 491, which represents members in North Carolina, South Carolina and the Savannah area of Georgia.

McGlamery said negotiations between the AMPTP and IATSE Local 491 and other union locals resume on Wednesday and are expected to continue through Friday. She said it’s possible a deal “may look similar” to the one the IATSE has already negotiated, although she’s “guardedly optimistic” it could wind up being even better for film crew workers in the Southeast.

In early October, about 98% of IATSE members nationwide voted in favor of authorizing a strike, with about 90% of union members participating in the vote. Last week, IATSE President Matthew Loeb set an Oct. 18 deadline for calling a strike if an agreement had not been reached.

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At issue was the lack of time off between work days that can stretch to well over 12 hours, and an expired agreement from 2009 that allowed for lower wages for workers on productions for streaming services, then termed “new media.”

In the news release, Loeb touted the tentative agreement, calling it a “Hollywood ending … We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world, and we have now reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs.”

Reaction across social media among some union members, who are not generally allowed by IATSE to speak with the media, was rater more muted. Some union members openly expressed disappointment or even said they would vote against the agreement.

Film industry trade publication Variety ran a story Sunday with a headline that read, “IATSE Deal Could Be Rejected by Members: ‘Our Leadership Let Us Down.'”

McGlamery said she’s heard the complaints from the union’s rank and file.

At the end of the day, McGlamery said, the ability of film crews in the South to churn out content in a way that is economically viable for the industry will ultimately serve to improve wages and working conditions for film crews throughout the industry.

“This is a story about how the South saved Hollywood,” she said.

The Wilmington area is currently seeing its highest level of film production in years, if not ever, with at least eight projects currently in production or pre-production. In North Carolina, about $410 million in direct spending from film productions is expected this year, a number that would be, by far, an all-time record for the state.

Film Partnership of North Carolina
In other local film news, the Wilmington City Council announced Monday it would vote on using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to launch a “film and production workforce development initiative” called the Film Partnership of North Carolina, according to a news release from the city.

Details on the program, called the first of its kind in the state, were presented by city staffers and “key partners of the initiative” on Monday as part of the council’s agenda briefing.

A vote on awarding the funding is set for the Wilmington City council meeting on Nov. 3.

“Film is a cornerstone of our local economy and we must be intentional about keeping it that way.” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in the release. “This initiative will create a pipeline of qualified, local talent ready to work, while bolstering Wilmington’s status as a place where film is welcomed and embraced.”

The initiative aims to provide an average of five weeks of on-the-job training for at least 90 pupils, who will be paid $15 an hour, with 10 hours of pre-approved overtime at time and a half.

The first training session is scheduled for later this year, and the emphasis is on hiring women and minorities, who are traditionally under-represented in the film industry.

Collaborators in the partnership with the city include the N.C. Department of Commerce, the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, GLOW Academy and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, or IATSE.

“We have been recruiting and have placed several trainees over summer,” Darla McGlamery, business agent for IATSE Local 491, said in the release. “We are breaking records for film and production investments this year, and it’s important that we create a pipeline of well-trained talent to meet the demands of the industry.”

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