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Set Decorator Credits

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The propmakers union is trying to restore credit where it thinks credit is due for set decorators who belong to and are represented by the 5,600-member union. And it’s threatening to invoke grievance procedures to arbitrate the matter.At issue is where set decorator names appear in film credits. These days set decorators usually are found somewhere down the credit list, but rarely near the top. And almost never with their own credit “card.”The union says contract language specifically requires that the names of set decorators appear in “a prominent place” along with cinematographers, editors and art directors high up in the credits of a movie. And prominent placement means just after the top above-the-line credits for the actors, producers, director and writers.Ronnie Cunningham, the business representative for Local 44 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, says producers have in recent years frequently breached this obligation when it comes to set decorators. Now he’s sending out letters to producers on behalf of the set decorators, reminding them of “prominent placement” language in IATSE’s and Local 44’s collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers.“We will vigorously pursue all contractual obligations,” Cunningham told Below the Line. “If we have to, we’re willing to go to arbitration to get a definition of prominent placement,’” he added.AMPTP head Nicholas Counter dismisses the contention that set decorators have a contractual right to “a prominent place” in credits. “Everyone is always complaining that they’d like to see their credits higher up, and that’s all that this is about.”The language at issue appears in paragraph 84 of the contract, which virtually duplicates the same paragraph 84 wording for cinematographers (they are referred to as photographers in their contract), editors and art directors: “Whenever and as long as the practice of giving screen credit to any individual (exclusive of the Producer, Writer, Director and cast) prevails, the Producer agrees that the screen credit shall also be given in a prominent place on all positive prints to the Set Decorators rendering their services for the photoplay.”While DPs, editors and art directors have received a separate credit card, according to the letter that’s going to producers from Cunningham—a practice he praises as “well deserved” as well as in line with their contracts—Local 44 “has detected that motion picture and/or television productions covered by the Agreement have relegated Set Decorator screen credits to the crawl instead of a ‘prominent place’ as required by Paragraph 84 of the Agreement.”The letter, which will go to all individual producers subject to the IATSE agreement on behalf of Local 44, insists they aren’t being targeted “because we believe your production company is in violation of Paragraph 84,” or that it has ever violated 84 in the past. It’s a reminder “of your obligations under the Agreement” so that set decorators “receive their proper contractual screen credit recognition in your next motion picture and/or television production.”But Cunningham also tells the producers that in the past Local 44 has “had to access the Agreement’s grievance procedures,” on behalf of its set decorator members for “prominent place” credits. He adds that Local 44 “has prevailed in these grievances” and has obtained for its set decorator members “not only monetary compensation… but also written apologies, published in various entertainment trades such as Variety.”Cunningham is also sending out letters to set decorators who are members of Local 44 to keep tabs on productions where they failed to secure proper screen credit, according to the agreement, and also cases where they did. The union is trying to obtain data that it could use in any larger arbitration action with AMPTP.In the letter to members, Cunningham notes that for set decorators, “prominent place” credit was the “accepted practice within the industry until the latter part of the 1980s” when their credits became part of the crawl.So why has Local 44 decided to get tough now, after years of letting the contract language go unenforced?Cunningham, elected to Local 44’s top position as business agent again last September after being voted out of office for several years, had previously served in the post for 12 years from 1989 to 2001. So why hadn’t he taken action during his previous tenure to get producers to stick to the contract terms?The union was coming out of several years in trusteeship after allegations of mob involvement and had lost its clout when he took office in 1989, he explained. “It was during that period when the producers began to ignore the credit placement requirements for set decorators,” he said. Later attempts to negotiate the issue with producers “got only spotty results.”

Written by Jack Egan

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