The bitter battle between IATSE and the producers of Sharknado 3 over efforts to organize the 40-member crew of the latest installment of the schlocky hit series of films about flying sharks attacking U.S. cities got even more biting as last week drew to a close.
In the first response from The Asylum, (the company producing the film for the Syfy cable network), since the March 3 walkout by the crew seeking union representation – Paul Bales, the company’s chief operating officer, accused the IA of bullying and intimidation. The IA shot back, charging the company with “outright lying about the facts” and called Bales’ statement “nothing more than an anti-union screed.”
The strike action and picketing moved from Asylum facilities in Burbank to Washington, D.C. last week where the movie was filming on location in front of the White House with a replacement crew. “All IATSE members, when notified, honored the strike and walked off the jobs,” according to Vanessa Holtgrewe, spokeswoman for the IA. Nevertheless, the shoot continued, including a scene with Michelle Bachmann, playing her former self as a member of Congress. (There are a number of hard right conservatives in the cast including columnist Ann Coulter who plays the vice president.)
The high stakes in the labor dispute, already getting international attention, were raised some more when AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka met with some of the picketers and announced he was supporting the strike.
Sharknado 2, which became the highest rated original movie in Syfy history, was a union shoot, although the first was not. Asylum, however, decided to change course and go non-union on 3. “It is true that Sharkando 2 was made under an IATSE contract,” said Bales. “However, dealing with the New York City locals was the worst experience we’ve had in making over 200 movies. After all of the manipulation and bullying, inefficiency, overcharging, lying and featherbedding, we had absolutely no desire to repeat this experience on Sharknado 3. The IATSE’s actions on this film have confirmed that we made the right decision.”
Bales also accused the IA of harassing members of the replacement crew, in particular women. “Unmotivated by the crew themselves, the IATSE pulled the union members working on the film and coerced most of the non-union crew not to cross the picket line by claiming that they would never be able to join the union in the future. The replacement crew and the crew who have continued to work have been subject to everything from cyberbullying, threats, objects being thrown at them, verbal and physical intimidation, staged pedestrian accidents and mysteriously flattened tires. Most disturbingly, the majority of the vitriol has been directed at the women on our crew, including the posting of their photographs, phone numbers, and license plate numbers to invite their harassment.”
An outside consultant to Asylum meanwhile issued a derisive announcement: “We are happy to report that we have reached an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Selachimorpha, which represents the sharks in our film. We will be increasing the amount of chum at the craft services table and will no longer require our employees to sleep without moving,” the statement read. Selachimorpha is the scientific name for shark.
Holtgrewe, the IA’s assistant director of motion picture and television production fired back: “Once again, the Asylum distinguishes themselves as not only misrepresenting the truth but outright lying about the facts. The IATSE stands with the original crew of Sharknado 3 who voted overwhelmingly for union representation. Many of the crew were on the picket lines in Los Angeles day after day, and their Facebook page, Strikenado, is filled with their testimonies, as well as those who have had the displeasure of working for the Asylum before. Like the Asylum’s original statement, which mocked this hardworking crew, this new collection of lies is nothing more than an anti-union screed.”
What happens next is unclear. Despite the ramped up rhetoric and the blood in the water, there is a precedent that could signal an eventual settlement. The last dispute of this kind occurred last fall when 16 editors walked out on Bravo reality show, Shahs of Sunset, which was not unionized. After two-and-a-half weeks of picketing, an agreement was reached when Bravo and its parent, NBC/Universal, agreed to let the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild (Local 700) represent the show’s editors. The IA was able to exert pressure because the walkout had disrupted production and put the air date for the new season in jeopardy. Ironically, the new season, set to begin last winter, finally premiered on March 3, the same day the Sharknado 3 walkout began.
The Sharknado 3 producers claim shooting has not been disrupted, despite the strike and picketing, and that the movie will air as scheduled on Syfy in July. Provided it doesn’t succumb to some IATSE-launched flying sharks before then.