Job security for camera operators in the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 has been bolstered in the recent round of negotiations led by IATSE president Thomas Short for a new Low-Budget Agreement with the studios. As a result of the talks, completed in October, strict new language has been put in place that makes it more difficult for a producer to require a director of photography to also operate as a way to save on production costs by not hiring a camera operator.The new terms only apply to productions budgeted at $10 million and below. Before going into effect, they still need to be ratified by the executive board of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, which must approve the entire Low-Budget Production deal. No change, however, has been made to the language in the three-year Basic Agreement between the IA and the studios that was approved earlier this year, which had a provisions giving producers significant leeway to skip mandatory staffing of camera operators when hiring a DP.Because of that concession, Local 600 was one of only two unions whose members downed the contract. But it went into effect when the 16 other IA guilds covered by the pact endorsed the Basic Agreement. The Low-Budget contract “specifies new limits and raises the bar far higher than the Basic Agreement in allowing the director of photography to operate a camera,” the ICG declared.Under the Basic Agreement, a DP can be allowed to operate a camera on a feature film if the producer notifies the Local and the IA that the DP has “made a request” during preproduction to operate a camera. The producer doesn’t have to put the notice in writing. And the permission of the union is not required. Under the IATSE Low Budget Agreement, as spelled out by Local 600, the conditions are far more stringent. First, the IA must give its consent before the DP can operate a camera. Second, producers face new restrictions before they can take the step of requesting that the DP operate a camera.Producers must make that request based on “the special conditions or extraordinary circumstances” of the production. During preproduction, the producer must put the request in writing to Local 600 and the IATSE, and have the DP do the same. Most significantly, requiring a DP to operate the camera can’t be made a condition of employment. There’s a concession to cinematographers who want to operate. But the producer will have to demonstrate that the DP in question has a longstanding practice of operating the camera, because it’s a basic part of his or her shooting style, or is required by the nature of the project.
Written by Jack Egan