NEW YORK, JAN. 24 -- No one would dispute that Los Angeles is the film capital of America, but where would modern moviemaking be without New York City?
"The Godfather Part III" shot in Chicago? "Do the Right Thing" in Detroit? "Manhattan" in Toronto?
In the future, however, filmgoers may be seeing little of Manhattan's concrete canyons and Brooklyn's brownstones. Sticky negotiations between six major film studios and the union representing camera crews ended in a standoff today, with the studio representatives vowing not to make films here until a contract is signed.
While a disabling strike continues at the New York Daily News and municipal workers are threatened with layoffs, scant attention has been paid to the battle between the California studios and the freelance camera crews. The studios involved are Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., MGM-United Artists, 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and Orion Pictures, as a distributor.
At stake are the jobs of about 3,500 people who help make more than 100 movies here each year, part of the 80,000 people who are members of film-related trade unions in New York City, according to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.
So far an agreement seems far off. At issue are what's known as Hollywood work rules vs. New York work rules. Film crews are paid less in California than in New York, and they have less stringent rules about overtime and double time. But in California, workers get residual pay when the rights to the movies they worked on are sold for syndication, cable or videocassette. Those residuals fund health, pension and welfare plans, resulting in better benefits for the West Coast workers.
The studios are insisting that the East Coast workers adopt the West's work rules, without the residual benefits, but the unions are refusing unless they get the whole package. "We see no need to give a profitable industry a concession when we're not getting anything in return for it," said Lou D'Agostino, business representative for International Photographers Local 644.
D'Agostino said the producers walked out of the talks this morning without responding to the union's proposals. Stephen Koppekin, the studios' chief negotiator, was on a plane to Florida for the Super Bowl and could not be reached for comment. Executives at several of the studios refused to be interviewed for this story.
D'Agostino said that bargaining with the studios was always contentious but has become more difficult now that they're owned by conglomerates.
"We're not dealing with Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer," he said, speaking of former studio heads. "We're dealing with bureaucrats who haven't worked in the industry. We're dealing with lawyers or accountants who don't know what it's like to work 14 hours in a snowstorm in New York."
Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates contracts for studios when they film on the West Coast but is not involved in the East Coast bargaining, said, "Our studies indicate that labor costs in New York in the film industry are 30 to 47 percent higher than in Los Angeles. Where it really gets expensive is when you have to shoot at night or on the weekends."
Mayor David Dinkins has written the unions and studios offering the city's assistance in resolving the deadlock, and his concern is no surprise. Film production is New York's third-largest industry, after tourism and fashion, according to the city's Office of Economic Development. More than $2.7 billion was spent here on film and video production in 1989.
Anyone who lives or works here knows well the film industry's impact. Last summer, the Brooklyn Bridge's Brooklyn-bound lanes were shut down for eight nights while car chases and stunts were shot for a film called "Hudson Hawk." Meanwhile, in Times Square, an enormous billboard of Michael J. Fox was erected for "The Hard Way." The billboard wasn't an advertisement for the movie, but part of the set.
For "Billy Bathgate," a story set in gangster days, street lights were replaced, store signs were changed and classic cars with period license plates cruised the streets.
On big productions like these, trailers with darkened windows line up for a block, tantalizingly labeled "Makeup" or "Wardrobe."
In the winter, the pace of film work typically slackens, but this year is "unusually slow," according to Nina Streich, assistant director of the mayor's film office. Only four movies are being shot right now, two of them low-budget features.
"Over 15 films to my knowledge have been rescheduled or rewritten to get around New York," said Counter. "New York is being ignored for the moment by the major studios, all of them, including those not in the negotiations. ... Right now you've got people who are planning movies five months in advance, so even if it was settled tomorrow, it would be awhile before pictures start coming back."