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Wednesday, 31 August 2011 14:20

The Editors’ Alliance

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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Unions are a fact of life in Hollywood, as they protect work conditions and wages for just about every position both in front of and behind the camera. The Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG), which is a part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), represents people in just about every aspect of postproduction for film and television, including picture editors, sound editors, mixers, effects editors, music editors, Foley artists and even story analysts.

The website for the Editors Guild is very informative, but I wanted to get a more personal view of the resources the organization offers its members and prospective employers. I contacted the Guild’s Los Angeles offices where I was directed to Executive Director Ron Kutak and National Organizer Rob Callahan, but, unfortunately, both declined several requests to be interviewed for this article. Callahan did, however, issue the following statement in an email: “Like other unions, the Guild endeavors to ensure that our members have a voice on the job and that they receive respect for the work they perform. In concrete terms, such respect translates into strong wages, excellent health and retirement benefits, safeguards on our members’ time and a host of other contractual protections.” In other words, the Editors Guild performs the same functions as any other IATSE Local. 

Jay Kamen has been an MPEG member since the late 1970s, and he has witnessed considerable change in the industry over the decades. Kamen began his career as an NYU film school graduate in the ‘70s where his classmates included Director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) and Producers Jack Rapke (Real Steel) and Joel Silver (Unknown). He later came out to Hollywood gung ho on being a director. Postproduction Supervisor Jimmy Honoré offered him a job cutting together a special reel for a charity event run by American International Pictures Co-Founder Sam Arkoff. This led to Kamen being hired as a staff editor at the company and his entry into the union. 

The 1979 hit North Dallas Forty was Kamen’s first credited film as an editor. Since then, most of his credits are as an ADR or sound editor on films like Look Who’s Talking, The Hunt for Red October and Independence Day. Kamen came full circle when Honoré, as Sony Pictures’ executive VP of postproduction, hired him as a staff editor a dozen years ago. “I’m thrilled to be working union member and was proud and excited when I got into the union,” Kamen says today. But the Guild’s growing ranks concern him, because digital technology has tremendously reduced the number of people needed to cut features. “When I was working as a sound editor on The Hunt for Red October, it was common to have between 35 and 70 people on a sound editing crew. Now you’re lucky if there are 10.”

While Kamen applauds the Guild for successfully organizing so many previously nonunion productions, as it offers protection for the people working on those shows, he’s also concerned because the union can’t really guarantee that an editor will get work. “[With all the new members], you have a membership that is swelling and there’s not enough work for them,” Kamen says. “I’m lucky in that I’ve worked fairly steadily since 1977. But a lot of my friends are having a hard time getting the hours they need to maintain their benefits.”

Kamen would love to see the Editors Guild be more aggressive in promoting its members beyond the website’s availability list and member directory. “I was hoping that the Guild would do more to show off the talents of its membership, similar to the cameraman’s local and their Emerging Cinematographer Award, but the editors don’t have anything like that,” he reports. Kamen is very proud of the fact that Michael Nie won that very same award this year from the International Cinematographers Guild for his work as the cameraman on Not Your Time, a short film that Kamen wrote, produced, directed and edited.

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