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June 6, 2013

"Captain America" outsources musical score

By Doug Vehovec

Captain America protest

For the past several weeks Clevelanders – and superhero movie fandom worldwide – have watched the streets of downtown Cleveland with excitement while filming takes place for Marvel Studios’ big budget feature “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
But not everyone lined up along the set’s perimeter gathered to catch a glimpse of Hollywood stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Evans, or witness exciting car chases and explosions.

On Thursday, May 23, members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) arrived to raise awareness about what they say is unfair practice by Marvel Studios. 

According to the AFM, the studio is exporting jobs that should belong to American musicians, using tax credits to outsource the film’s musical score to Europe and hiring foreign musicians.

AFM protesters“It’s about jobs, and it’s about fairness,” said Linda Rapka, communications director of the AFM local 47 in Los Angeles, who traveled to Cleveland for the demonstration.  “Every other person associated with the film is U.S. based and receives the union benefits that these tax credits are intended to keep jobs here – ­except for the musicians.”

At the end of production the studio will receive a $9.5 million tax credit from the state of Ohio.  Additional credits are given by the federal government.  The intent of these movie production incentives is to encourage in-state film production.

The Ohio Motion Picture Tax Incentive – a state specific program – provides a refundable credit to eligible productions equal to 25 percent off in-state spending and non-resident wages, and 35 percent in Ohio resident wages, according to the Ohio Film Office website.  The credit does apply to wages paid to workers outside of Ohio, but only for work done during “shooting days” – the days when principal photography takes place.

At hand is the issue of the language used in specifying what constitutes film production.  A film’s musical score, along with other processes like special effects and editing, are part of post-production. 

The distinction is what allows studios to collect incentives for the actual shooting while retaining the ability to delegate other tasks outside the U.S.

The AFM, as a labor organization, works to bargain and negotiate on behalf of professional musicians.

“We want to spread awareness to studios such as Marvel and other studios that it’s wrong to use U.S. tax credits and then ship jobs overseas,” Rapka said.  “And it’s wrong to treat musicians unfairly.”

Marvel Studios could not be reached for comment about the issue raised by the union.
In the film industry, collective bargaining and union negotiations are nothing new.  In the case of “Captain America,” the AFM saw an opportunity to raise awareness through the nature of this particular film.

“It’s peculiar to us that the work for film scores if off-shored,” said Leonard DiCosimo, president of the AFM Local 4 here in Cleveland.  “We’re totally supportive of all the work that SAG and AFTRA, and the teamsters here locally, and the iron workers are doing.  And the film commission for that matter.

“I think, personally, that it’s highly ironic that tax dollars are being given to an American corporation and the industry that I represent is being handled by foreign workers.  I think it’s highly ironic that it’s also Captain America, and comic book characters which are primarily an American institution.”

In seeking to raise public consciousness about film production practices, the AFM’s international leadership hopes to start a dialogue with Marvel and other studios on behalf of American musicians.  The organization would like to increase opportunities for the artists they represent.

“It’s been unsuccessful for the past few years,” DiCosimo said.  “But hope springs eternal, right?”