I went to a Screen Industry Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (SIGANZ) membership drive event last night. And this morning I read a blog post out of the US about the effort to establish an independent producers union.
SIGANZ, like DEGANZ and other membership organisations that work to represent their members’ interests, and the efforts that the producers in the US are making to establish a union to represent their potential members’ interests, are faced with the same issues—the incredible apathy of many of the people they are seeking to represent.
SIGANZ has a membership of about 6 – 700 of the possible 5 – 10,000 below-the-line people in the NZ screen industry who could be a member of that guild. We have just over three hundred members of the possible 1,000 – 1,500 working directors and editors in New Zealand.
In the US article, many reasons were given for why they weren’t getting the support from the producers they needed to establish a truly representative organisation. One paragraph from that blog stood out:
“There was also a large group of producers who were sceptical of our efforts and whether or not being involved would be detrimental to their relationships with financiers and studios. Then there was another type of producer who couldn’t see the bigger picture. For example, in one town hall, I had a very prominent producer ask, “But how does this benefit me?” While I understand this question, I explained that it’s not just about one producer. The work we were doing is also about the next generation and ensuring that they aren’t exploited in the same ways we have been. It’s about preserving the role of the producer in the future.”
You could substitute the word ‘producer’ with the word ‘director,’ ‘editor,’ or ‘techo,’ and it would have the same relevance for us.
Having worked in this job for close to seven years now, I’ve been faced with the same difficulty those seeking to set up the producers union in the US faced—getting directors and editors who aren’t members to understand that the work we do is more than just about the immediate benefit to the individual, i.e., it’s also about the bigger picture work.
I have multiple big-picture meetings each week with some or all of the EDs and GMs of the other guilds and associations, together with funding bodies, government ministries, and others involved in whatever discussion we are having. Recent examples are the Reform of Vocational Education, The NZ Screen Sector Investment Review, the Screen Industry Workers Act (SIWA), and the proposed merger of RNZ and TVNZ. In the past, it’s been the Copyright Act Review, the NZFC CEO conflict of interest situation around David Strong, and input into the NZ On Air and NZFC strategies. There are others. Some of those went on for years.
The Film Industry Working Group meetings that DEGANZ and many of the other screen industry bodies participated in took place regularly over four long years and resulted in SIWA. All of these things are somewhat abstract when it comes to answering the individual question: How does this benefit me?
A lot of the work that DEGANZ and all the other NZ guilds and associations do is not just about the ‘you’. It’s about the ‘you’ and who comes after ‘you’. Thankfully we all have members and board members who understand this. There just aren’t enough of them. But there could be.
Last night SIGANZ took a different tack by serving up a partnership programme that helps to answer the “what’s the benefit for me” question for them—something they are well positioned to do as representatives of the below-the-line Art Department where the business partner they’ve found could have a significant bottom-line benefit. Not so easy for others of us with small memberships and little buying power.
Every guild and association in New Zealand could significantly grow its membership if a lot of those non-members who could afford it joined the guild or association that best represents them, understanding that we work on their behalf as well as on behalf of future generations of screen workers.
This is a call out for you to encourage those you know to join a guild, whether it’s DEGANZ, SIGANZ, NZWG, Equity NZ, SMSG, VFXPNZ, MDGNZ, or SPADA. We will be more representative, financially independent, and better able to do the work we do now and into the future. There is a significant benefit in that for us all.