The COVID-19 pandemic could put another stop to movie and TV show productions across the country, including in Oklahoma. One of the largest unions for production crews could go on strike over COVID-19 protocols.
The people affected are not the actors seen on screen. Instead, this is a strike of the hundreds of people behind the scenes that make the movies happen. They demand better work conditions and pay, or they will walk off the set.
"When you look at the shear number of union members that IATSE have, it's about 47,000 people. This is a huge amount of the workforce," said Richard Janes, cofounder of Green Pasture Studios.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees or IATSE union threatens to strike as the pandemic has forced many crew members to be on set for hours on end.
"IATSE is the union for camera operators, costumers, they encroach a lot of these below the line crew," Janes said. "Crew work a great many hours on set. Some crew are working 18 hours on set."
That doesn't include travel time to and from work. Some crew members were asked to skip meal breaks to keep up with the fast pace of not just networks and big production studios, but also streaming services who are ramping up by creating their own movies and shows.
"It's got to the stage now where we have a lot of new media contracts which are paying a little less than traditional network and traditional studios," Janes said. "A lot of those people who are those junior levels and part of the union; it's really difficult for them to sustain a living in somewhere like Los Angeles, or Chicago or New York.
Oklahoma's film industry continues to boom and has raked in $161 million in just the last year with big names like Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Dennis Quaid who all shot movies across the state.
The Oklahoma Film and Music Office said the state is ripe for productions, and sent out the following statement:
"Oklahoma’s film industry continues to grow and diversify our state’s economy with over 70 productions filming around the state over the past two years, with over 10,000 career opportunities for Oklahomans and a direct fiscal impact of over $161 million this past year."
With the newly enacted Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021 and "camera-ready" workforce, communities, expanding businesses and three new certified sound-stages, Oklahoma remains poised to attract a variety of size productions to continue our projected impact throughout Oklahoma.
Recent successes that have filmed in Oklahoma such as “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Stillwater,” “The Girl Who Believes in Miracles,” the Oscar-winning “Minari,” and the television series “Reservation Dogs” (FX on Hulu) among many other productions.
The future looks bright for Oklahoma and movie fans will get to experience many made-in-Oklahoma movies including Lionsgate’s “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story,” starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin and Dennis Quaid, which opens theatrically on Christmas Day in 2021.
Janes said the union halt won't stifle Oklahoma's film industry as a whole.
"We are on the cusp of becoming one of the major film centers for North America. The strike isn't going to impact that, but it might put a little speed bump in," he said.
In Oklahoma, a person doesn't have to be a union member to work in the film industry unless it's a big, Hollywood production. Those are required to hire union members. The IATSE is expected to vote on the strike this weekend.