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Erin Pearson
May 5, 2020

Much like the other film industry related unions (SAG-AFTRA, WGA, DGA, etc), ITASE Local 700, then known as Society of Motion Picture Film Editors, was also founded during the Great Depression (1929-1942) by film editors who had their wages and jobs cut drastically. Prior to the Great Depression, Hollywood had the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (now known for the Oscars a.k.a. the Academy Awards) which represented the entirety of the film industry workers without being unionized. Those that the Academy represented felt they were getting the short end of the stick when the studios began cutting wages and imposing lay-offs. The workers decided they needed true representation, so film industry unions were born. But they weren’t received well initially. In fact, Hollywood was very anti-union at the time. It wasn’t until April 12, 1937, when the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act, passed by Congress two years prior, that the ruling forced the studios to recognize the unions for actors, writers, and directors. Just over one month later, on May 20, 1937, the Society of Motion Picture Film Editors was founded by sound editor James Wilkinson and film editors Ben Lewis and Philip Cahn.

The Great Depression lasted for 13 years and in that time, people saw and took opportunities to build and restructure the way things work. Between the Coogan law protecting children’s wages, to the founding of film industry unions, to the role of women in the workforce, to even being considered one of the most creatively innovative times in history, the Great Depression and persistent people created the world as we know it today.

What is IATSE?

IATSE stands for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and it’s broken down into more than 375 IATSE local unions and spans across 13 geographical locations. Each “local” is region and/or position-based. IATSE as a whole represents over 140,000 members across the United States and Canada.

What is IATSE local 700?

IASTSE local 700 also known as the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, represents more than 8,000 members and works to negotiate union contracts and enforces existing agreements made with employers involved in post-production. The MPEG provides assistance in negotiating better pay, better working conditions, better health insurance, safety, and assigning credit.

Should I join IATSE local 700?

As with most film industry-related unions, there’s a sweet spot for joining. Each position represented by the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild has a different “days worked” requirement in order to be considered for membership. For example:

Editors must demonstrate 175 days of non-union work experience within the last three years, prior to the date of application.


Colorists must demonstrate 100 days of non-union work experience within the last two years, prior to the date of application.

And that’s just to get approved to be on “the Roster”. Some film editors consider “the Roster” to be a sweet spot in and of itself. The Roster is for membership-eligible people who the union says are qualified for work, but haven't gotten their first union job yet. The “roster” allows potential union employers to look over your resume to see if they want to use you without worrying about your union status.

But here is where you need to be careful. In order to move from “roster” to “member”, you need to book a union job. But in order to get the benefits of membership (health insurance, etc) you need to have 600 hours clocked in as editor on a union film/project. (Hours vary based on the position you are applying under). While on the “roster” you are eligible to work on union projects, but is it really worth it to pay the membership fee on just any union gig? It is recommended that you stay on the “roster” until you get offered a union job that lasts more than a few months to ensure it’s worth the initiation fees. And in order to continue to receive all the member benefits, you must maintain a certain number of hours per 6 month period, though you can remain a member of good standing if you don’t quite hit that mark.

Like most scenarios in the film industry, who you know gets you where you want to be. Networking, regardless of your union status, is going to bring you the most benefit overall.

Can I work Union and Non-Union jobs as a member of IATSE

Yes, you can work both union and non-union jobs while you are a member of IATSE. But you need to make sure to maintain the minimum number of hours per period from a union project. You’ll need to weigh out your options and it could become a balancing act of sorts. Should I take this non-union job that pays well and have regular work for a few months? Or should I take this union job that doesn’t have as many hours, but I need the hours in order to maintain my benefits status?

What are the benefits of joining IATSE local 700?

IATSE Local 700 has one of the best-rated health care plans in the country for its members, spouses and their dependents, Motion Picture Health and Welfare. Members also gain access to two pension programs, the Motion Picture Pension Plan and the Motion Picture Industry Individual Account Plan (IAP).
The IATSE National Benefit Funds include the Pension, Annuity, Health & Welfare, Vacation and 401(k) Funds. Members also enjoy set wages and working standards, post-production practice facilities, training courses, available for work list that offers all prospective union employees 24/7 access to the Guild’s database of members’ resumes, screenings in Los Angeles and New York, bi-monthly mixers and other annual events, credit union and union plus.

About Topsheet

Topsheet is an entertainment tech company specializing in production payroll. We service clients from commercials for Fortune 500 to feature films. We are born in technology, built with filmmakers in mind.

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