Hollywood films missing U.S. union logos

Commentary: AMPTP should let guilds display labels in credits

There was a time when U.S. manufacturers were proud to display the union label on their products. There even was a song written about it during the 1970s.

"Look for the union label/It says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.!"

Today, many Hollywood films carry union logos that proudly declare a quite different message: "Look for the union label. We're able to make it in ... Canada!"

American films are littered with logos, but the only union labels you'll see in the end credits of movies produced by the Hollywood studios and major production companies are ones for unions that are wholly or partly Canadian.

If you look closely and stick around for the end credits, you'll see lots of logos for the Canadian actors union but not a single logo for SAG, America's film actors' union.

The logo for the Canadian actors union -- the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists -- pops up in the credits of numerous American films, including New Line's 2007 remake of "Hairspray," starring American SAG members John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken.

Similarly, Paramount's "Mean Girls" features a mostly American cast -- including SAG members Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey -- and a logo for ACTRA's Toronto branch. The end credits for Columbia's end-of-the-world saga "2012" -- starring American SAG members John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover -- sport a logo for yet another ACTRA branch: the Union of British Columbia Performers.

But you won't see SAG's logo on any of those films, or on any other American film produced by any major studio or major independent producer, even though the American actors were hired under SAG's contract.

SAG, of course, has a familiar logo.

But the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has refused to give SAG contractual rights to show it in the end credits of films produced by the major companies it represents at the bargaining table.

SAG has tried for years to get the AMPTP to yield on this, but to no avail. The AMPTP says there already are too many end credits and it doesn't want another contractual obligation, no matter how easy and cheap it would be to provide.

Besides, the AMPTP argues, it's a slippery slope: If it lets SAG display its union label, the DGA and the WGA will want theirs shown, too, right up there among the jumble of all the other end-credit logos for film stock, sound systems and camera equipment.

Whatever the reason, it shows smallness in a big way.

There is one union label that appears on nearly every major American motion picture: the logo of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union most moviegoers have never heard of. It represents cameramen, make-up artists, editors, costumers, hair stylists, grips, propmen and dozens of other behind-the-scenes craftspeople.

IATSE, however, isn't even an American union, really. It's an international union representing working men and women in the U.S. and -- no fooling -- Canada. (It might explain why it hasn't joined the army of other Hollywood unions that are up in arms over runaway production to Canada.)

Hollywood's movie studios have been displaying IATSE's logo, called "the IA bug," in the end credits of films since the late 1930s, when the union was dominated by the Chicago mob. IATSE won the contractual right to have its label displayed in the opening credits when theater projectionists, who also are represented by the union, threatened not to run any film that didn't carry the union's brand.

But SAG, lacking the "clout" of theater projectionists or the heavy hand of the Mafia, has for all these years been unable to get the studios to budge on its request to display its label. The only inroad has been with independent producers not aligned with the AMPTP; SAG's indie contract requires those smaller companies to display the guild's logo in the end credits of their films.

AMPTP companies will display the Directors Guild's logo in their end credits -- not the Directors Guild of America but the Directors Guild of Canada.

The DGC's logo is proudly shown in the end credits of many American films directed by American directors, including Miramax's "Good Will Hunting" and TriStar's "88 Minutes," both of which were shot partly in Canada to take advantage of Canadian tax breaks and subsidies that violate the spirit, if not the letter, of numerous fair-trade agreements.

One of my favorite American films flying the flag of the CDG is "Brokeback Mountain," which won the best director Oscar for U.S. citizen and DGA member Ang Lee. The DGC's logo in the end credits is even partly written in French for all us French-speaking cowboys down here.

Merci beaucoup, eh, ya hosers?

The AMPTP could set this right with SAG and the DGA by simply giving them, with no quid pro quo attached, the right to display their logos in the end credits of films shot under their contracts. This small token of recognition and appreciation might even ease the way for SAG's upcoming contract talks with the AMPTP, which promise to be contentious.

Besides, it wouldn't even hardly cost the companies a Canadian dollar.

David Robb is a regular commentator for The Hollywood Reporter. He has covered Hollywood's unions for more than 20 years and is the author of "Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies." He can be reached at davidrobb88@aol.com.