MGM, Paramount Sued for Allegedly Failing to Pay 'Ben Hur' Musicians

Ben Hur Toby Kebbell Publicity Still 1 H 2016
Paramount Pictures

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada has filed a new lawsuit claiming that MGM and Paramount Pictures has failed to pay wages, benefits and residual compensation to musicians who recorded the score for the 2016 film remake of Ben Hur.

The musicians guild has been legally aggressive in recent years. This time, in California federal court, AFM asserts a violation of the collective bargaining agreement not only over payments, but also for an alleged failure to "fulfill reporting and studio access obligations."

Ben Hur was shot in Italy, states the guild, but the film retained the services of a California composer.

The score for the original 1959 movie was by Hungarian composer Miklos Rozsa and is considered a classic. According to film credits, music for the 2016 film was composed by Marco Beltrami

The court papers say the composer was responsible for hiring instrumental musicians, arrangers, orchestrators, conductors and others in order to deliver the score and furnish a master recording.

AFM alleges that it was not given a pass to the studio during working hours, and that MGM and Paramount have refused to provide a "B Form report," which typically indicates the hours and services rendered by each musician, wages and applicable contributions to pension and health benefit funds.

"MGM and Paramount have failed and refused either to cause BH Productions LLC or the composer to comply with the compensation provisions of the Agreement, including those requiring the payment of wages, contributions to pension and health benefit funds, and residual revenue contributions to the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund, to or on behalf of the musicians employed in the scoring of BEN HUR, or in the alternative, to make such payments," states the complaint.

As noted above, AFM has been particularly litigious in recent years, suing over everything from recycled soundtracks to outsourced music. On the latter front, the guild suffered a big loss last year when a judge granted a summary judgment victory to Paramount in a case concerning the score to Same Kind of Different as Me. In that decision, it was deemed important that Paramount wasn't the employer for those working on the film.

According to AFM, its collective bargaining agreement with producers will expire in April 2018.

If any response comes from MGM or Paramount, we'll update.