LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A panel of entertainment industry union leaders had a rare oportunity this week to speak directly to an audience of Hollywood business executives about what they consider to be the major issues affecting the health of the movie and TV business in Los Angeles.
For more than one hour, the panel discussed such issues as runaway production, tax incentives and upcoming negotiations on new labor contracts. Several industry leaders expressed concern about the future of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. -- an agency that was established by Los Angeles city and county governments to issue permits for location filming and encourage producers to shoot projects here rather than in less expensive locations elsewhere.
A grand jury has been investigating the EIDC and its former president, Cody Cluff -- particularly regarding about $500,000 worth of expenses reported by Cluff, and several campaign donations the organization made to elected officials who sit on its board. An independent audit of the EIDC is expected to be made public within the next several days.
At Wednesday's gathering -- billed as the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's first State of the Unions presentation -- Bruce Doering, Executive Director of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, urged city movers and shakers to keep the mission of EIDC alive, regardless of the outcome of the audit and the criminal investigation.
"We have to maintain one-stop film permitting in Los Angeles," he said. "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."
With talks scheduled to begin in New York next week on a new commercials contract for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, SAG President Melissa Gilbert sounded hopeful that there will not be a repeat of the commercial strike by actors in 2000.
"We are on the verge of negotiating a new commercials agreement," she said.
A spokeswoman for SAG said later that Gilbert had not meant to imply that a contract settlement was imminent.
Gilbert, who is running for a second term as SAG President, has said that if she is re-elected one of her first priorities will be to try again to get members of SAG and AFTRA to approve a consolidation of the two unions. A consolidation proposal fell short in a vote this summer. Gilbert said Wednesday she intended to bring the matter to another vote "before the end of the year."
AFTRA President John Connolly said a key goal of his union is to increase representation of Spanish language performers. Connolly said the pay scales and working conditions of Spanish language actors are "appalling," even though Spanish language programming is generally more profitable than English language programming.
He said GE -- which owns NBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo and several other media companies -- is still paying Spanish language performers less than it pays English language performers.
Paris Barclay -- the Emmy-winning director of "NYPD Blue" and "The West Wing" -- said Hollywood unions are still concerned about the lack of professional opportunities for women and minorities.
"Women directors have gotten less work in the past two years than they did in the 1970s," he said, "and there are more of them."
But Barclay -- Third Vice President of the Directors Guild of America -- said runaway production "is our No. 1 cause."
Allen Daviau -- a five time Oscar-nominee for his cinematography on such pictures as "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," "The Color Purple" and "Bugsy" -- represented the American Society of Cinematographers. He urged the city's business sector not to take the entertainment business for granted, since so many other businesses benefit by the economic activity that movie and TV production generates.
Raising the specter of economic dislocation that occurred when the defense and aerospace industries virutally abandoned Southern California in the 1990s, Daviau said Los Angeles should do all it can to keep the entertainment industry around.
"It's way to easy to look the other way," he said. "This industry could be out of here in the blink of an eye."