Hollywood Musicians Lose Jobs to Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Skopje, Macedonia might seem a long way from Los Angeles, but for the 2,000 professional musicians who earn their living recording the film scores for Hollywood’s big movie studios, the Balkan capital — and the bleak future for L.A. movie musicians that it might represent — seems to be getting closer every day, the Huffington Post reports.

In at least one way, that future has already arrived in the form of Lionsgate’s Draft Day and the Ivan Reitman film’s nonunion score. Starring Kevin Costner, the movie tells an all-American story of a fictionalized general manager of the lowly Cleveland Browns and his efforts to save Cleveland football on NFL draft day by trading for the number one player pick.

Less all-American is the story behind the recording of Draft Day’s music, which was reportedly piped via the Internet to a Hollywood studio and the film’s composer, John Debney, from the stages of the low-wage, bargain-basement Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Skopje.

Job loss to offshore orchestras hurts

The orchestra, which is better known by its movie-credits business moniker, FAME’S Project, is hardly serious competition for Hollywood. At least for now. But Draft Day comes at a time when film production in California appears increasingly endangered. And any job loss to offshore orchestras in such a precarious climate hurts, says John Acosta, Vice President of American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 47.

Their performance on this major motion picture displaced, I would say, over a hundred U.S. workers,” he estimates. “Depending on the number of days of work the film requires … you may have up to a hundred people working on it. All that labor [was] done abroad with foreign workers and [at] less-than-standard pay.”

Laying the blame for those job losses depends on whom one speaks to. Everybody, however, agrees that the decline is very real. According to a Milken Institute report released earlier this year, California lost more than 16,000 film production jobs between 2004 and 2012 — a more than 10-percent drop. And film production overall in the state has declined by half in the last 15 years. A report issued last month by Film L.A., Los Angeles’ not-for-profit film office, says that where the state claimed 64 percent of the top 25 live‐action movies of 1997, by 2013 California’s share had dropped to just 8 percent, the Huffington Post reports.

Those kind of numbers recently led Assemblymen Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) and Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) to sponsor AB 1839, which would expand and extend California’s 2009, USD 100-million program of film tax incentives. Both laws were designed to counter runaway production attributed to aggressive film subsidies that have become commonplace across the country and abroad, and to which Film L.A. attributes California’s drop to fourth place behind Canada, Louisiana and the UK in its share of productions with budgets between USD 1.2 million and USD 225 million.

US taxpayer dollars spent for recordings in Skopje

Virtually every professional musician in Los Angeles has been hurt by the reduction of employment in this industry,” says AFM violinist Marc Sazer. “It’s the most common topic of conversation. People struggle for health care. People struggle for full employment within the context of being freelance musicians.

Sazer, who spoke to Capital & Main from a Twentieth Century Fox scoring stage, where he is working on director Bryan Singer’s USD 200 million X-Men: Days of Future Past, is a classically trained session musician who has been working in Hollywood since the 1980s, sitting in on film and television scores, records and even advertising jingles.

The USD 20-million-budgeted Draft Day‘s script originally had Costner’s character as the general manager of the Buffalo Bills but the team was quickly rewritten as the Cleveland Browns when Lionsgate secured USD 4.9 million in Ohio tax credits to shoot in Cleveland. The violinist points out that offshore recording is increasingly typical of productions that take jobs-incentive money and run — in this case straight to Skopje. (Lionsgate did not respond by press time to a request for comment on this story.)

It’s usually bottom-of-the-barrel stuff,” Sazer says of the films scored by FAME’S. “Draft Day is certainly one of the biggest projects I’m aware of that’s actually used this. The fact is that [Lionsgate] received millions of dollars of tax credits, so they took lots of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and then ran away to this really low-wage situation in SE Europe.” 


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