THE WORKING REALITY
On Wednesday, December 9th, Assembly Speaker Sheila James Kuehl (Yes, she played ‘Zelda’ on “Dobie Gillis”) held a public hearing in Hollywood on”Run-Away Production” focusing on the large and growing tendency for Producers to take projects North of the Border. This is a Two Billion dollar out-flow of American dollars, and a part of the trade deficit with Canada that has, thanks to NAFTA, gone from minus Two Billion, to plus Eighteen Billion Dollars in Canada’s favor.
The Commerce Department says that 20,000 jobs are attached to each billion dollars. The Canadian Dollar has fallen precipitously on the world market, now down to 50 cents versus the American dollar. That in itself is sufficient reason to move productions up North. Labor costs, housing costs, even transportation costs are significantly lower in Canada, from the Maritime Provinces to British Columbia.
California, home to nearly 85% of all production expenditures, has lost nearly 40,000 jobs to Canada which does not observe reciprocal employment practices. Canadians, to put it bluntly, are more than happy to work in the United States, but put up extraordinary obstacles when Americans want to work in their country. I have, myself, been twice detained at Canadian Customs just for traveling north of the border to do talk shows.
By now you’re asking yourself, “What has this got to do with Kid Actors?”
I hope you are sitting down.
With the exception of British Columbia, home to Vancouver, BC which once held the distinction of being the largest film and television center in Canada, there are no published child labor laws for children in the entertainment industry in Canada!
There are no rules in Ontario, home to 600 million dollars in production.
There are no rules in Quebec, home to 400 million dollars in production.
There are NO RULES in the Maritimes, Saskatchewan, or any other Province in Canada.
Furthermore, the British Columbia rules came into effect on October 1st, 1997. The laws and regulations are the most progressive in the world, featuring automatic set-asides for ALL minor-aged performers, and even calling for psychological counseling if the part a child portrays may lead to emotional upset or long-term consequences (ala Patty McCormack in “The Bad Seed”).
The Canadian version of Screen Actors Guild is called “Alliance of Canadian Television and Radio Artists,” or ACTRA. It was ACTRA, along with the Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP) that pushed for a won these new rules with the help of the BC Ministry of Labour…and more remarkably, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (the AMPTP).
Ask yourself why, after a twenty year period in which Vancouver became Canada’s ‘Hollywood,’ the people of British Columbia suddenly found the need to pass stringent child labor laws for the Entertainment Industry.
Could it be because of the abuses? Could they have passed new laws because their conscience was bothering them?
Of course that was the reason. We do not pass laws for “good people,” do we? In Vancouver kids were working extremely long hours…up to eighteen hours a day for a ten year old…and much of this overtime was uncompensated. There was a distinct lack of Oversight, no laws for mandatory studio teachers, and worse yet, more than two-thirds of Vancouver film production was non-union.
Let me explain why I bring up the non-union issue. For decades our neighbors to the North held that their child labor laws, although not published federally or provincially, were contained the Basic Agreement between ACTRA and the Producers Alliance, what in Canada is called the IPA.
Ask yourself, “What good is the union contract if kids are working on non-union productions?”
Here’s the hard reality. Two-thirds of all Canadian production is non-union…especially in the field where the most children are employed, commercials. These one or two day ‘shoots’ employ an extraordinary amount of children, none working with any kind of protection whatsoever.
These commercials are shot mainly for the American market, since Canada produces far more product than can be used domestically. Commercial producers often employ American kids to perform in these commercials which, as I stated above, are aimed at the American marketplace, bringing them across the border as principals.
When you cross the Canadian border, or any international border for that matter, the Screen Actors Guild contract no longer applies!!! Read my lips. That is wrong.
We have, in Canada, the spectacle of American kids employed in commercials aimed at American consumers, that are working without protection or oversight or residuals. Shameful.
Major corporations, the majority of which target children, are deceitfullyexploiting children in commercials specifically targeted at American children. Diaper makers, cereal giants, shoe manufacturers…all of them use this tactic to save a few dollars even as they direct their “pitch” to American kids.
And it is worse for Canadian kids who, working in a non-union environment, are often brought into the Game by naïve and inexperienced stage-parents who have no idea how children should be treated.
Even in the union environment there are only six ACTRA union stewards to cover the work in the Toronto area. And as we know, producers and ambitious stage-parents cannot be trusted. That’s why we have laws here in California. We KNOW what the unethical producers and parents can get up to.
I commend for your consideration that lengthy Toronto Star expose written by Greg Quill which appeared on November 22nd, 1998.
Here’s the truth, my friends. Canada has made it their national priority to grow and strengthen their film industry…and they are doing it on the backs of children.
When British Columbia installed their new child labor laws late last year producers and commercial productions fled that province to work in “more flexible” climes!
Are “flexible child labor laws” that important to producers? Would a production really be moved on this consideration alone?
Look at what passes for entertainment these days. Movies and television product are created for and aimed at the average movie-goer and television consumer…who is twelve to sixteen years old.
How do you reach kids? With kids!
Minors consistently make up about ten percent of any theatrical guild’s membership…but they work nearly twice as much as their adult counterparts. Equity, which covers theater, is the only theatrical union in which kids do not out-perform their adult peers.
The great myth of child labor protection is nowhere less observed than in Canada, a world leader in its concern for other working children around the world…but not the kids in its own back yard. What is particularly galling is that they are importing American kids to star in Canadian productions.
Big money is at stake. An entire industry is being created. Thousands of jobs are at issue. Canada’s national priority has been set. They want a larger share of the world-wide production dollars which are measured in the billions!
The conspiracy of silence which surrounds the real working conditions for children is well-documented in Greg Quill’s expose. People are afraid…afraid of blacklisting, career-busting exposure if they speak up, and most of all, a fear that all those supposedly good jobs are going to dry up and blow away if they speak up for working children.
It was for this reason that I spoke up at the public hearing on Run-Away production last Wednesday.
A Minor Consideration spent fourteen days in Toronto, Ontario, Canada last July speaking with the people most directly involved in film production. Agents, managers, stage-parents and their working kids…producers and officials of ACTRA, too.
In a replay of what we observed when we took on the task of educating Screen Actors Guild four years ago, denial was a fact of life. Until I personally appeared on Canada’s most-watched morning news program with an affected Canadian minor and spoke the truth, no one would cop to problems.
A follow-up feature article in the Toronto Star suddenly brought out dozens of people who gave us personal testimony as to the abuses in the Canadian workplace. Everybody started running for cover.
Let me repeat, there are NO published labor laws for children in what are now the primary locations for film production in Canada, Ontario and Quebec. It is within this framework that I crafted my remarks. Please link to the comments I submit for your edification.