Meet IATSE Local 478

For craftspeople in the film industry, they’re a must-join.
Courtesy of IATSE Local 478

In last month’s column I spoke about how the recent tax incentive bill, HB 829 is something that is meant to, and does, excite local filmmakers. But the film industry is so much more than producers, directors and writers. We also boast a local workforce of crew members that grows stronger every year.

“In 2002, when the tax incentives were implemented, we had about 200 members,” says Phil LoCicero, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 478, a union specifically for what he calls “the crafters behind the camera,” including positions like grip, props, electrical, set dressing and wardrobe. “This year we have about 1,300 members across Louisiana and Southern Mississippi.”

LoCicero is, by trade, a set painter. Born and raised in New Orleans, he began working in the film industry when, “if we had three to five sizeable films shooting here in a year we were really lucky.” LoCicero joined IATSE Local 478 in 1989 and has served as president since 1994.

“Our purpose is to protect these professionals,” LoCicero says. “We help them secure contracts, receive benefits and fair wages and promote their interests within the industry.”

LoCicero says that without provisions in place, it would be easy for 16 hours to go by without a worker receiving a break or a proper meal. “Producers can be disorganized sometimes, or maybe they just have a more creative mind that is busy with other things. We’re never trying to be unfair in any way, we just want to make sure nobody is worked to death,” he says.

With such a drastic increase in membership over the past decade, LoCicero says that more demands are naturally placed on the union, whose Mid-City office includes six full time employees and up to two part-time workers as needed.

Most recently, in addition to working with individual members, the union spent, a considerable amount of effort, along with studio owners and the Louisiana Film Entertainment Association (LFEA) fighting against incentive caps.

“Those days are gone now,” he says. “But while it will never be like it was, we’re really looking forward to the next governor and getting the incentive tweaked.”

LoCicero says he’s certain whoever the new governor is, that person will call for a special session with state representatives and he’s hoping the result will be good news for the industry.

“We’ve really seen a slowdown with the uncertainty now in the incentive program,” he says. “They’re not even paying out incentives this year.”

LoCicero notes that while HB 829 was designed to promote local projects, they too depend on the incentives.

“A lot of smaller productions borrow money to get their film made,” he says. “That means they need to get those tax credits back as soon as possible to pay off their loan. I haven’t yet seen any local filmmaker take advantage of those incentives yet.”

The IATSE Local 478 also contributes to film schools and festivals throughout the region in an effort to support the continued growth of the local workforce.

“We also have our own training like OSHA training geared specifically toward the entertainment industry, forklift training, rigging courses and craft advancement training,” he says.

But by far the biggest focus at this point in time is on getting changes made to HB 829. Aiming to speak with one voice, the industry, LoCicero says, will be pushing to increase the cap on the front end.

“We just want to see the business come back,” he says, “hopefully to the same levels we’ve been enjoying.” 

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life and is thrilled to be covering its emersion in her newly adopted home.