File puptcrit/puptcrit.0412, message 18

To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: QRE: [Puptcrit] UNIONS - Puppeteers
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 2004 18:16:03 -0600 

As a puppeteer who has barely stuck his toe in the union waters, I was going
to resist the urge to reply to this thread, but my resistance has weakened.

I operated marionettes for a television commercial for the Mall of America a
few years ago.  It was under an AFTRA contract.  At least at that time, you
didn't have to join AFTRA if you didn't work above a certain number of hours
a year.  It was a 30 second commercial.  I operated the three main
characters (one at a time) in front of a green screen.  (They had me string
the marionettes with mint dental floss, but that's another story.)  It was
something like a 13 hour shoot.  The producers were very careful that I was
the only person who operated a marionette on camera.  I had a props guy up
on the bridge with me, who would hold the marionette when we weren't taping
to give my arms a rest.

If I remember right, my checks actually came from AFTRA.  The commercial ran
each Christmas for several years and I'm pretty sure that at least the
residual checks came from AFTRA.  

It was definitely a union operation all around and I was very impressed the
quality of the people I was working with.


 -----Original Message-----
From: [] 
Sent:	Wednesday, December 01, 2004 11:59 AM
Subject:	Re: QRE: [Puptcrit] UNIONS - Puppeteers

Like Preston, I perform under union contract from time to time. Although I 
can relate to grumbling about never getting the pension, I take issue with
notion of never getting the benefits of union membership. 

When you perform in film or video, your performance is mechanically 
duplicated and multiplied exponentially. Today, this can mean throughout the
world. A 
producer who does not compensate you when your performance is sold to a mass

market is blocking you from participating in the revenue generated by the 
success of your work, and he simply keeps it for himself. The union assures
that you 
participate in the success of your effort, and are compensated in accordance

with its use. That can mean repeat broadcasts, reuse in syndication, 
repackaging, replaying on cable, satellite or home video VHS and DVD, local
national markets and world markets. Perhaps Preston neglected to mention his

residual checks? (I can chide Preston a little because we are friends.) 

Although I consider this a singular important benefit, the union also
that you are allowed to take breaks and have meal time when filming, that
are paid overtime when the Director says "let's just keep going until it's 
done," and they can't force you to come in the next day at 8:00 a.m. when
just finished working 3 hours before that (don't think it doesn't happen).
crew on the set has these protections, so should the performers. Performers
so readily abused by producers, we should not lightly brush off what so many

of our predecessors have fought so hard for.

When you work under a nonunion contract, (which union members are not 
supposed to do) you ought to be paid substantially more than union scale
because the 
producer, in what is called a "buyout," is not obligated to you beyond the 
initial use, as he would be under a union contract. You are on your own to
sure you are covered for breaks, overtime, turnaround and all the other
the union has thought of which you may not have. Yes, you are happy just to 
get the work, but be careful.

There is a Puppeteers Caucus of the Screen Actors Guild, and among other 
things, they have defined precisely what distinguishes prop handling from 
puppeteering. Not appearing onscreen usually denotes prop handler. As a
puppeteer, you 
are clearly more than a prop handler. The fact that someone may not appear
screen while performing a mime character that emotes, but does not speak 
lines has been addressed. This is one of many issues that puppet performers
fought for through the union, much of it won by veteran Muppet performers
the years.

I am also sensitive to the chicken/egg aspect of joining the union (you
apply for union work if you are not a member, and you can't become a member 
without having union work), but everyone in the union has faced this hurdle,

and has paid substantial fees to join.

Finally, I would like to say that Bil Baird's theater did not fail because
Actors' Equity, as alluded to in another post. In fact the opposite is true,

and Equity would have worked very hard to keep Bil's theater an ongoing 
venture, which would have been in everyone's best interest.

I consider the benefits provided by membership in the performers' unions to 
be quite valuable and it would be a shame to lose them as the new markets 


In a message dated 11/29/04 4:25:28 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
There is an Equity puppeteer's contract. It was created by Bil Baird for
the Chrysler exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair. All workers at
the fair had to be union and they wanted the puppeteers to join the
Teamsters or the stage hand's union (Local 1). The logic being that the
puppeteers were just people moving props around. Bil refused and told
them that the puppeteers were performers and had to be part of the
performer's union. Hence, the Equity contract.

Even though Equity has a contract, they really don't care about it.
Puppeteers are possibly the only people that have worked on Broadway
non-union. I know the puppeteers in Eva LaGallienne's Alice in
Wonderland were non-union on Broadway.  When Peter and Wendy played the
New Victory Theater, Equity maintained that as long as the puppeteers
were hooded they didn't have to be in the union. I'm fairly certain the
puppeteers in Avenue Q are Equity. But most of the time Equity has to be
forced to represent puppeteers.

As far as the film and video unions go, it's fine if you're in a place
where you can get enough work to qualify for benefits like LA or to a
lesser extent New York, but if you're only getting work from time to
time, you're paying dues while getting none of the benefits. Last I
knew, you needed to make at least $10,000 (it could be more now) to
qualify for the health insurance. AFTRA keeps pension money for me,
which I will probably never be able to collect because I've never made
enough in a single year to qualify for it.

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