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On Jan. 1, the Louisville film industry received union representation for studio mechanics via IATSE Local 492. This is actually a state-wide coverage (excluding a 50-mile carveout from Cincinnati’s city center) which will encompass all crafts in motion pictures, except transportation, editorial, camera, hair & makeup, script supervisors, production office employees and art directors, which are covered by other IATSE Locals. Local 492 also covers Tennessee, Northern Mississippi and Southern Indiana, and will secure training, health insurance, retirement and fight for better wages and working conditions for members.

And, that’s not all.

IATSE 161, which covers script supervisors, production office and accounting, has recently added Kentucky to their territory. Local 798, which covers hair & makeup – and up until recently was only involved in theater in the area – has expanded to include feature films and television. Meanwhile, Local 600 – the International Cinematographers Guild – has already covered the camera department in the entire United States.

Peter Kurland, the business agent for IATSE Local 492, said the expanding union scene in Kentucky will ensure members have smooth and fair access to a national healthcare system.

“We participate in a national health program for insurance that’s employer-paid that everyone can participate in, and that only happens if there’s contracts on shows,” Kurland said. “A lot of the work that’s been taking place in Louisville and the surrounding areas has been under contract, but the people who work on those shows don’t have anybody specific to go to to get information that they’re aware of, and we will provide that information to them clearly. As an extension of that, we will take shows of a decent size and get them under contract so those employers can also participate in supplying health insurance.”

In the past few years, the Kentucky Entertainment Incentive (KEI) Program, which offers 30%-35% in film credits, has helped Kentucky pick up many quality projects, Kurland said. But, he believes that union representation can continue to help that momentum grow.

“One of the other things that we do is help recruit work to an area and one of the ways that we’re able to do that is by pointing out the number and quality of the people who work in the industry in an area, and Louisville is filled with experienced, qualified professionals, but often times employers, particularly those coming in from out of state, don’t have a good grasp of that,” Kurland said. “The union has always been a point of first contact for employers. We can provide them with, very early on in the process, a list of potential crew members and their resumes and experience.”

Derek Sepe, who is the Area Representative of Local 492 for Kentucky, said that having more union representation will provide protections, especially as the caliber of the productions in the Commonwealth continues to increase. He said it helps legitimize crews and ensure they’re not taken advantage of.

“It’s a bit of a rising tide,” Sepe said. “It raises all ships. Kentucky has a very robust and enticing incentive. And as with all incentives, some of the first people to come in will try to take advantage of a good thing. Eventually, they get weeded out because of progress, and having union representation is part of that.”

Scott Recker

Scott Recker is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. He is the former editor-in-chief of LEO Weekly.