(actually you're reading it here first. I was just excited)
the Brooklyn Apprentice Union for Storytellers.
No bullshit. I'm going after health insurance.
There's a system I have written down with some loose anchor points detailing the organizational and individual operations allowing for things like wages and benefits to be provided or pursued in every production.
There would be production registration and certain basic allowances made (like proper holding, scheduling and a hot lunch). The members crewing would have undergone a probationary period escalating tiers of involvement from production assistant to department assistance to assistant operator and eventually department head. There are hierarchies even without our student group as we move through years at BC and through productions beyond. You're experience and positive referrals will allow you to claim higher tiers of work.
The primary reason why low-budget shoots may not afford fringes and wages is because the producers are trying to make content that will attract funding. However, it's important that they learn how to ask and they learn how to market.
It could be that with a proper film business plan and proper vouching from credible affiliates, an emerging producer without previous noteworthy accomplishments might make a case for enough of a budget to pay minimum wage to his crew (no less that $10/hr and then growing in scale to accommodate a favored nations model).
There might also be grants available to support a cause-based production, fiscal sponsorships and crowdfunding. It's been my experience too few student producers consider these options available to them when finally contemplating an independent production aimed at profit.
Additionally marketing practices involving social media and other online content goes into creating the hype surrounding a picture. Without buzz, you can't attract the opening download and if you never put a price on it you certainly can't expect a donation.
The truth is a filmmaker must ask for payment to continue his/her work. And that payment in part has to go toward sponsoring his crew (like the captain of a ship).
That means health insurance and proper amenities on set. And it may mean wages, or a production audit to make sure the money isn't available and then one time workshops on the above for the producing team with a signed good-faith agreement to provide the on set amenities even if wages can't be afforded (but must be paid upon any profits of the film, just like SAG).
These are the basic bits and I'm drafting something more formal to present for petition.
The benefits to crew - protection from exploitation
The benefits to producers - higher quality content and exposure from established best practices
The benefits to clients, financiers, and others - The middle-class sweetspot that is more affordable productions, commercials, tv spots with organized labor for all the independent activity trying to break into the higher unions brackets.
The film society might be able to pull this off if we can get enough members to negotiate a really forgiving deductible (I'll be brightly optimistic at $20 a month; I know nothing of negotiating with health insurance companies). This way you can freelance and while part of the BCFS community (or at least while a student) you can be covered while we work on establishing other components of the Union to seek out jobs that the pro-unions won't do, but that still have worthwhile budgets for an experienced crew.
We can do it.