Joining the IATSE Local 161 in NYC – Film Accountants

I got this on my facebook from a young woman in New York who is breaking into film accounting and had a question about IATSE Local 161. I thought it was a good question so i’m putting it here on my blog, along with my answer, for you all to read:


Greetings John,

I was contacted by the assistant to the business agent for local 161 about joining the union. My option was to join now, and pay the yearly dues upfront or wait until I am on a union job. I’ve been working on mod. L/B and documentary films; so coming out of pocket to join 161 isn’t feasible at this point (and the prospect of getting on a union gig fresh outta the gate seems like a catch 22).

Are you currently a 161 member? What are your thoughts on joining careerwise?

Any anecdotes or advise from you would be greatly appreciated. Very much looking forward to the Accounting 101 classes in April – I’m FIRED UP!




I’m not a Local 161 member (I’m in the Director’s Guild), but career wise I’d say it’s a good move when you come out of the commercial arena into TV/Film. The benefits are good and you don’t have to take as much flak from producers. I worked on a low budget production years ago (1987), called “The Brain” (yup – for real). It was non-union and the crew started to work on a Friday morning and worked straight through to Sunday afternoon, taking turns laying down on the mats for a rest. The producer said it was 1 day because there wasn’t break in their day!! (The producer died a few years ago and nobody missed the poor sod). The UPM did fight for the crew and got them 2 days pay, no overtime. True story. So…. unions really are needed as much as I love to bellyache about them.

See you soon!



About filmproduction
I have worked in the film production industry since 1985, working on over 50 different productions of every size in 6 different countries. My self-published book, "Walk The Talk" is written in an easy to read manner for film students and working professionals who haven't had the chance to learn how to 'Direct the Money'.

2 Responses to Joining the IATSE Local 161 in NYC – Film Accountants

  1. Rana says:

    Thank you for a very useful information in this site.

    I have a question regarding joining the union. I am working as Assistant accountant in a low budget film in NYC and I am offered to be a member of Union, local 161, as assistant accountant. I want to know if I accept this offer, can I work on other movies in the other states such as CA as a union member or I have only the chance of working as union in NYS?
    Please help me to figure it out.

    Thank you and have a great weekend.

    • Hi, Rana. I apologize for the late reply. Truthfully, I’m not sure if the local in California would demand that you join their local – probably they will try. I know that there is supposed to be a way to work in other jurisdictions; however, it doesn’t always work out unless all of the members are working.
      My advice is to join the union because of the benefits. However, different people have different things going on in their lives, so it’s a judgement call – for example, maybe your wife has a good benefit plan which umbrella’s you in, etc.
      Anyway, I’d like to know what you decided, one way or another, because I often get questions like this.

      best regards,

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