As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight will tell you, being active isn’t easy. And staying engaged? Pandemic or no pandemic, that can be a steep hill to climb as well.
Members of Local 600’s Active Engagement Committee know that all too well. They are the group involved in planning some of the Local’s most fun and entertaining activities, yet they regularly face the challenge of keeping members involved. Whether they are distributing “Rides and Rooms” overnight bags, leading a Get-Out-the-Vote campaign, or planning the next social event, the AEC team is continuously…well… active in reaching out and getting members to join in.
The Active Engagement Committee at the October 2019 NEB meeting. Photo by Bonnie Osborne.
“They have tons of energy and enthusiasm, and they are definitely the social engagement arm of the local,” said Central Region Business Representative Winona Wacker who has worked on and off with the AEC since its founding. “They have been called the ‘Committee of Fun’ because they’re made up of some of the local’s most fun people.”
The committee has been around since 2018 when it was founded by former National President Steven Poster. Poster and founding co-chairs Waris Supanpong and Gunnar Mortensen envisioned the group – which was originally named the Committee of the Future – as a vehicle to generate awareness about the roles of unions, and to harness the energy and activism of Local 600’s younger members. Gradually, as the Guild’s regional young workers committees became more active, the Committee expanded its focus to include the membership at large.
Trying New Things
“Not everything we do is going to succeed, but the fact that people notice that the union is trying different things to reach out is a nice thing,” said Supanpong, a Camera Assistant in the Eastern Region. “It’s been interesting. I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with different ways of engaging the membership.”
“It’s not easy,” agreed Western Region Business Rep Ryan Sullivan, who recently sat in on his first meeting with the AEC. “You have 10 people who are trying to engage 9,000 members in the day-to-day operations of Local 600 and the contracts and what’s happening in this industry. But it’s really clear how passionate they are about this topic.”
Currently, the AEC consists of founding co-chairs Mortensen and Supanpong, Sarah Brandes (First Assistant, Western Region), Stephen Campbell (Director of Photography, Central Region), Nicola Caruso (Film Loader, Western Region), Peter Green (Director of Photography, Western Region), Sarah May Guenther (Second Assistant, Eastern Region), Vanessa Holtgrewe (Director of Photography, Western Region), Brittany Meadows (Second Assistant, Western Region) and Alicia Pharris (Second Assistant, Western Region) with Ambar Capoor (First Assistant, Western Region) serving as the alternate.
From Rides and Rooms to Voting
The committee’s activities have been imaginative and diverse. The AEC has been involved in organizing Local 600’s presence at the annual Homewalk by United Way to raise money for homelessness. Annual holiday clothing drives at the Guild’s holiday parties often fall under their purview. In 2018, the committee played a major role in developing and distributing the “Take the Rides/Take the Rooms” overnight bag – a campaign with the Local 600 Safety Committee designed to remind members to play it safe after they had worked long hours.
The crew of Netflix’s Gentefied with their Room (or Ride) bags. Crew photo by Kevin Estrada.
“It always makes me happy to see those bags on the top shelf of the camera truck packed and ready to go,” said Mortensen. “If we save one of our members’ lives, it’s well worth the small investment that it cost to make those bags.”
During the 2020 election, the AEC worked with the Young Workers committees across the country to circulate a series of member-made “Why We Vote” videos which appeared in Local 600’s weekly newsletter and on social media. Committee members expect to launch another GOTV campaign around the upcoming Basic Agreement contract once a proposed deal goes to the general membership of all the Hollywood IATSE locals.
One of the committee’s GOTV videos from 2020.
First National Vice President Christy Fiers, who has been active with the Atlanta Young Workers Group, says the political activity of both the AEC and Young Workers has been significant. “When you see them in action, you’re blown away,” said Fiers. “We have a great amount of respect for them, and their “Get Out the Vote” campaign was huge.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social events, the Committee continued to meet and develop new efforts for member engagement. Outreach shifted to Zoom, and Supanpong hosted a couple of camera assistant meetings, one of which focused on reopening policies being discussed by camera rental houses.
“We tried to stay in touch with people as much as we could,” Supanpong said. “We used the one tool we had: Zoom.”
As COVID numbers declined and sets reopened, the AEC pushed ahead with plans for in-person activities. Some of those AEC initiatives are now in progress or are on the verge of launching.
Working with the Local 600 Green Committee, the AEC has teamed up with the nonprofit One Tree Planted in an effort to plant 9,000 trees – symbolizing one for each Local 600 member. The campaign, which runs through Labor Day, is more than halfway to reaching its $9,000 fundraising goal.
Next up is a scavenger hunt that will encourage union members to take photographs of themselves in a series of settings – displaying union pride or solidarity, interacting with Local 600 representatives, etc. The committee will hold a drawing from completed submissions and award prizes.
Brandes, who is spearheading the scavenger hunt, became enthusiastic over a contest in which members used their visual skills to share their experience and convey what they thought the concepts of “safety” or “solidarity” looked like.
As a new AEC member, Brandes embraces the role of being a “hype person” for Local 600. To that end, she encourages members to contact her with ideas of what events, activities or campaigns would make them want to join the action.
“Anything we can do to increase membership engagement would be beneficial to everyone,” she said. “The idea of making the union a better place for the future and making it a more welcoming and engaging place are big priorities for me. That appeals to the fundamentals of why I’m involved in the union.”