The “Top Chef” trial may have dredged up unwelcome stereotypes about organized labor in Boston, but as jurors delivered a “not guilty” verdict to four Teamsters Tuesday, people in the industry say it’s unlikely the trial will have much impact on the state’s film business.
Eric Smith, a reality television director who filmed two seasons of the non-union show “Boston’s Finest” for TNT, said that he never encountered any union opposition here and wouldn’t hesitate to film in Boston again.
“I don’t think that Boston as a city should be singled out for this incident,” said Smith. “If I were to be offered a job in Boston in no way would I take pause to do it because of this unfortunate incident.”
During the trial, federal prosecutors and witnesses had alleged that the Teamsters physically intimidated the “Top Chef” crew, slashing tires and chest bumping, while using verbal slurs and threats of violence during a 2014 shoot outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton. The Teamsters allegedly arrived at the shoot after the show’s producers refused to enter a collective bargaining agreement for services the show had deemed unnecessary.
Defense attorneys argued that the Teamsters — Daniel Redmond, 49; John Fidler, 53; Robert Cafarelli, 47; and Michael Ross, 62 — were simply exercising their constitutional right to picket for union jobs. On Tuesday, the jury of three men and nine women appeared to agree.
Smith, who filmed here in 2012 and 2013, said that like “Top Chef,” the “Boston’s Finest” shoot was widely publicized and relied on a non-union crew — standard procedure for reality television and many smaller productions.
“Look, there are labor relations issues all across the United States,” said Smith. “We had nothing but a fantastic experience.”
Mark Kamine, a producer and production manager who’s worked on several high-profile productions in Massachusetts, said that Boston’s labor climate ranks favorably against peer cities, and he wouldn’t hesitate to work here in the future.
“For a long time the Boston Teamsters had a bad reputation in Hollywood, but that was many years ago,” said Kamine, whose credits include “Shutter Island” and “American Hustle.” “I would say Boston compares really favorable with other locations union-wise; they’re reasonable.”
Kamine added: “I wasn’t surprised they were protesting. I was surprised at some of the allegations — the tire slashing and the name calling, things like that. I didn’t know what to think.”
While Kamine, Smith, and others say that the “Top Chef” incident will have little bearing on their decision to work here in the future, it remains unclear whether it has already had an impact on the state’s film industry. According to the Massachusetts Film Office website, the state hosted 35 projects in 2014, up from 25 the year before. The number of Massachusetts projects dropped to 27 in 2015, and the site lists only 21 projects as having filmed in the state in 2016.
The list, however, is far from definitive. Many shows come into the state to film a single episode or segment, and the Film Office does not collect data on all productions.
For locals, the trial unearthed some unsavory memories of union strong-arming, but it’s also been met with dismay that a lucrative show such as “Top Chef” would have tried to skirt the union.
“This dredged up an old conversation about how things used to be run,” said Chris Byers, founder of New England Studios, which provides sound stages and production support. “This episode brought those memories to the forefront, but I do not think it’s going to have any negative effect on film or television companies coming into Boston.”
He added that while he doesn’t endorse the Teamsters’ alleged actions, he wasn’t surprised the show ran into trouble.
“They’re not a victim: They knew exactly what they were doing when they came into Boston,” he said. “‘Top Chef’ is a very lucrative show, and they should be paying a fair wage. . . . They’re being portrayed as a victim, and they’re not, which is not to say that the Teamsters couldn’t have handled this in a different manner.”
Margie Sullivan, a board member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition, which represents the industry in the state, said the episode was an unfortunate outlier with plenty of blame to go around.
“I don’t think the producers were totally transparent coming into Massachusetts the way they did,” said Sullivan, who added that she didn’t think the trial would affect future productions.
“There is so much non-union work happening in this town it was an isolated situation,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but I think both parties played a part in this.”Malcolm Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay