The UK's film unions regard the digital revolution with a mix of excitement and trepidation. In the short term, there is the threat of job losses. Lab technicians and cinema projectionists are among those already affected by moves away from celluloid. Production crews are also experiencing change as new technology blurs job definitions. However, digital promises new distribution outlets as well as a shake-up of the way rights are handled.
Actors' union Equity says digital rights are currently its main interest. "We have sections dealing with the new digital platforms in all our collective agreements," a spokesperson says, pointing out that "no-one (unions, employers etc) knows where this digital revolution is headed. So all agreements on new platforms need perforce to be preliminary."
As Bectu's assistant general secretary Martin Spence puts it: "We are concerned about the disappointingly low level of production that we are looking at, at the moment. We fear that one of the possible outcomes of the new tax credit and the new cultural test is that we may end up being a production base not for all or most of the production of an internationally financed film, but for odd bits of it."
Protecting directors' rights is a key challenge. There is already an agreement in place with broadcasters to ensure television directors receive appropriate remuneration for the exploitation of the secondary rights of their work. No such agreement exists for film directors.
"Feelings are very, very high," says Spence. "What freelance film directors face in this country, just like all our other freelance members, is the sheer difficulty of getting an organised handle on the issue."
However, there now looks to be a chance for directors to strengthen their position. UK director Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America, wrote in The Observer newspaper recently of his efforts "to sort out a version of a guild here for British directors" and to ensure film-makers "speak with one voice". Many of his colleagues agree the time is ripe for such a move.
"There's a massive arena for discussion concerning the rights of directors that doesn't have any precedent," says film-maker Don Boyd.
"In a way, we're in as strong a position as we have ever been. We can say you don't own those (digital) rights and you are going to have to negotiate them properly. Those arguments about how much a songwriter should make from iTunes, or how much they should make for a contribution to a website that's paying royalties - the same will apply to the creators of film."
AT A GLANCE
- The largest film union is Bectu, whose 27,000 members range from electricians to directors, from clapper loaders to make-up artists - ie, everybody working behind the camera.
- Directors are represented by the Directors Guild of Great Britain, writers by the Writers Guild of Great Britain and actors by Equity. Pact represents producers' interests.
- The Directors and Producers' Rights Society (Dprs) and the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (Alcs) have an increasingly close working relationship with the unions, as they attempt to secure their position in the new digital world.