Nothing demonstrates the difference between Hollywood and the international independent sector more than a strike.

Earlier this year, Hollywood writers were able to bring prime-time TV shows off the air and halt major film shoots. Now contract negotiations with actors and directors are underway, conducted in a manner that would be recognisable to any industry in the world.

Elsewhere similar issues exist for the same crafts - a drop in television fees, concern over shares of new media rights and a general feeling of a slip in financial rewards.

In the independent sector, there are also fears of a slide in creative control for directors and writers, particularly where they work in television as well as film.

But without the closed-shop muscle of the US guilds, winning reforms is much more of a challenge.

Over the last few years, a number of lobbying groups have appeared in territories around the world, with strong motivations to address real issues of concern but little in the way of industrial power.

Speaking at the launch of Directors UK, a new lobby group representing directors' interests, director Paul Greengrass said: 'We are not a trade union stuck in 1970s thinking.'

But finding a means to make one's voice heard through anything other than a trade union is a tough call, but if the means to achieve change are difficult to envisage, there is no woolliness in the thinking.

'This is a time of revolutionary change. Over the past few years we have seen a decline in both the creative and economic rights of the director,' says Charles Sturridge, director of the UK's iconic Brideshead Revisited TV series in the 1980s, and chairman of Directors UK.

'There's no cause for pessimism about creativity in the UK but we do need to argue and fight when the creative process is inhibited by mismanagement and wrong judgement.'

David Yates, director of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix and the next two films in the series, also sees a 'systemic erosion of opportunity and less control for directors over their work'. That message is echoed in many countries. But the question is how and who to fight'

The producers in Hollywood are the employers whereas in much of independent production, producers are often part of the collaborative creative process and may well be taking considerable personal financial risks to back their work.

Disputes between producers and directors can and do occur but they are on an individual basis. Collective action over conditions struggles to find a target. Where coordinated protests do take place, they tend to be against governments. That is not surprising given the reliance on soft money.

Finnish producers last year went on strike to demand the payment of a promised subsidy. There have also been high-profile protests from South Korean and Czech film-makers over state film policies.

But the political muscle of film is limited, even given the contribution film shoots can make to the economy. So the approach of most independent industry guilds seems to be focused on a more specific set of practical goals and on offering wider support to members.

'Our role with producers, government and existing film bodies is more that of a partner,' says Greengrass of Directors UK.

The high-profile leadership of the group - Greengrass, Sturridge and Yates are joined on the board by Gurinder Chadha and Roger Michell among many others - means they have the profile to make such a partnership politically desirable for government and other groups.

Screenwriters generally do not have even that profile but they too have been trying to address many of the same issues. Two years ago, the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe helped create a 'manifesto', which called for a change in the way that writers were credited and rewarded. But after a brief flurry, it disappeared from the industry radar.

'The manifesto was very fine but it was difficult to see what to do with it in practical terms,' says UK writer Olivia Hetreed, whose credits include Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Hetreed is one of those helping draft a more focussed code of conduct for writers in the UK. Focused on support and guidance for writers struggling in a tougher environment, the code will be formally launched at next week's International Screenwriters Festival. It suggests a form of working with producers that takes on the more 'gung-ho enthusiasm' that has been shown in Europe for copying US ways of working, particularly team writing.

But in the end, Hetreed says, what guilds can really offer is advice to members on how to navigate today's business and to handle negotiations on the basis of knowledge. That may be the best that any lobby group can offer in the independent film world and the next few testing years will tell how well the approach works.

Directors UK goals

  • To achieve radical improvements in UK directors' status, working and creative conditions, rights and fees.
  • To develop effective communication between the organisation and its membership and among the members themselves.
  • To form close working relationships with international directors' organisations.
  • To continue to enhance rights collection in cooperation with other collecting societies.
  • To increase income to members through full and fair exploitation of directors' rights as authors.
  • To become recognised advocates of excellence for the craft of direction within the industry.