More than 1,500 French industry professionals - including producers and directors - sign petition against collective labour deal for crew.

French producers were out in force at a news conference on Thursday [March 28] laying out their objections to a collective labour contract for crew the government wants to impose on all French-based film productions as of July 1.

Producers says the terms of the contract - agreed by key technician unions and French majors Gaumont, Pathé, MK2 and the UGC in January 2012 and fixing pay-rates and crew size - will push up crew costs by 25-30%, bankrupting many independent producers.

“If this convention is introduced it will sound the death knell for the French film industry,” Marc Missionnier of Fidélité Films, producer of some 50 pictures including most recently Renoir and Astérix and Obelix: in Britain 3D, told the news conference.

Oscar-winning Amour producer Margaret Menegoz said the deal would impact lower budget films most severely and threatened France’s world-famed cinematic, cultural diversity.

The press conference followed the launch last week of a boycott by France’s independent producers of all official meetings - including the all-important funding commissions of France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC) - until April 11 when a Labour Ministry meeting on the controversial contract is due to take place.

Missionnier told the conference that the independent producers groups had proposed an alternative contract - updating existing pay rates but offering flexibility to lower budget productions and on crew sizes - but that the suggested deal had been ignored by the government.

News broke during the conference that the government had appointed a new mediator to try to resolve the dispute between the producers and technicians unions, which is currently in a state of stalemate.

“We’re not against a collective deal applicable across the industry but it has to be realistic,” said Missionnier.

Some 200 producers - from producers unions SPI, APC and UPF - squeezed into the Pantheon Cinema in Paris’ Latin Quarter for Thursday’s news conference.

Advertising producers were also present because the deal also covers crews on publicity shoots.

“We estimate the new terms will push up crew costs up by 75 to 90% on advertising shoots,” said Julien Pasquier of the advertising producers association the APFP.

The conference kicked off with a five-minute montage featuring a handful of films that, the producers said, would not have been made if the proposed convention had been in place.

The titles include Polisse, Declaration of War, Mammuth, Tomboy, House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide) and Sarah’s Keys.

Martine Marignac of Pierre Grise Productions said Leo Carax’ Holy Motors would never have got off the ground if the new collective convention had been in place.

She explained that in spite of securing a French distributor in the shape of Les Films du Losange, international MGs through sales agent Wild Bunch, the backing of Arte and tapping into Sofica tax funds, the picture still had a €400,000 hole in its projected budget ahead of shooting.

“The crew worked for 20% below accepted rates on participatory contracts, Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes appeared for free and we shot for nine weeks - to put that into context the shoot for Polar X was some 22 weeks,” said Marignac referring to Carax’ previous film.

“Crew costs came in at some €250,000. Under the new convention they would have been €350,000.”

She added that pre-production on her next feature was on hold amid the ongoing dispute and uncertainty over whether the new convention would really be imposed on July 1.

Gilles Sacuto, who produces under the TS Productions banner, said an impact study by the independent producer groups estimated some 70 less pictures a year would be made and that 15,000 to 20,000 film industry jobs would be lost overall.

Menegoz said the new convention’s proposed crew stipulations made no sense for auteur cinema.

“Rohmer, for example, always worked with small crews… we didn’t impose that on him it was just the way he liked to work,” she said.

“This new convention will only result in less films being made, unemployment and further production delocalisation,” she added.

Commenting later on in the day on the producers’ press conference, Stéphane Pozderec, a representative of the technicians union the SNTPCT, described the event as a “propaganda operation”.

“It’s pure propaganda… the convention simply defends the collective accord and minimum salaries that existed before,” said Pozderec told Screen.

“They’re asking us to accept lower salary rates for films budgeted at less than €4m in return for a cut of potential revenue but with a profit share along the lines of 90% for the producer and 10% for the rest of the crew - they’re taking the mickey,” he added.

“The technicians who are already struggling to survive financially will never accept such conditions.”

Asked whether the technicians’ unions were prepared to go back to the negotiations table in the presence of the mediator, he replied: “There could be some back negotiations to modify some of the details… but at the end of the day a mediator can’t impose a solution it is for the technicians and producers to reach a deal — we’ll see, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Beyond voicing their objections, the producers also unveiled the 1,500 signatories of a petition protesting the deal.

The full list of signatories can be found on the website of French cultural magazine Telerama.