Source: Netflix

Behind the scenes on ‘Bridgerton’

UK independent film producers are closely watching for the outcome of negotiations about pay and working conditions in scripted TV between producers’ organisation Pact and creative industries union Bectu.

Many fear the already difficult job of financing and making independent films will become even harder if the cost of hiring crew rises significantly.

Pact and Bectu are in negotiations to update their collective UK Independent Television TV Drama Agreement. Although they are negotiating a scripted TV deal, the terms often cascade down to agreements in independent film.

That’s partly because there is no collective agreement for rates and conditions on indie films: the Pact / Bectu Major Motion Picture Agreement covers feature films with a budget of more than £30m, so the TV drama agreement is often viewed as more appropriate for indie films to draw on.

Bectu’s union members are voting this week on whether to accept proposals put forward earlier this month by Pact. They include an hour shorter standard working day, unsocial hours pay, additional pay for prep and wrap, increased overtime and paid bank holidays.

Bectu has urged its members to reject Pact’s proposals, claiming they lack the detail and clarity to make significant changes to the working lives and wellbeing of scripted TV crew.

For film producers, the worry is that additional concessions in a scripted TV agreement will spill over to film, making independent features even harder to produce.

Critical pressures for indie film

Last week the BFI clearly laid out the challenges facing the sector in its economic review of UK independent film, which it said was “inhibited to the point of market failure”.

The BFI said indie filmmakers are struggling with ‘critical pressures’, notably a significant cost inflation in key areas of production, including cast, crew and studio space through to fuel, flights and food. Filmmakers are also finding it tough to secure skilled crew due to skills shortages and the boom in high-end TV production. Covid costs and contingencies are still considerable, adding 10-20% to a budget.

At the same time, producers are struggling to raise money from investors who find it increasingly challenging to secure a financial return from independent films. In its report, the BFI spoke of a long-term trend of stagnating revenues for the independent sector with increased sales from digital media not fully replacing falling revenue from traditional sources, such as DVD.

“The independent film sector is in serious trouble,” said producer Julie Baines of Dan Films, whose credits span both film and TV, including Four Kids And It and Hotel Portofino. “The indie sector is the cornerstone of the industry. As well as producing stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told, we develop and nurture new talent which the wider industry relies on. We absolutely want to support a better work / life balance – it is in everybody’s interest to do that and I think Pact’s proposals are very fair. To expect more than this is suicide for the industry.”

Max Rumney, Pact’s deputy CEO and director of business affairs, said: “It is a real concern how producers are going to carry on squaring the circle and making films in an environment where everything is getting more expensive.”

Tackling the long hours culture

Pact acknowledges the long hours culture of production needs to be addressed, but wrote to crew last week to warn the terms being asked for by Bectu “are seeking to put all genres and budgets of television programme on terms and conditions not even used in the highest big-budget films made by US studios”.

Pact’s letter said: “The whole of scripted TV – covering many genres and budget ranges – risks being damaged if our offer is rejected. Financial modelling suggests that many productions will not be financially viable under the terms Bectu have posted via their branches.”

Pact also argues producers alone can’t solve the work / life balance issue facing the industry, and that it needs commissioners and financiers to help fund change.

For its part, Bectu believes concerns about potential effects of the scripted TV negotiations on film production are speculative and that it would be difficult for anyone to say what the impact may or may not be. It insists the negotiations are all about securing a better work/life balance for scripted TV drama crew, and are not about pay.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said the UK TV drama industry has reached a critical point, with many crew suffering from burnout and low morale and unable to sustain a family life and their own wellbeing. “We have been clear from the beginning that our priority in these negotiations is to urgently address the long hours and wellbeing crisis crew are facing.

“The current offer does not do that; many of the improvements only apply to shooting hours/days, devaluing work done outside filming hours, and there are loopholes that would allow productions to schedule around penalties. We are also pushing for an agreement that safeguards against the exploitation of prep and wrap arrangements that we know is widespread in TV drama.”

Negotiations first began last autumn to update the 2017 Pact/Bectu UK Independent Television TV Drama Agreement. In April, Bectu launched the Work to Live campaign designed to improve working conditions for comedy and TV drama crew. Bectu’s members started voting on Pact’s proposals Wednesday 20 July. Voting closes on Sunday 31 July at midnight.

Pact has agreed to keep discussions open on the terms after the ballot.