CINEMATOGRAPHERS – AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

The working conditions of many Film and TV Productions have deteriorated to such a critical degree that immediate action is imperative.” These words were contained in a resolution signed in Lodz, where many cinematographers discussed the development in our industry at CAMERIMAGE 2005. Among the signatories were Vilmos Zsigmond, Billy Williams, Jost Vacano, Alfonso Beato, Lazlo Kovacs and Phedon Papamichael. (Not exactly a bunch of lefties or loonies!)

The Lodz Declaration 2005 went on to condemn “unnecessary long working days, and unsafe working environments to which film and television professionals are exposed, frequently violating existing laws.”
So what has changed in the last eight years, for better or worse?

All cinematographers and colleagues in Bydgoszcz are invited to attend a day of discussion at CAMERIMAGE 2013 on Wednesday, November 20th starting 10 a.m. This is an opportunity for all cinematographers, young and old, to find a way forward to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs.
The IMAGO Societies of Germany BVK and Poland PSC are collaborating to update the 2005 Declaration, examining working conditions, authors rights and collecting Societies. The meeting is supported by IMAGO European Cinematographers Federation, CAMERIMAGE Festival and WKB – a prominent and experienced law firm from Warsaw. Present will be Dr Cristina Busch, Imago’s Legal Advisor, who in 2018 published a survey supported by the European Commission entitled „Conditions of Freelance workers in Feature Film Production.“

The financial and political turmoil which has engulfed Europe has resulted in many casualties among cinematographers. The Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian film industries are in dire straits. Even the French are about to sign an agreement cutting their salaries in half for low-budget feature films. Workers are jobless in Los Angeles as the locusts descend to maximise their profits by moving film production to Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico, London and Australia – anywhere offering tax concessions.

In the words of Bob Dylan “You had better start swimming, or you will sink like a stone, for Times they are a Changing.” Cinematographers need to start swimming soon. Too many are struggling to make ends meet, incomes are falling as levels drop by a third or more, even where there is work. Man cannot live by bread alone, but it does help to have some. Film productions move to China where the western cinematographers accept salaries a quarter of their normal range. They work alongside workers on a sixth of the salaries recognised in Europe. The unemployed film workers of many South European countries are greater than fifty per cent. Fascism is raising its ugly head along with racism. The financial chaos is no respecter of boundaries. It is a breeder of prejudice of many kinds.

Cinematographers need to wake up before they and the Societies who represent them also sink. It is no accident that the best working conditions in the world occur in Denmark. The DFF and the Producers have agreements which are respected by law. Their cinematographers work little overtime and when they do it is properly paid, with adequate notice. A Gaffer of mine, somewhat crudely but effectively, often stated “Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” As we all know planning is the secret to efficiency.

Following the Lodz Declaration in 2005 the IMAGO Board with the help of Dr. Cristina Busch, published a “Model Contract” to establish a standard of employment as guidelines for Authorship Rights and working conditions throughout Europe. It has been adopted in Bulgaria and translations have been distributed recently to the Balkan Societies. The IP topics (Intellectual Property) will be discussed in the afternoon of the day – starting 2 p.m. There will be a panel of experts to refer the legal situation and the reality of collecting societies in Europe. To organize fair participation and remuneration of the DoP in the turnover generated by the exploitation of his creative work is a challenge.

As President of IMAGO for five long years I am in a privileged position to observe many of our 47 Societies. The Global crisis has hit some cinematographers harder than others. Those with the closest relationship with other crafts and Producers have emerged the strongest. Those where the “elitist” mentality has disappeared have been the most effective at preserving integrity and respect for the cinematographer. The obvious example of the effectiveness of collaboration has to be the DFF who collaborate with producers and Unions with impunity. CAMERIMAGE and IMAGO are happy to invite our colleagues attending the festival to join this meeting organized in cooperation with BVK, PSC and WKB. This overdue focus on present day conditions for cinematographers may lead to a CAMERIMAGE 2013 declaration.

Those interested in issues affecting the future are invited to attend.

Nigel Walters BSC
IMAGO President