BACK TO BASICS Balkan Conference 2019

By Manca Perko

Control over our images. The right to rest. And a collective of gender diverse societies joined in challenges.

Since 2012, the Manaki Brothers Film Festival hosts a conference uniting cinematographer societies in Balkans. Representatives from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Slovenia, Greece, and Bulgaria, together with participants from the United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, and Estonia discussed some of the most controversial issues at hand in the world of cinematography. Led by the IMAGO President, Paul René Roestad FNF, and honorary IMAGO member Nigel Walters BCS, the Balkan conference not only highlighted the issues that member countries face, both individually and as a cinematic culture, but also set a definite course of action.

In ‘Three Things Urgently Need Fixing … Now!’ Roestad identified some of the burning topics that were also discussed at the Balkan Conference. They can be summarised under the themes of authorship and authorship rights, working conditions (explicitly working hours), as well as diversity in the film industry (specifically targeting the female representation in member societies and the industry as a whole).

The Back to Basics conference opened with the question of working hours. A cinematographer’s work is inevitably subject to long, irregular, and unsociable hours, but that is not the primary issue. The problem lies in the number of working hours. Unfortunately, since the beginnings of the ‘12 on/12 off’ campaign, not much has happened to effectively resolve this issue; especially in the form of legislation. While some countries, like Denmark and Norway, have set a legal maximum number of working hours in film production, in general, the situation in the Balkans has not changed.

1. Working hours
The ‘12 on/12 off’ campaign’s on-going struggle for favourable working conditions for film workers (also detailed in John Thornton Caldwell’s study of the UK film and TV industry Production Culture, 2008) reflects the central issue that cinematographers face – that working more than 12 hours a day seriously affects the quality of performance, and, consequently, the cinematographer’s images. In France, for example, as Yorgos Arvanitis GSC explained, five days a week include 10-hour schedules, including one hour for preparation, eight hours to shoot and one hour for lunch. But the Balkan countries generally share the working schedule of 12 hours a day, six days a week, with the exception of Slovenia’s five working days and two days off policy. However, the 12-hour working schedule is often not followed. This is especially the case with commercials, where 12-hour shooting days are more an exception than the rule. Shooting commercials takes a minimum of 14 hours in Greece, 12 to 18 hours in Macedonia, with a record for shoots, lasting up to 24 or 25 hours, being held by Slovenia and Romania.

Although feature films have a lighter schedule, the shoots still often end up being up to 14 hours a day long. This also depends on the project, as Hristo Genkov BAC explained. In Bulgaria, projects longer than seven weeks result in a five-day working week. Shortening of the film’s production period is becoming a norm in most countries around the world today, bringing attention to an issue that concerns filmmakers: namely, that production companies increasingly demand the best results in the minimum time – and with the lowest possible expenses. But the effect on the filmmakers’ performance and lives is becoming detrimental. “Because movies are becoming shorter and shorter, it is difficult to survive” says Dragoljub Nikolovski, the representative of the Macedonian Society of Cinematographers. In Bosnia, where a feature film gets maximum three weeks for shooting, seven days is usually a reality. According to the Romanian representative Tudor Mircea RSC, this means that the average workload is expected to be done in an abnormally long working hours, which de facto are not specified in the contract.

While nowadays the situation is typical for the cinematography profession, the growing time and financial pressure are inevitably reflected in the cinematographer’s performance, as well as in the quality of their personal life. The on-going battle for 12 hours of rest between two shooting days is attempting to resolve this issue, but it has little effect in some countries. This is because the issue is problematic in two ways.

 

1. If they want to work, the cinematographers have little choice but to cave into the producer’s demands. If they do not, there is a younger generation of cinematographers waiting, who are willing to work for a lower fee and in agreement with the current working conditions i.e. the abnormal working hours. For example, foreign productions companies are coming to Greece for service, demanding a minimum of 12 hours a day in a six, sometimes seven-day, week. “Crews are getting better money, so they are more tolerant to this”, Argyris Theos GSC, disclosed. Predrag Bambić SAS summed it up: “To work, you continue to get the shooting plan that was inappropriately scheduled”. John Mathieson BCS pointed out that the American film studios ‘run on fear’; in order to afford health insurance, workers in certain estates accept a working schedule of 90 hours per week. Such scheduling leads to serious overworking, which consequentially compromises the health and safety of not only the cinematographers but their crew too. Mathieson makes the point: “It’s down to cinematographers. It’s always easier to fight for someone else, so let’s look after the crew!” However, the next issue to be highlighted makes this very difficult.

 

2. An ambiguous attitude to the shooting schedule exists among the cinematographers themselves. As Paul René Roestad noted, some cinematographers see overtime as profitable for them, as it means that their salary is higher. Bambić addressed this with an example from the Serbian film industry: “I got the resistance from within the Society”. So, even when the associations attempt to help their members being inevitably ‘pushed’ into unfavourable working conditions, they often fail – the reason possibly being what Elen Lotman, ESC and IMAGO board member, recognises as “not wanting to be the ugly one in a place where everyone knows everyone”.

 

Solutions
When discussing support in fighting for suitable working conditions, unions are the first association that comes to mind. However, opinions on their functionality are clearly divided. Many cinematographers believe that the role of the unions is more representational than functional. Nigel Walters identified the problem in the fact that many cinematographers do not belong to a union, which, as Jure Černec ZFS mentioned, is the case in Slovenia, where being self-employed prohibits you from belonging to one. Because of such situations, together with a general lack of belief in the unions, the number of working hours is increasing almost everywhere. Thus, the need for an organisation that cinematographers believe in is even greater. As a federation that unites cinematographers around the world, IMAGO is working towards obtaining financial support from the European Parliament to reduce the number of hours worked a week to maximum of 50. “The ridiculous hours have to end – it is that simple”, Roestad concluded. But what steps to take?

One way is to confront the unions with the cinematographers’ demands on working conditions. Bambić also suggests that IMAGO can directly send a letter of support that properly addresses the issues of working hours and authorship rights to the country’s government institutions. Roestad supported these ideas: “They should realise that instead of having the cinematographers working 25 hours straight, they should divide the working hours into two days instead”. Putting the rules on paper is the best option. John Mathieson reported of an improving situation in America, where the producers are pushing the UK Advertising Producers Association (APA) to have rules set down on paper, so that the APA is seen to be working in collaboration with the crews. This is an encouraging sign of improvement from the production companies, concluded Walters, as by imposing better regulations in the way they work – reflecting a restriction on working days and hours – means that the value of proper working hours is being realised.

This is a great predisposition for further negotiations that will lead to change. The answer is in continuing to educate filmmakers across the globe that standing up to the current conditions is only effective if they are united. With the help of an international federation like IMAGO, their voices have the opportunity to be loud enough to be heard and effectively challenge the present unreasonable status quo. “If you are not hired under fair conditions, no one else will take the job”, Roestad determined. This solution was further developed by Theos and Walters, who connected the discussion on working hours to the topic of authorship. The agreed that the two issues are very much intertwined; focusing on resolving the issue of authorship, specifically authorship rights, will enable the matter of working hours to become negotiable too. Addressing the cinematographer’s right to authorship tackles one of the fundamental plights of the cinematographer’s work. Respect for the cinematographer’s work comes with recognition of authorship. “We must regain our respect”, Walters proclaimed.

 

2. Authorship and authorship rights
The main argument put on the table was that the cinematographers need to have control over their images. The issue of control of one’s work, and the authorial rights over it, relates to the cinematographer’s control over his images in post-production, specifically colour grading.

When it comes to authorship rights for cinematographers, the practices of juridical systems are, unfortunately, different in each country. According to a 2019 report written by Dr Cristina Busch, the legal advisor of IMAGO and the IMAGO authorship rights committee, out of 53 IMAGO member associations, 26 countries recognise cinematographers as co-authors of film. Of that number, 17 countries also recognise cinematographers as authors of the photographic works of the film. The short survey taken at the Balkan Conference demonstrated that most of the Balkan countries have author’s rights for cinematographers, with the exception of Romania. When signing a contract, cinematographers are also agreeing to give up their authorship rights, Tudor Mircea RSC explained. This is not a unique case; a contract in Bulgaria also states that a cinematographer is giving up his authorship rights for 10 years – only after that re-obtaining them becomes negotiable again.

Contracts and self-employment
So, in the light of the authorship debate and recognition of the cinematographer’s authorship rights, the first issue addressed was the role and nature of the work contracts. Most agreed with Argyris Theos that, while the contracts exist, they are not being respected. As Mircea indicates, the problem is often in the legal practice that demands that individual filmmakers must be self-employed in order to sign a contract, resulting in a confusing situation of ‘everybody being a company on the set’. Not only is it a technique employed by producers to avoid responsibility and taxes, it is also “a wonderful way to cheapen the labour, as it dilutes our power” according to Nigel Walters. In order to change such working conditions, legislative regulation needs to be enacted. Barry Ackroyd BSC took a stance on this in 2016: “If our industry, and those who run it, really want diversity, then they need to recognise that equality is the flipside of that same coin. It's divisive to treat those who create the image with less respect than those who play other roles in this collective art-form. Isn't it time for a change?” Returning to this theme, Roestad established that a change is imperative: “IMAGO’s view is that cinematographers are authors. Final. Signing our authorship rights over to the producer should end”.

Post-production: Colour grading
Cinematographers’ authorship rights are most noticeably compromised at the colour grading stage. “From too many parts of the World, reports are coming into IMAGO that producers increasingly exclude cinematographers from the grading of their images and the post-production process” Roestad wrote (2019). The cinematographers are being pushed into a corner by “people telling us what to do” according to the unanimous view of the Balkan cinematographers. Cinematographers in Serbia are continually fighting off producers wanting to influence grading, Bambić noted. Not an individual case at all. Generally, the cinematographers are expected to do grading. But there are issues with this. Firstly, they are being limited in their control (by producers themselves making grading decisions). Secondly, the time given to them for grading is becoming shorter and shorter. Producers are cutting down on the number of grading days, which has pushed the cinematographers into a corner. “We have to cave in for less to finish our work”, Theos says, “despite needing more days”. Two weeks is given to grade a film in Slovenia and Romania. Three weeks in Greece, Arvanitis explained, representing together with the preparations, up to 50% of the cinematographer’s fee. This brings us to the third point – that grading work is not being paid additionally. Similar to Slovenia and Romania, an ‘all in one fee’ is specified in the contract. Tudor Mircea believes this is not an issue per se, as it, in fact, assures the cinematographer of grading of his images himself and thus avoid being left out of the grading room entirely: “Without a flat deal – including scouting and post-production – they will take you out at the end, claiming that they don’t have money for post.”

What sounds like a reasonable solution is still only the best case scenario among the bad scenarios and resonates with Barry Ackroyd’s observation that “according to those somewhere in the chain of corporate command, the director of photography is simply meant to consider it a ‘privilege’ to finish the film” (2016). Or, as Valentin Perko ZFS puts it, “If you don’t sign the contract, you don’t work. Young people are waiting for this job”. The discussion leads to the debate on respect for the cinematographer’s entire creative process: the call to be given the opportunity to finish the work and a choice when it comes to the restoration process when their images are later being generated digitally for preservation. Simply put, the cinematographers should be given the right to be there if it is possible, Walters concluded. At the same time, he pointed out that the issue of grading is problematic on different levels, which became evident from the discussions on digitalisation of the grading process – and, indeed, digital technology in general – that took place among the cinematographers at the conference (a similar discussion on the transition from analogue to digital can be found in Shooting Time: Cinematographers on Cinematography, 2012, NSC).

This was indicative of the fact that the digital era has made it even more challenging for the cinematographers to keep the control and authorial rights over their images. Yorgos Arvanitis told a story from the set about when he was faced with a still photographer asking for stills from the film, which would then be lawfully published in a magazine, with the photographer having authorial rights. Ackroyd has addressed this before: “Why a still photographer has authorship rights, and the cinematographer has not, even if framing and shooting exactly the same frame and motive, is not understandable to many. In this world of lawyers and accountants, the image still belongs to those who finance and those with the power to use the law” (2016). Paul René Roestad agrees: “Images can’t be published without your agreement. That is the idea, and as an international federation, IMAGO will work for that.” Cinematographers need control over their images, the members of the Balkan conference agreed. The challenge is: where to start?

“It’s a global problem with the integrity of the images,” Ron Johanson ACS said and presented the manner in which Australian cinematographers fought for better monitoring of the situation in Australia. They achieved their objective by successfully ‘bombarding’ the producers’ association with ads in trade magazines, asking “Would he make a grade?” Although it was not supported by great resources, “we make the most of what we got”. The idea of publicly advertising the injustices and pointing out the difficulties that cinematographers face at the post-production stage of filmmaking was loudly supported by Theos: “By advertising our work, for example focusing on advertising the most distinguished cinematographers, we will also promote our profession”.

Although recent years have demonstrated a trend towards collaborative/multiple cinematic authorship (e.g. Cowan, 2016), cinematographers are yet to be widely recognised as authors and receive remuneration accordingly. A step in the right direction should be taken in two ways, Roestad suggested: stage one is making the demand to be able to control the images; stage two is to achieve international recognition for this claim.

 

The idea of uniting forces to demand the right to control has great potential because, as Theos points out, the basis has already been laid: “If a producer asks you to sign over the rights, this means that producer already accepts that legally the cinematographer possesses authorship rights. This is the focus. They accept them, even if they steal them. This is positive. Start from here. This is the way we should be working. Positively and going forward”. Paul René Roestad is encouraged by how US and UK colleagues won the battle: not long ago the two countries also debated authorship rights as ‘interesting, but it will never happen here’; after a while turning the focus to ‘why isn’t it happening here?’ – at that point changes started to happen. Estonia is an example of vast improvement in regard to the authorship issue in terms of the cinematographer’s control over the images. There, Elen Lotman explained, a cinematographer can loudly voice their disapproval of their rights to being in the grading room being violated and fight the violation with a lawyer.

Estonian cinematographers’ indisputable right to post-production involvement inspires and motivates. Coming together and working internationally is the best way forward - “Meetings like this roll the dice”, Filip Jordanov BAC concluded. The results of these meetings are evident. Collaborations are being continuously forged, as seen in the Slovenian project ‘balKam 2020’, a film festival that the Slovene Association of Cinematographers is organising for the second year in a row. The IMAGO federation has enthusiastically agreed to support the festival’s diversity by assisting in organising the delivery of a masterclass by an international cinematographer.

3. Diversity
Great cultural diversity is the primary joint characteristic of the Balkan societies, according to Walters and Roestad. And while the interactions between the countries are happening, there is another element of diversity that needs attention: gender diversity. Two IMAGO board members, Nina Kellgren BSC and Elen Lotman ESC addressed this issue in their report in British Cinematographer (2016). Their report lists changes in gender diversity in the industry in Sweden, Norway, the US, the UK, and Australia, but Lotman launched the debate at the Back to Basics conference so as to include the Balkan countries: “The more visibly diverse that cinematographers are, the more it will become the norm and less an exception.”

This is currently not the case in the Balkans: with the exception of two female members in the Serbian Society of Cinematographers and one female member in the Association of Cinematographers in Bosnia & Herzegovina (ASBH), the number of women members in the cinematographers’ societies is often zero. This said, the most significant advancement has been achieved by the Bosnian Association. They have taken the notion of diversity a step further and renamed their association to include the female cinematographers in its Bosnian name. With this, the Bosnian Association of Cinematographers demonstrated that it is following the trend, which Ron Johanson admitted started in Australia only ten years ago: “It was an all-boys club, women were peripheral”. Now, however, the Australian Cinematographers Society has a rule that states ‘We are all cinematographers, there is no difference” and includes 55 female members in the ‘club’.

Johanson is a firm believer and advocate for the gender diversity globally. Similar to Lotman, he asserted that women do not wish to be referred to as ‘female cinematographers’ but simply recognised for their profession – just cinematographers. This is the common issue; women cinematographers are, as in many other industries, often not treated with the same attitude as men. For example, Lotman pointed out, women are often labelled ‘bossy’ but not ‘the boss’ of their sector. This indicates that the problem lies in embedded perceptions. In order to contribute to changing them, IMAGO actively promotes the visibility and familiarity of the women cinematographers.

“If you can see it, you can be it”
Female cinematographer groups have begun to spring up in the last years; not as unions but by creating web pages that showcase their work. Such a collective of female cinematographers is the UK’s Illuminatrix, whose members individually have over five years of professional industry experience working as a Director of Photography. Other female-based societies are the Spanish Directoras de Fotografia, the UK’s Reel Angels, Mexican Apertura Comunidad de Cinefotógrafas, German Cinematographers XX, and international groups like The International Collective of Female Cinematographers (ICFC). Following the same model, Lotman suggested that the Balkan Cinematographers associations could also possibly encourage and support the formation of women collectives in their countries, as well as in collaboration between them: “It can just be a web page of names… maybe call it Balkan female cinematographers or something like that”.

The concept is intriguing, and the representatives of the Balkan countries at the conference seemed to in agreement to fostering the idea. How this will be achieved, however, remained undecided, as the issue is relatively new. Although the doors of the associations are open to women cinematographers, not many are entering at the moment. The above debate has demonstrated that active support needs to come from the ‘all-boys clubs’ and then, in time, the societies will gain on gender diversity as well.

When we are united, it is difficult to ignore our interests. Before cinematographers were individuals, but now communication can enable the continuous growth of cinematography.
The outlook on all the issues discussed, and the conclusions reached in the debates that developed at the Back to Basics conference, are very positive and very much executable. The issue of working hours goes hand-in-hand with the problems of unrecognised and unattributed authorship in some of the Balkan countries. Authorship rights being taken away and the fact that the cinematographers are being hindered in finishing their work at the post-production stage highlighted the importance of the need for the cinematographers to regain the control over their images. In terms of authorship, having control over their work would also mean reclaiming respect for cinematographers’ vocation. Creative authority and autonomy are the basis for the cinematographers’ work, and, by gaining recognition for it, other issues, such as long working schedules, would become more easily negotiable. The answer to ‘how?’ lies in the strength of Balkans. This unique geographical area consists of countries of great cultural diversity, but, at the same time, a common artistic spirit with love for film. It is at meetings such as this that the individual countries come together and realise that if they forge collaborations, help each other, and jointly fight for better rights and conditions, they are bound to achieve greater results than countries that do not talk to each other, Nigel Walters concluded. IMAGO actively supports the Balkans in their determination to solve common challenges in cooperation.

 

The Back to Basics conference was very productive: the possible solutions to the problematics addressed were not only discussed but joined into a clear plan of actions. Although some issues have only been touched on  the issue of health and safety, other types of diversity (minorities of coloured people and older people, for example), the question of the cinematographer’s role in CGI animation process, and the problem of movement of labour in Balkan regions outside the EU  the process of realisation has been launched. IMAGO’s help with marketing, spreading information through various channels, explicitly referring to the communication with the Ministries of Culture, campaigns for authorship rights, diversity, and the calls for the change of working laws, supports the growth of the culture of cinematography and will bring results for the Balkan cinematographers societies. Notably, this is “because you are working together” as Paul René Roestad concluded.

 

References:

‘Author’s rights’ British Cinematographer. 2019. Available at: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/imago-news/authors-rights/.
‘Authorship situation for cinematographers around the world’. IMAGO. Available at: http://www.imago.org/images/pdfs/AUTHORSHIP/Authorship_for_cinematographers_around_the_world.pdf.
Barry Ackroyd. ‘Not making the grade’ British Cinematographer. 2016. Available at: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/not-making-the-grade/.
Caldwell, John T. Production Culture. 2008. UK: Duke University Press.
Cowan, Philip. Persistence of vision: film authorship and the role of the cinematographer (with a case study of Gregg Toland). Doctoral thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Follows, Steven, Kreager, Alexis and Eleanor Gomes. A major new study into gender inequality in the UK film industry. 2016. Directors UK. Available at: https://2025be3zddzi1rbswe1rwhgo-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Cut-Out-of-The-Picture-Report.pdf.
‘Illuminatrix to Highlight Leading Female Cinematographers’ British Cinematographer. 2016. Available at: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/illuminatrix-highlight-leading-female-cinematographers/.
Kellgren, Nina and Elen Lotman. ‘Embracing Diversity’ British Cinematographer. 2016. Available at: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/imago-news/embracing-diversity/.
NSC. Shooting Time: Cinematographers on Cinematography. 2012.

‘Recognition’ British Cinematographer. 2016. Available at: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/imago-news/recognition/.
Roestad, Paul René. ‘Three things urgently need fixing … now!’ IMAGO. 2019. Available at: https://www.imago.org/index.php/news/item/963-three-things-urgently-needs-fixing-now.html.
Walters, Nigel. ‘The cinematographers are most important for the film industry’ Daily News Manaki Brothers. 2018. Available at: https://www.manaki.com.mk/2018/09/28/nigel-walters-imago-the-cinematographers-are-most-important-for-the-film-industry/.


Manca Perko is a Doctor of Film Studies and currently teaches Film Production and Documentary at the University of East Anglia (UK). She is also an international freelance film worker. She researches collaboration in film crews and problematizes the attribution of creative autonomy and authorship in the film industry. She is an associate member of the Slovene Association of Cinematographers.

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