“It’s time to stand up for your rights,” say creators at the latest European Audiovisual Observatory conference
- The panellists discussed the challenges of getting fair remuneration for their work and how their respective markets deal with the growing influence of streaming platforms
On 7 June, the city of Tallinn hosted a conference organised by the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO), titled “Creators in Europe’s Screen Sectors – Sketching Present and Future Challenges”.
After an introduction by EAO’s executive director, Susanne Nikoltchev, the event was opened by the speeches given by Taaniel Raudsepp, Estonia’s Undersecretary for Arts, and Edith Sepp, CEO of the Estonian Film Institute and vice-president of EFAD. In particular, Sepp highlighted how, despite the impressive technological advancements that have been made, creators must remain at the centre of the debate: “It seems to me – and I was a filmmaker before I became a ‘bureaucrat’ – that during this talk of blockchain, the metaverse and web 3.0, we are sometimes in danger of forgetting this basic truth about the creators, and forgetting that technology, crucial though it may be, is the means, not the end. Creators, not algorithms, must shape the future of our audiovisual culture in Europe. [...] When we invest in film and audiovisual, we are investing in our creativity and our own stories. We are making an investment in our very identity as a nation and as Europeans.”
The first part of the event, moderated by Sepp, was kicked off by EAO’s Gilles Fontaine, who touched upon different topics related to the world of screen creators. In particular, he highlighted that, according to the figures collected over the period 2015-2020, 47% of directors and 53% of writers weren’t active any more after working on their first feature. He wondered whether, in this “golden age of content”, this industry can afford such a huge loss of talent and expertise. However, he added that the figures must be taken with a pinch of salt, since the “active” label does not take into account creators who were involved in projects that, for some reason, didn’t come to fruition.
A panel discussion followed, and saw the participation of Estonian director Tanel Toom, Icelandic editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, Danish novelist Steen Bille and Ukrainian composer Dmitry Avkesentiev. Bille touched upon the role of Create Denmark, the recent halt to commissioning new content by streamers, including Netflix, and the new 6% levy on streaming services. He expected that other European countries would follow suit.
Toom explained how difficult it is to talk about a “golden age of TV” in Estonia and doesn’t believe there will be streamers such as Netflix shooting local stories in the country in the coming years.
Ronaldsdottir warned that whatever “Netflix produces, it owns”, and it has the potential to spread it all over the world, but this is also a major downside for creators.
Avkesentiev spoke about how producing content for Russian-owned players has been damaging the local scene, although things have changed for the better since 2014.
Bille stressed how important it is for writers and directors to stand together in asking for fair remuneration for their work, and how the debate over the roles of showrunners and directors should be given less prominence. On the latter point, Avkesentiev explained that, during his work for the gaming industry, splitting directing tasks and seeing these handled by a number of professionals has been the norm.
Speaking about struggles during the negotiation process, Bille said that there are strong organisations protecting writers in Denmark, clearly advising writers on what to sign and what not to sign, but the real challenge remains negotiating with streamers, and not so much with Danish producers.
Toom invited directors to learn how to negotiate, what to keep and what to give up, even though it’s something they wouldn’t normally be keen to study. “You don’t need a degree in Law. Just read these 17-page guidelines for directors’ contracts. That’s a good start, already,” he said ironically. He also underlined how important it is to hand-pick trusted collaborators, including producers and agents.
In Iceland, there is even less room for negotiation since the market is too small, argued Ronaldsdottir. “And things change depending on whether you’re a man or a woman, let’s face it,” she added. A major struggle while negotiating with Netflix is that, normally, one doesn’t deal directly with the streamer. Instead, this happens through the production outfit which has already signed an agreement with the platform.
Avkesentiev said that normally in Ukraine, there is a set market price, with no room for negotiation. Only established, renowned professionals have the “privilege” of being able to negotiate their fees.
Ronaldsdottir pointed out, “It’s time to start putting our foot down when it comes to bullies. [...] The film industry is only a reflection of reality. […] Obviously, streamers can pay a 6% tax and act responsibly towards the community, but that’s not how our capitalist society works,” she concluded.
The second part of the event involved a discussion on policies and institutional work, moderated by Nikoltchev.
You can watch the full recording of the event here.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.