The Rules of the Game

By Eric Gautier, Director of Photography, AFC

par Eric Gautier La Lettre AFC n°233

[English] [français]

I must say that I am rather dumbfounded by the turn events have taken and the conflict between directors and technicians that is looming on the horizon. Indelible scars have already been made. I do not understand the point of this fratricide war, for our interests are identical. I have always made films for directors.

I think the question that we must ask ourselves is : what does it mean to be a producer today ? Does producing mean going on humiliating rounds to pay visits to all of the various “tellers” (advances, subsidies, public funding, television, prizes, etc.) to always come back disappointed, or even empty-handed ? So the producers pretend they’ll be able to make a film budgeted for 6 million Euros with only 2, so long as they are able to subjugate the technicians or hire anyone so long as they’ll accept their conditions.
That sort of attitude really shows a lack of respect for us. They are underfunded and don’t want to take risks. But the recent lack of support by public television and Canal+ for interesting films is also disastrous. Aren’t there other alternatives that we could come up with ? Look for funding in the private sector (like in the USA or in the art world) ? That’s the key to the debate over our salaries.

There is a word that has exited our vocabularies these last few years : the word ARTISAN. Our profession means that we fight against standards, we create, we experiment. Finding new ways to use tools or new settings. Bringing a different point of view that is unique and personal. Making films richer on the screen than they are in their budgets. We have to follow work schedules that are tight and constrained, but we still accept the challenge.
The industrial side of things is taking over, the money is mostly being invested in standardized products, and it is becoming more and more difficult to produce quality cinema. For these “middling” and chronically underfunded films, we have to move mountains to make them viable and preserve their ambition. Do producers know that ? Even the directors with whom we are close friends don’t always realise.

Producers have changed ; they have become quasi-financiers without any true cinematographic desires or artistic ambitions (happily there are still a few rare exceptions). They are not interested in the way films are made and are only concerned with cost cutting. They don’t know our profession, and so they think we cost too much…
And yet, we are accustomed to making concessions, to being flexible, to working for a fixed amount of money without asking extra for the hours we work at night or our prep time… But we won’t work for less than the minimum wage. As things stand, producers are taking advantage of our divisions (technicians vs. directors) in order to sew panic and threats amongst the directors, many of whom, in consequence, have turned against us, as though we were preventing them from being free. In reality, it is the opposite that is true.

Furthermore, I feel very uncomfortable with the labour unions, for they are not at all interested in cinema, but only in their own political battles. I hate dogmas of every kind, and I am very afraid of their inflexibility. Beginners must be allowed to take their first steps (when I filmed my first movie, La Vie des Morts by Despleschin, I wasn’t paid, but what a personal reward I received, and what an education !), make movies and receive a normal wage (the minimum negotiated amount) with a small number of technicians if that’s what the project needs…
But there have to be rules of the game that everyone respects, and that respect us. And that ought to be the starting point for all negotiations, as was the case up to now. This is why we need a collective labour agreement.