A movable picture feast

Nahed Nasr , Sunday 17 Sep 2023

During the past weeks, the rights of workers in film and television have come to the fore with dozens of prominent film artists – directors, screenwriters, editors, sound engineers, costume and set designers – joining a movement unprecedented in decades.

abour crisis in the Egyptian film industry
abour crisis in the Egyptian film industry


It all started in early August with the founding meeting of what is now known as the Federation of Egyptian Producers, with the participation of 18 of the biggest production houses including United Film Production, Al-Adl Group, Aroma, Synergy, Albatross, Al-Sobki Art Production, and Watch It. The aim is to regulate the mechanisms of the production market, adjust the wage structure, and develop content to ensure the growth and development of the industry.

However, the emerging federation’s intention to establish wage regulations to be applied to all parties without those regulations being officially announced fomented doubt.

On 28 August, the sound engineering division of the Film Syndicate issued a statement announcing the indefinite cessation of all new contracts for its members starting on 30 August, and the cessation of wage regulation agreements with any production body other than itself. The reason given was a complaint by a sound engineer whose wages were reduced on the pretext of the Egyptian Producers Federation regulations. Concern spread across the industry, and many bodies preemptively expressed their refusal to accept any regulations agreed on without their approval.  

The sound division later published a set of conditions specifying hours, wages, and contractual obligations and stating that violating those conditions will have consequences. At the same time, the Producers Federation’s supposed regulations categorising film artists and the wages they require were leaked, causing widespread consternation.  

On 4 September, the Association of Arab Drama Writers, headed by the prominent screenwriter Bashir Al-Deek, issued a statement stating: “The association will pay no heed to so called wage regulations, especially since they are insulting to all Egyptian artists, writers, and directors.” The statement called for adherence to the decisions that will be taken by the screenplay division of the Cinema Syndicate regarding wages and contracts.

Before the situation could deteriorate further, Mosaad Fouda, head of the Film Syndicate, intervened, issuing a statement detailing the syndicate’s vision for absorbing random anger. It stated that the film and television industry is facing difficult times, including poor working conditions, unfair contracts, and low wages, which requires measures to safeguard the rights of film workers.

The syndicate’s statement included a minimum wage and minimum number of hours per day as well the need for production companies to provide insurance for everyone contracted. The statement closed by announcing the postponement of all contracts for Cinema Syndicate members for a period of 10 days until each division announces its new contract conditions, calling on members to meet with the council within a week to express their wishes, which they did in the next few days.

The cinematography division statement was published on 5 September. It included a whole array of conditions, notably a maximum working week of six 12-hour days (including an hour of rest and at least 12 hours of rest between days), a prior filming schedule, and crucial conditions for wages and contracts.

On 6 September both the directing and the screenwriting divisions followed suit. The directors declared their solidarity with measures being taken in other divisions and specified the rights and duties of a director, including not starting shooting before the script is complete and having a filming schedule, the director’s right to choose all elements of the work and to take part in budgeting. The statement also specified minimum wages and raises to accommodate inflation, hours, overtime, insurance, taxes, contracts, and punitive measures. The screenwriters specified a minimum wage to be implemented as of 1 October, stressing various authors’ rights including a timeframe for the payment of financial dues and the right to terminate the contract if the work is not made within five years of being submitted.

Also on 6 December, the costume design division announced its belief in a minimum wage to rise by 10 per cent annually in addition to taking inflation into account, and the need for each member of a design team to have their own contract. The set design division said it was “observing the current situation through regular meetings for study and consultation to determine the division’s decisions regarding the conditions and mechanisms of work”, declaring that all contracts would be postponed for 10 days. The editing division also made its own statement.

Meanwhile the Producers Federation announced that it had not authored the leaked regulations, and was in no way connected to claims being made about it. It is not yet known how the Film Syndicate decisions can be implemented, but since the federation’s own regulations are still being discussed, perhaps the way forward is a negotiation between the two entities.

Many in the industry have been encouraged to take unprecedented steps, however. A group of workers announced an association called the Egyptian Society of Colour Correction Technicians, with its founding statement signed by about 30 workers in this profession. The statement stated that with tremendous technical advances in the film industry – cameras, lighting equipment, outlet – the colour correction profession remains indispensable and no less important than any other aspect of the industry. The statement points out that the association aims to create an entity to represent all workers in the profession, and to uphold the highest professional standards in films, television dramas and other projects. Among the goals of the association is to set a minimum wage and average cost for various projects, and to clarify the rights and duties of the colour corrector. Members will be meeting regularly to discuss developments. “All contracts related to the members of the association will be postponed for a period of five days until the Egyptian Colour Correctors regulations are announced,” the statement concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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