France's New Film Crew Wage Law Faces Legal Challenge

Several unions filed a suit to stop it from being implemented in October.

PARIS – A controversial collective labor agreement mandating minimum wages for film crews that is set to go into effect in the fall faces even more opposition after several unions that refused to sign on filed an appeal to the high court here.

The Association of Film Producers (l'APC), the Union of Independent Producers (SPI), Union of film Producers (UPF) and the Association of Advertising Film Producers (AFPF) have refused to sign on to the agreement set to go into effect Oct. 1, and filed suit this week to challenge the content of the agreement and suspend its implementation on Oct. 1.

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Negotiated by France's largest producers, including Gaumont, Pathe, MK2 and UGC and the Union of Professionals of the Audiovisual and Cinema Industry (SPIAC), the agreement sets minimum wages for everyone on a set from the director's chair to the decorating department. The wage schedule mandates minimum weekly wages of $3743 (€2820) for an assistant director,  $3412 (€2570) for a director of photography, $3372 (€2540) for a production designer. 

Films budgeted under $3.3 million (€2.5 million) would be exempt from the base wages, but must pay film crews at least $2,560 (€2,000) per month, with night shoots and overtime above 48 hours per week require an elevated pay rate and the production to obtain permission from the employment bureau.

But the agreement has been highly controversial here with many in the film industry saying that it would kill small films budgeted at well below the $3.3 million cap. Opponents say productions could move in order to take advantage of lower wages abroad, or films would simply not get made.

A group of young filmmakers, including directors Mia Hansen-Love and Rebecca Zlotowski, published an open letter in the newspaper Liberation July 16, calling on president Francois Hollande to suspend the agreement. "This agreement, which is supposed to protect us, buries us alive," they wrote, citing the impact of increased labor costs on independent productions. Their representatives met with labor minister Michel Sapin and Hollande on Thursday, resulting in culture minister Aurelie Filippetti vowing to make marked "improvements" in the agreement that would accommodate or allow exemptions for small films.

A petition, signed by 1,600 producers, directors and actors – including industry heavyweights such as directors Luc Besson (The Family), Guillaume Canet (Blood Ties), Francois Ozon (Young and Beautiful), actor Vincent Cassell (Black Swan), and producers Vincent Maraval (Only God Forgives), and Margaret Menegoz (Amour) --  was presented to the government in March, saying the new wages would be a "death warrant" to low-budget films in France. The signatories cited films such as Leos Carrax's Holy Motors, which was made only after the crew members took 20 percent pay cuts across the board.

The young filmmakers group is set to meet with Hollande again sometime in September, and the high court hearing is set for Aug. 30.