Some offshore-originated films, television commercials, documentaries and music videos that shoot in Australia are flouting the rules and regulations governing film crews, according to the technicians' union and Oz-based production services companies.
SBS Film has been told the breaches include paying local crews in cash and below minimum award rates, importing crews on tourism or business visas, failing to hire an Australian first assistant director as required by working visas issued by the Immigration Department, or engaging personnel such as a safety officer or nurse.
The Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) is vowing to intervene whenever it is made aware of such abuses and says the Gillard government's tightening of the work visa system will lead to greater compliance and improved working conditions.
“We will be a lot more interventionist,” Mal Tulloch, director of the Entertainment Crew and Sport section of the Alliance, tells SBS Film.
Local service companies say non-compliance is especially rife among some South Asian productions but breaches have occurred in productions originating from South Korea, Japan, Russia and Eastern Europe. They point to some non-film related companies in Australia that sponsor offshore productions and to local line producers who are willing to bend the rules.
“I have been contacted by overseas production companies when they are hit with issues with local producers who cut corners and have no idea about the film production business,” says Melbourne-based line producer Karthik Vilvanathan. “We try to help or pass them on to professional companies. The producers leave Australia with a sour note because they are misled by shonky line producers.”
Producer/director Anupam Sharma (pictured), who runs the Fox Studios-based Film and Casting Temple, says, “Non-film sponsors are hungry to make extra bucks and break rules and regulations in the absence of strong monitoring and enforcement. B-level overseas producers, particularly from India, who are penny wise and pound foolish, get swayed by promises of not paying overtime, Sunday double time, cash payments etc.
“That results in exploitative guerrilla shoots where the crew won't complain as they are getting cash, the overseas producers won't complain as they are getting lower costs and the sponsors won't complain as they are making [an] extra buck overnight.”
Sharma estimates between two and five films a year that shoot here abuse the system in some way. “I believe the problem is not overseas producers but shonky non-film Australian sponsors/operators who sponsor such crews camouflaged as 'line producers' then violate all the conditions and awards of our film industry and union,” he adds. “We have to have ways to penalise such people and discourage them, otherwise overseas producers will laugh at our 'rules and regulations'."
George Vasiliadis of Queensland-based production services firm In-Motion says non-compliance is a “huge problem” among some offshore productions that shoot in that state, particularly documentaries from the UK and Germany, TVCs and music videos. He's aware of crews from Japan and Korea that enter the country on business or tourist visas, thus avoiding the conditions of work visas, and says, “There are a lot of shonky operators.”
Tulloch says the producer of a South Asian film agreed to engage Australian crew on local award rates and to hire a safety officer and nurse when the MEAA made representations
after crew members complained.
He says the MEAA will not tolerate offshore producers paying Australian crew in cash because that would enable “unscrupulous people to launder money”.