Egypt’s film and television industry, a cornerstone of Arab entertainment, is currently undergoing a transformative phase. With rising concerns over unfair compensation, grueling working hours, and a disparity in treatment between the stars and the crew, the industry’s core issues are coming to the forefront.
One of the most pressing concerns in the industry is the stark contrast in compensation. While actors, directors, and writers often receive salaries in the millions, the rest of the crew, the backbone of any production, are left with minimal compensation.
This disparity becomes even more glaring when considering the working conditions. Crew members often work for over 24 hours straight, a practice that’s not only exhausting but also exploitative.
Sound Engineers Union’s Stance
The Sound Engineers Assistant Union in Egypt has shown support for the decisions made by the Sound Engineering Division of the Cinematography Profession Union, as outlined in their statement dated 28th August 2023.
The decisions include:
- Halting all new contracts from 30th August 2023.
- Ceasing to deal with any production entity or its representatives that wish to agree with any sound engineer without referring to the wage schedule announced by the Sound Division Council.
- Suspending any sound engineer who violates the decision of the Sound Division Council according to the law of rich syndicates and the cinematography profession syndicate.
The statement was endorsed by several members, including Mohamed El-Khouly, Bassam Omar, Mazen Al-Khatib, Fadi Hakim, and many others. The union expressed its utmost respect and appreciation for the support.
The Egyptian Cinematographers Stance
Shortly after, a statement issued by Egyptian Cinematographers, shared by several on Social Media, highlighted these concerns.
The union’s decisions, dated 1st September 2023, aim to address some of these issues:
- Preparation Week: Before diving into the heart of production, a week will be dedicated to finalizing contracts, site visits, meetings, and essential tasks like color corrections.
- Regulated Working Hours: The union is pushing for a maximum of six consecutive working days, with each day capped at 12 hours, inclusive of a one-hour break. Additionally, a 12-hour rest period between shooting days is deemed essential for the well-being of the crew.
- Transparent Compensation: The agreed-upon wage should be a net amount, free from hidden deductions, ensuring that crew members receive their fair share.
- Overtime Clarity: If there’s a need for additional working hours, these should be approved by department heads and compensated fairly. The union suggests a clear formula: the daily wage divided by 12 to determine the hourly rate for overtime.
Montage Division’s Stance
The Montage Division also released a statement recently, shedding light on the decisions taken to regulate their work in the upcoming period.
The statement, dated 4th September 2023, emphasized several points:
- Minimum Wages: The division is committed to adhering to the minimum wages set by the Montage Division Council. The agreed-upon wage should be a net amount, free from hidden deductions.
- Value-Added Tax (VAT): Production entities are obligated to pay the VAT with every installment to the montage crew, ensuring compliance with the VAT law.
- Contractual Clarity: The montage crew should receive a copy of the contract immediately upon signing, without any delay. In case of non-compliance, the crew has the right to cease work without repercussions.
- Shooting Days: The contract should specify the number of shooting days and the end date. If the agreed-upon days are exceeded, the montage crew has the right to demand additional compensation.
- Additional Tasks: If the production entity wishes to assign additional tasks to the montage crew, such as promotional montage or musical preparation, it should be mentioned in the contract or an annex, with additional compensation as determined by the Division Council.
- Weekly Rest Day: The montage crew is entitled to one rest day per week in case of continuous shooting.
- Second Unit Shooting: In case of shooting with a second unit or if the shooting time coincides with the broadcast time, the montage crew has the right to demand additional compensation or request another montage team without affecting the wages of the primary crew.
- Membership in the Union: Under no circumstances should there be dealings with montage crew members who are not registered with the union.
- Binding Decisions: These decisions are binding for all division members, and violators will be held accountable with strict measures.
Voices from the Industry
Director Yousry Nasrallah took to Facebook to voice his concerns. He questioned the crisis of the sound engineers in the Egyptian cinema industry with production companies due to wage cuts. He pondered whether it was an individual mistake that the decisions were not announced. He highlighted the case of a sound engineer whose wage was reduced three weeks after the start of shooting and wondered if this was an isolated incident or linked to unannounced decisions by the series producers’ union.
Director Karim el Shenawy shared his thoughts on Instagram, emphasizing the challenges the industry faces. He believes that the solution isn’t in reducing wages or even setting a maximum wage. He pointed out that even if wages are reduced, the cost of other production elements won’t decrease. He stressed that the real victims of such decisions won’t be the major industry figures but the smaller artists, technicians, and workers. He believes that the solution lies in opening the market, not setting a wage cap.
Director Kareem El-Adl, a supporter of the standout, shared the statement from the Sound Division, expressing his shock at the practice of reducing wages after work has begun. He praised the Sound Division for their stance and hoped that all producers would reconsider such strange decisions.
Meanwhile, Writer Mohamed Amin Rady acknowledged the wage list and stated that he finds the wages for actors, directors, and writers to be fair. However, he also pointed out that there’s a significant disparity when it comes to the wages of other departments, which he finds deeply concerning.
The Way Forward
The Egyptian film and television industry is at a pivotal juncture. The call for fairness, better working conditions, and equitable compensation is echoing louder than ever. As the industry grapples with these challenges, it’s crucial to remember that its strength lies in its people, from the biggest stars to the hardworking crew behind the scenes.
For the industry to thrive and maintain its esteemed position in the Arab world, stakeholders must come together to address these issues head-on. Only through collective action and understanding can the industry hope to usher in a new era of fairness, growth, and unparalleled creativity.