Last week, 415 actors, production and post-production staff in the Danish film industry signed an open letter to the country’s production companies complaining that the huge demand from international streaming companies like Netflix, HBO, and more, was pushing them to breaking point.
Meta Foldager Sørensen, chief executive of SAM Productions, which has produced two Netflix originals, The Chestnut Man and Ragnarok, told The Local that the demand was so intense that she was having to postpone productions, but that Denmark’s film world should still be grateful for the boom times.
“I just postponed a production a month because we couldn’t get a production designer, and that cost me a lot of money because I already have people on payroll,” she said. “I have a huge problem crewing.”
It was, she said, important that Denmark’s film industry, and perhaps even its government, started taking action to educate more staff.
“We don’t have enough people right now. I think we should start talking about how do we educate people fast, and that’s going to be expensive, because otherwise we won’t be able to deliver when Disney, Apple, Amazon and Hulu enter this market as well. We have a hard time doing it right now. And it’s going to be even worse…or better.”
Foldager, whose company is currently shooting the new series of the hit political series Borgen, conceded that some workers in the industry were feeling the strain, but said that others were enjoying opportunities they could only have dreamt of at this stage of their careers a few years ago.
“Sometimes this is wonderful. I love giving all these young, energetic people chances,” she said. “Many of these people are very ambitious. And they really want to do it. And then they get a nice job that they really thought they wouldn’t get for another five years.”
It could bring difficulties though.
“If you have too many of them on the same production, it can become a problem, if you’re not lucky to have the right combination,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just beautiful, and they grow very fast and it’s just great. But sometimes it’s it creates a bad environment at the set or too many problems that end up costing you a lot of money, time and stress.”
Foldager did not deny that there was a problem with stress and overwork.
“If 415 people have signed something, there must be some truth in it, at least in how they see it, how they feel,” she said.
“Many of these streamers coming in have a huge appetite, which is wonderful, it’s a positive thing. But their time schedules are also based on…other working cultures where they don’t have kids who expect their parents to be with them for seven summer vacation weeks, for instance. We have a lot of vacations and we should really be preserving that.”
She conceded that Netflix had often demanded very tight time schedules which put pressure on production teams.
“I love working with Netflix. I think they’re straightforward. They’re nice. They don’t bully us. But the hardest thing is the time schedules,” she said. “I find it very hard to meet their expectations of how fast we can make a TV series and then yet have happy workers. So that’s the dialogue I’ve been having with them for many years.”
In the letter, production staff complained of shouting and bullying on set and in meetings, which Foldager said she was not aware of happening within her own productions.
“We don’t shout at each other, and once I’ve left the meeting because someone shouted at me. I don’t I don’t think that’s necessary at all,” she said.
She said that there were systems in place through the unions to make sure that productions didn’t demand unreasonable hours from staff, and that if they weren’t being followed workers should contact the unions.
She said it made no sense for the writers of the letter to expect production companies to contact competing production companies and complain to them if they hear of poor working practices on their sets.
“A problem in the letter is that they are asking my colleagues to call me and say that someone has behaved badly on one of my productions,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself calling up a competitor and saying that they should behave. That’s not my job. And I don’t know who’s not behaving.”
She acknowledged that tight time schedules put pressure on production staff, and also post-production staff.
“There’s also a lot of pressure on the editors, and the sound people, the VFX people in post-production, due to the scheduling, and how fast the broadcasters expect us to deliver, ” she said.
“Over the last year, when everything that has been postponed because of Covid19, that’s just been pushed the problems into post-production, because the broadcaster still wants to have the delivery as close to when it was expected to be, so if you were delayed six months with your production, you were trying to run that home in post. So editors have had huge pressure on their working load for the last year.”
“I think that as boss, or as a producer, you have to make sure that you create a good environment for it for your people. And there’s no doubt that there have been people not doing that.”
If staff are able to stand their ground though, she argued that rather than putting film workers at risk of abuse or overwork, the shortages of workers should instead be giving them bargaining power.
“As a worker, you have to say how you want to live your life, and I think that due to the crew situation, you can actually do that now. In post-production, you can say, ‘I can edit these hours a day, and then do that’.”
It was important she said, not to forget that this was a golden era.
“The business is booming, right? So it’s positive. And if we in Denmark, in this business, at this time in history, cannot have fun at work and have a wonderful life, who can?”