Film crew members not getting paid for a production, actors given just €30 for hours of rehearsals and filming, and accidents on sets going unreported.

These are some of the reports director Martin Bonnici has heard about the unregulated film industry in Malta. 

For years, Bonnici, best known for directing the film adaptation of Alex Vella Gera’s novel Is-Sriep Reġgħu Sara Velenuzi has been trying to set up a union for crew members and creative workers, but has struggled to encourage people to join. 

But now, Bonnici, along with six other creatives have teamed up with the General Workers Union to form a committee to safeguard the rights of those working in film, theatre and television and to regulate the industry. 

The committee includes actors Joseph Zammit, Michela Farrugia and Peter Galea, writers Teodor Relijic and Anthony Mizzi and special effects specialist Kenneth Cassar. 

Bonnici said people have been too frightened of losing work to set up a union until now.

“Many crew members and actors...fear they will be blacklisted from the industry all together. I know of some who have been bullied by co-workers and production teams to not join a union," he said.

He said that many in the creative industry have suggested that unionising the industry would stop big productions coming to Malta. 

“We should not see unions as a threat, we do not want to stop productions, what we want is for all professionals to know their rights and for those rights to be safeguarded," he said.

For over a decade, the Maltese islands have been a key destination for international film and TV productions.

Gladiator, Murder on the Orient Express and Jurassic World: Dominion have all come to the Maltese Islands for various scenic location shoots.

A poster for Gladiator, a hugely successful film shot in Malta. Photo: ShutterstockA poster for Gladiator, a hugely successful film shot in Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

In 2019, films generated more than €40 million into the Maltese economy, attracting a total of 21 productions and creating thousands of new jobs in the sector, according to the Malta Film Commissioner.

According to Valletta 2018 findings, the culture and creative industries contribute to around 5 percent of GDP and employ more than 10,000 people. 

Crew waiting months on end for payment

Bonnici has heard numerous accounts of crew members still waiting to be paid after a production finished months ago, actors being bad mouthed after asking for a minimum wage, and extras hurt on set, with no medic in sight. 

“During a particular production, one extra injured himself badly, but there was no medic to help him only another extra who knew First Aid, who tended to his injuries until an ambulance arrived,” he said.

“There are crew who are still waiting to be paid for a production they worked on back in March, and actors who are paid €30 for a week’s worth of shows and countless hours of rehearsals.”

His comments are echoed by actress and committee member Michela Farrugia, best known for her role in Luzzu, Malta’s Oscar contender for best international feature film.

Actress Michela Farrugia, from Sundance award-winning film Luzzu, is part of the bid to unionise the industry. Photo: Luzzu Film/FacebookActress Michela Farrugia, from Sundance award-winning film Luzzu, is part of the bid to unionise the industry. Photo: Luzzu Film/Facebook

“What is damning is that I have put up my own productions and have told my cast that I will split ticket sales with them; they all got paid €500 for three shows. In the past I have been paid €700 from a production company for 10 shows and months of rehearsals.”

She said that a career in the creative sector is still not seen as a profession, and many actors in Malta end up working an office desk, and can only provide limited hours to local productions, resulting in fewer shows and movies produced in the year. 

Farrugia said that now many creatives working abroad are starting to realise they were never told what rights they have. 

Bonnici and Farrugia said regulating the industry will also benefit the producers and companies that look after their crews.

Instagram page Malta Crew Stories shares experiences of crew members working in the industry.Instagram page Malta Crew Stories shares experiences of crew members working in the industry.

'Not just a hobby'

General Secretary of GWU Josef Bugeja said the first thing the committee must work on is setting a ‘level playing field’ and regulating the sector. 

“We need to recognise that these workers are professionals, and they are not doing this work because it is a hobby," he said.

"We need to safeguard their rights, but to do that, we need to provide them with the necessary rights and ensure the sector provides a fair level playing field.”

Bugeja said that GWU has already contacted the government to start discussions on regulating the sector. 

The committee aims to research the creative sector to see what conditions workers have faced, work with the public sector to approve working conditions and follow up any complaints they receive from members.

“Could you imagine a restaurant not offering basic minimum wage? Or working in an office which is not safe to work in? We accept it in TV, theatre and film, and it needs to stop.”

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