It's hard to make a living in the film industry. I know, I’ve lived and worked it in various countries.
You get two to four weeks of work on a project, then wait weeks until the next project comes along. Even then, it isn’t a given that you will get the job. This is a reality for the industry in every country in the world.
Malta’s film industry has some differences, though. Other countries do not market themselves as an extension of Hollywood. When the Hollywood films dry up, other countries’ film sectors rely heavily on their local product or long-form productions. This means crew members fall back to working on smaller locally funded films or TV series.
Another major difference is that in many other competing countries, governments offer social welfare benefits to industry workers whenever work dries up, mostly during the cold winter season. This is not a handout: workers become eligible for the payments after working a set number of hours or days, and after paying their taxes.
I left Malta to work in film overseas, but I have returned home for work from time to time.
On one of those occasions, I got a call to work on a dream project, a Terrence Malick production. That would be followed by a job with Roland Joffe, a Palm d’Or and Oscar winner. And after booking these jobs, I was asked to fill in and help on a Maltese production that preceded these two projects - Storbju, or as it is known now, Blood on The Crown. I was living the life, or so I thought.
While the first two productions were more or less fair, with some exceptions, Blood on The Crown was one of the worst experiences of my professional life. It was the only time in my career that I quit a production.
People got paid months late. Contracts were non-existent, experienced crew were overlooked or ignored to save money to pay for the foreign talent. I very much doubt Harvey Keitel and Malcolm McDowell waited months for their pay to arrive, like most of the Maltese did.
And the Malta Film Commission celebrates this production, naming it best film at its pointless film awards. An entity looking out for its workers would not allow a production that struggles to pay its workers get to the second day of production, let alone shower it with awards at a show costing as much to put on as four local productions combined.
[Producers of Blood on the Crown said: "Only the last week of payments were considerably delayed. Foreign talent, the director and everyone else was only paid at the same time as crew members were."]
Last year I was approached to help out in organizing an awareness campaign called Ċelebrazzjoni. It sought to raise awareness about some of these problems.
Ċelebrazzjoni was the best and worst thing that could happen to Malta.
Best, because it was the only time different people from different sectors came together to highlight problems.
Worst, because it forced people to either pick a side or choose to remain silent. And so many people chose to do the latter. It is because of those who do not talk, and rather look the other way, that problems grow and corruption festers.
These people boast about their status within the industry, but many have never even laid eyes on a professional contract. They give interviews talking about how well their careers are going, but avoid discussing the importance of sustainability and growth. Perhaps they don’t know any better, and think that what they see and go through in Malta is the norm.
Ċelebrazzjoni ended as a half-success. It gave many people a voice – most notably people in Malta’s TV sector, which is often looked down on by so-called professionals. It is just a shame that, like everything else in Malta, it ended up being a partisan battle.
We see this problem in sectoral lobby groups. The Malta Producers Association lobbies for fairness, and its board members have some of the best CVs on the island. But they can be quite selective in their battles.
The MPA was conspicuously quiet when reports emerged that workers on Lumisfar, an Italian production, had not been paid. And if they operate in an industry where what the employer says goes, then it is also in large part due to their complicit silence over the years.
I consider the MPA to be among the good guys, and it may be getting better. Its new chairperson is more interested in cinema and culture than politics and numbers.
But how can they claim to be lobbying for transparency when they did not even trust their own members enough to inform them about the campaign? How can they claim to be on the side of fairness while, on a separate occasion, withholding information from journalists?
As long as people keep quiet or even endorse such behaviour, the industry will never reach the heights expected and individuals will never become the professionals they dream of becoming – or pretend to be.
Of course we can never become like the US, the UK, Canada, France, or Germany. But we can do better. Simply speaking the truth, and stating the facts, would be a good way to start.
I used to believe there isn’t enough money on the island. The Film Awards showed me otherwise. They were a reality check about the contradictions artists and workers in culture face in Malta. There is money available, there always was.
After Ċelebrazzjoni, we were told that the local film industry would be given greater priority. Then the 2023 budget was published, and we discovered funds for local productions would remain unchanged.
Without homegrown productions, Malta will become invisible. If a society is not able to tell and hear its own stories, it cannot mature and flourish.
I have tried to bring the local industry’s various problems to light. But journalists either don’t understand the sector, are not interested in it, or are simply too afraid to rock the boat.
Perhaps I am too intense and straightforward. I know I am not the most qualified person to speak out. Unfortunately, those who could have the most influence are also those most willing to hide. Things won't change unless people take initiative, and most importantly start being honest with themselves.
Let them call you ‘’outspoken’’, ‘’trouble maker’’ or even ‘’crazy’’. It is better to be called all of those things and fight for something, rather than being a silent rock and standing for nothing.
Matthew Maggi is a crew member and actor who has been working in the industry both locally and internationally for the last 10 years.