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Worker co-operative production companies

Hello all,

I was just wondering if anyone knows if there are any worker co-operative film production companies around? Or if anyone else likes the idea?

Here is a good short film offering some insight into a design and printing worker co-op in the UK:

vimeo.com/162710674

Any thoughts welcomed

  • I love the idea, but have never been sure if it would work in practice. Clearly people have made it work particularly in the print sector where project lifecycles are modest and the kit is relatively cheap and robust by comparison, and you tender for smaller, faster gigs in a specific political lobbying ideology sector. The customers are probably all aligned socially, not corporates.

    I've not really heard of it working in the film/video sector, and I'm not really sure why. It works in retail pretty well, but again that's fast turnaround of low value items, maybe that's the key. My inner communist loves the idea though.

    10 months ago
    • That's a good point about the customers Paddy. I'm not sure how it would work on larger projects - but I suppose it's a matter of how established a company would become and the nature of their work.

      I definitely feel that its the way forward for businesses. There's an Economist by the name of Richard Wolff who talks about the role of worker co-ops at great length. One of his sites is: www.democracyatwork.info

      9 months ago
  • Hi Daryl. Its something that I've thought about a few times over the last few years, and I'm talking to people about it currently. I think it would work for a feature film if the collective all came together and gave their services for free on the production and everybody got the same back end % of any profits. I think it could work really well for a mix of experiences, i'e graduates working alongside established crew and cast. I watched the video and it inspired me to share it on Facebook in order to gauge any interest from my film making colleagues.

    9 months ago
    • Hi Christopher, sorry for the mega delay; I was out of the country for a while and completely forgot about this post.
      I totally agree. There have been a few similar discussions on here and elsewhere about applying similar principles to a feature which I think would do wonders for the production environment along with the film itself. But in terms of working for free - at least initially - I'm not sure how much time people would be able to comit to a project unless they have enough in the bank. I think most peoples time would need to be invested elsewhere in order to maintain some kind of income to pay for the bills.
      On a similar point, I remember reading once that in order to fund the film 'Night of the Living Dead', George Romereo and the crew all put in a few hundred quid each of their own cash, put their hearts into it and made it happen. I'm wondering how feasible it would be to take it a step further and form an actual company based on a worker co-operative model and then comit to producing films on a full-time basis, paying at least enough to cover everyones overheads.
      That being said, I'm not a business person, and the main thing I cant get my head around with this is how the financial aspects would work once the company gets rolling. Assuming a crew member was to be paid hourly, I don't know how someone working in post-production, for example, would be able to earn enough to pay his or her bills during the pre-production and production periods - and vice versa. Then again, in theory, I suppose it all depends on how many projects are on the go simultaneously, how many people are in the co-op and what they democratically decide to do with the profits. I'm sure there's answers. In any case, I love the idea and will keep searching

      7 months ago
  • I think the first priority is to build the community, and once that's more or less working then look how (and if) that structure can work with clients coming in, and how best to divide that work.

    I set up Filmonik in Manchester years ago ( filmonikweb.blogspot.co.uk/ ) which is basically a filmmaking collective that meets semi regularly to screen their work, is ALWAYS making films together, and holds regular open access filmmaking events that attract huge numbers of filmmakers, both locally and from the international Kino community. They even had their own (huge) space for about 18 months, donated from the Co-operative, that functioned as hang-out, studio, base, sound-recording pod, etc etc!

    In 2009 I started Kino London, based on the same principles of open access and collaboration: www.kinolondon.com At one point it was the biggest short film night in London (soon will be again!!) and we've never programmed a single film - it's a totally open-mic event, and we ran loads of filmmaking projects with folks like Sony, Southbank Centre and Tate. They were always free (or max £10) to take part, we worked with shared or donated kit, people collaborated with folks they'd never met before, and everyone taught each other and shared their skills. For one project we had the run of Tate Britain for two whole days for around 60 filmmakers to film whatever they wanted (we had fiction, dance, doco, experimental...). Kino took a break after going non-stop for over 7 years and will relaunch in a couple of months.

    At some point in the future - likely in Manchester, where I live - I plan to set up a permanent space that can house groups like Filmonik - a bit like the Wonder Inn ( www.facebook.com/Thewonderinn/ ) that has kit hire, events space, cafe, training and workshops, big screening space etc. all based on membership, and as much as possible cash-free, so a mutual credit system. You have to include an element of cash-free in any collective, as the whole idea of everybody collaborating to get stuff done, or to learn something and develop, is that you learn without needing to spend the cash. You learn in exchange for whatever else you can offer. If you're just building a collection to make and share cash more easily (not saying that you are!) then in my opinion you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

    Sure, it's possible to do this is in a filmmaking context, even working with clients. Build your community, decide how people becoming part of and leave that community, decide what you can offer as a group and how you structure yourself to clients, decide what and how you will charge, and how the projects will be divided up, how you will work with clients etc. Also - crucially - decide who will be doing what when there is no actual project going on, to merit taking a cut of the money from the projects that are happening. Being part of a collective is a nigh-on full time job - it's a functioning community - so perhaps in between projects you're training people, or doing the accounts, or writing or the website, or cleaning the office etc. I think you need a permanent space, that functions as your hub, where everybody gets together all the time, and wherever possible all the work happens.

    I think your idea of shooting a feature like this Chris is interesting, but my concern with that is that it's still the vision of a few (maybe even one) number of people being created by a much larger number. The vast majority of the cast and crew will not even have site of the figures involved, and most would dispute them anyway. "Why do we need the crane today? Why are we seriously paying for two security guys" etc etc when there could just be more money to share around. And let's be honest, no feature made in this way would make any money WHATSOEVER. Features only sell because they're made to top notch standards with cracking actors and crew (and most of those don't make money anyway). And most people working at that level simply won't do a project like that.

    Final thoughts - f you don't have a strong structure and and a group of people that firmly believe in that structure then you can't start working with clients and taking payments. You need to build that structure first.

    :-)

    9 months ago
    • Very valid point about crew. For most crew, the opportunity to work with/for a creative is a non-opportunity. "Experience", "exposure", "showreel" are meaningless to a caterer, cable basher, boom swinger. A DIT isn't learning from a director, they're facilitating them.

      9 months ago
  • I've thought about this a lot. Worker co-ops are growing at a rapid rate here in the U.S.

    I think the key to a film co-op is to set up a mini studio with key people to run the business side: promotion, attorneys, acquisition agents, accountants, et al.Then depending on how many films you're pumping out a year, you could later add DPs, grips, actors, editors, etc. as part of the co-op. The thing being: you'd need a huge hunk of cash to get that started.

    Most co-ops are businesses already set up, and mom and pop want to retire, so they leave the business under a co-op to their employees. It's much easier to start a co-op on an established business than to start one from scratch.

    I do love the idea, though.

    7 months ago
  • Thanks for the reply Jamie, my apologies to you aswell for the mega delay. I've also replied to Christopher's response which may be of interest you.

    These are all very good points. I think that what you were involved with in the past sounds fantastic, and I would have loved to be involved. Is Kino London still going? I'll keep an eye out for events on facebook.

    I fully see where you're coming from in terms of money being left out of the equation to focus more on the collaborative element and the personal development, but I disagree in that there's obviously a big difference between a collective and a worker owned co-operative company, and its definitely not about just making and sharing money easier. For me, I'm only interested in the financial aspects for the sole reason of being able to pay overheads and operate reasonably witin society - which I think is the same for most people. In a worker owned co-operative, all the things could apply in terms of the collaboration and personal developments; aswell as the inherent democracy and better working relationships (a huge part of its appeal) - but it can also involve a sufficient income; enough to work within this environment on a full-time basis, never having to invest time elsewhere in jobs that people are unhappy with, but do so only to pay the bills.

    I am particularly interested in forming a co-op which produces documentaries, so a lot of the crewing concerns wouldn't necessarily occur. But these are all vital points that have had me thinking and I've made a few notes. I'm equally scratching my head with regards to how the downtime is managed (if it can be managed at all), not to mention how possible it is to sustain making regular docs in this way. Obviously the roles would be based on what people want to do - camera ops, editors, producers etc. and people are responsible for these tasks on any given project. Could this be interchangeable? I also fully agree with you that a structure would need to be decided and members would have to soundly agree with that structure. As for potential disputes over expenditure, if the hourly rate is the same for each person and if an agreed percentage of capital or profit goes into the pot for production costs (cranes etc) surely any dispute is unlikely given that decisions would be made in advance? This doesnt mean that everyone should take on the PMs role and interfere with their every decision, as that would be a nightmare. But I think provided the bases get covered, thats a start

    7 months ago