In his new article, published on February 15th in the “Portal Exibidor,” Steve Solot, LATC President, and Associate for Latin America, Olsberg•SPI, addresses the collateral damage to independent international producers and national film industries of the boom in film and TV content production, such as crew shortages and inflated crew rates.

Below the English version of the article:

The collateral damage of the boom in film and TV content production
By Steve Solot

The global boom in audiovisual content production has been driven by ambitious investment strategies and rapidly expanding business models of the major players and streaming services.

According to research by Purely Streamonomics, the research department of Purely Capital, global spend on producing and licensing new entertainment content rose by 16.4% in 2020 to U$220.2bn and is expected to increase to U$250bn in 2021, However, with the huge demand for new content for all platforms, many producers are struggling to find enough qualified staff to keep pace with the demand.

Below-the-line crew shortages have been especially acute in Central Europe.  According to Reuters, Hollywood picked central Europe for filming during the pandemic because the region continued to produce content while most of the production was halted in the US. The initial attraction of the region lay in its lower labor costs, generous tax incentives, and access to picturesque locations. Now, the area is one of the world’s largest hubs with around $1 billion a year generated from the U S-based content producers. However, the local industries in the region have been left with staff shortages and are struggling to keep up with the demands of large clients like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple.  

In Europe some producers have resorted to advance booking of crews for a full year in order to guarantee their availability. International independents and local national producers have been forced to hire less experienced staff to meet the demand, and at times must turn down new work altogether due to lack of available crews.  For example, Hungary’s state-of-the-art Korda Studio, one of the world’s biggest sound stages, has reduced its output and focused on fewer productions to maintain quality. 

The streaming boom and a backlog of filming that was delayed because of the pandemic has led to a serious lack of trained crews.   According to “Makers,” a publication of “The Location Guide,” jobs that are in most demand include production accountants, location managers, production coordinators, line producers and 1st ADs.

When seeking to hire production crews, large industry giants like Netflix, Amazon and HBO are easily able to outbid independents and local production companies with small and medium budget productions, which are most affected since they are unable to pay the same, inflated rates for qualified crews that the bigger budget productions can afford

On the other hand, experienced production crews are winners in this new trend, since their remuneration has risen to new heights, and they can now choose only the best, most convenient and highest paying production jobs.

Faced with the widespread crew shortage, producers are paying more, bringing crews from other countries, and also promoting crew members to more senior roles.  However, the trend of faster internal promotions for crew, who may not have the appropriate training or experience, also has a negative impact on the production quality and costs, which is detrimental for all producers.

In the UK, the British Film Institute-BFI report Screen Business: How tax incentives power economic growth across the UK, published in December 2021, highlights the increasing demand for skilled crew.  Produced by the international consultancy Olsberg SPI with Nordicity, and support by industry partners, the British Film Commission (BFC), Pact, and the Pinewood Group, among others, the report affirms: 

The growth in spend and investment within the UK screen infrastructure is stimulating further need for skilled people.  The BFI’s £19 million skills investment plan launched in 2017, aims to address the need for 10,000 new entrants to maintain the UK leadership in global film production over the next five years. The growth in screen production halted the first months of the pandemic shutdown in 2020, but has accelerated over the past 12 months, creating an even higher demand for skilled workers and opportunities to strengthen the UK’s industry recovery.”

The shortage of qualified crews for new productions is a global phenomenon which has accompanied the trend of expanding local productions by many leading streamers. The same demands are already being felt in Latin America, and especially in those countries where streaming giants are investing heavily in production, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico.  Jonathan Olsberg, executive chairman of London-based film industry consultancy Olsberg SPI, says that “this is a fundamental global problem, and we will be experiencing these shortages for years to come.”

Meanwhile, in the private sector, some major companies are moving ahead quickly to address the crew shortages, at least partially. Netflix, for example, announced its ‘Grow Creative UK’ to focus on upskilling below-the-line and emerging British talent, especially those from diverse backgrounds, through its investment of £1.2m in a new training program. 

Although independents and national producers may suffer collateral damage in the short term, it is clear that the current boom in demand for audiovisual content will benefit the entire industry in the long term.  Meanwhile there is a window of opportunity to prepare and train technical crews to ensure sustainable growth and accommodate the new productions. Will the industry (public and private sectors) mobilize technical training programs to take advantage of this opportunity?

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