KinoKultura: Issue 62 (2018)

Employment issues in the Russian film industry

By Xenia Leontyeva and Pavel Danilov

The employment conditions in film and television differ from those in other spheres of economic activities because of the specificity of productions processes and work by project. Recent research conducted in Belgium (Siongers et al., 2016) and Great Britain (Carey et al., 2017) has shown that 40-50 per cent of employees in the film sector are freelancers (“independent contractors”), sense an uncertainty about their workplace, frequently have to earn extra in other spheres (most frequently teaching), and comment on a lack of internal mobility and difficulty with entering the trade, as well as a gender, ethnic, social and age imbalance in the film crews.

The absence of similar research in Russia against the background of an obvious dissatisfaction with the situation voiced in personal conversations by employees from the film– and broadcasting sector has created some urgency for research into issues encountered by Russian employees of the film sector.

Before us stand the following tasks:

In order to tackle these tasks, the following methods have been employed:

Russian public associations of employees in the film sector
Monitoring on the Internet revealed 26 organizations that declare as their aim the protection of interests of employees in the film sector in Russia:

  1. Union of Cinematographers of the Russian Federation (RF)
  2. Russian Trade Union of Employees in the Arts
  3. Inter-regional Trade Union of Employees in the Film, TV and Radio Industry
  4. Inter-regional Public Organization KinoSoyuz (Film Union)
  5. Moscow City Branch, Union of Cinematographers of the RF
  6. Union of Cinematographers of St Petersburg
  7. Sverdlovsk Branch of the Union of Cinematographers of the RF
  8. Trade Union of the State Film Fund (Gosfilmofond) of Russia
  9. Trade Union Moscow Cinema
  10. Independent Trade Union of Theatre and Film Actors
  11. Guild of Actors
  12. Trade Union of Stuntmen
  13. Guild of Stuntmen
  14. Association of Stuntmen
  15. Association of Film and TV Producers
  16. Guild of Producers
  17. Guild of Producers and Organizers of the Film Process
  18. Guild of Non-fiction Film and TV
  19. Commission of Non-fiction Film
  20. Association of Documentary Cinema
  21. Guild of Filmmakers
  22. Guild of Film Scholars and Critics
  23. Guild of Composers
  24. Commission of Animation
  25. Guild of Make-up Artists
  26. Guild of Sound Producers

Furthermore, by studying the websites of these organizations (if available) and after receiving answers to the queries directed at their management, the declared purposes of their activity and the actual results of recent years were juxtaposed. The tasks set out by the organizations were divided into six main categories:

The analysis of the declared aims and solved tasks shows that the most popular direction is the legal category (including protection of employees’ rights): 22 of 26 organizations engage in this activity; however, genuine results of such activity could be found only in 14 organisations (concerning the protection not only of employment law, but also copyright and civil rights, for example, freedom of speech). Among them are: Union of Cinematographers, Trade Union of Employees in the Arts, Inter-regional Trade Union of Employees in the Film, TV and Radio Industry, KinoSoyuz, Independent Trade Union of Theatre and Film Actors, Guild of Stuntmen, Association of Film and TV Producers, Guild of Producers, Guild of Non-fiction Film and TV, and Guild of Filmmakers.

Twenty organizations put before themselves educational aims; 19 reach them (18 associations list educational activity in their aims, only one engages in such activity without declaring it an aim). Cultural aims are pursued by 18 organizations, and 19 reach them. Humanitarian aims feature for 19 trade unions; 15 of them are capable of addressing such issues. The least popular is international and regional activity: only 8 and 7 organizations respectively put before themselves such aims (5 and 4 achieve them).

In the second phase we analysed the frequency of mentions of public organizations in the press: to this end, a list of article was compiled, based on search results on the first three pages of Google and Yandex, sorting by relevance and by date of publication; references to the homepages of organizations were excluded, as were articles describing the same event. It emerged that only 12 organizations are mentioned frequently in mass-media and in very different contexts; their legal activity is by far not the main reason for such publications. Therefore the activity of public associations is little known to employees in film and television, a fact confirmed by the survey results. The public associations that were most popular with the press are the Union of Cinematographers, the Trade Union of Employees in the Arts, Kino Soyuz, the Association of Film and TV Producers, the Guilds of Producers, Stuntmen, and Non-fiction Film, the Independent Trade Union of Theatre and Film Actors, and the Association of Documentary Cinema within the Union of Cinematographers of the RF.

Survey of Russian Employees in the Film and Television Sector
Sampling and reliability of results
According to research on staff requirements in the film industry conducted in 2018 at the St Petersburg State Institute of Film and TV (Barsukov 2018), in 2017 the domestic film-industry employed more than 123,000 specialists, including 26,400 working on the creation of fiction features, 6,900 on documentary features, 66,900 on television serials, 20,900 on animation serials and 2,700 on animation features. These calculations took into account specialists of the first tier (authors and basic creative staff, such as producer, executive producer, assistant director, cameraman, production and costume designers, heads of departments, etc.) and the second tier (auxiliary creative staff and technicians: line producer, manager, sound technician, gaffer, assistants, etc.); service staff (caterers, cashiers, drivers, handymen, etc.) were not considered in the analysis of staff requirements.

The data obtained during the above-mentioned research on the total population can be used to calculate the required size of the sample and its error margin. According to formula (1), at a confidence level of 95 per cent, the survey requires 383 respondents.

Formula 1
formula 1


Formula 2
formula 2

SS – sample size; Z – Z-data based on 95% confidence level; p – selective evaluation of the parameter that incurs the highest significance for a sampling error (0.5); e – sampling error (0.05); N – total

During the survey of employees in film and television, we collected 585 questionnaires and questioned from among the respondents 478 specialists about staff requirements in the film industry for the respective report. Thus, the requirement of the minimal number of respondents is satisfied. The error margin of the sample calculated with formula (2) does not exceed 0,046.

At the same time we did not manage to achieve a representative sample on individual specialisms, although the results—depending on the direction of activity of the respondents—are quite telling. The survey shows especially appreciable an abundance of sound technicians and directors’ groups, and a shortage of production designers and their assistants. Besides, representatives of the spheres of distribution and festival organisation have taken part in the questionnaire survey, as did other specialisms (including drivers, workers, TV reporters, editors and so forth), whose proportion in the overall population we do not have.


Most questionnaires were collected in Moscow (52 %) and St Petersburg (43 %), but there were also film employees from Yakutsk, Yekaterinburg, Perm and ten other cities. Two-thirds of the respondents work in film production, a quarter in television production. In the survey the key specialisms are represented evenly: director, sound designer, producer and camera groups, and the groups of editing and special effects. Employees with different work experience represent different generations which have entered into the industry during different moments of its development: in the 1990s and earlier, in the 2000s during the revival of the film industry, and in the 2010s after the creation of the Film Fund, who are in the early stages of their careers.
The average employee in the film sector is male and between 26–35 years old. At the same time, there are more women in the Russian film industry than in Great Britain or Belgium.


Survey Results
The questionnaire consisted of three sections: ways of getting into the industry; employment issues of employees in this segment of the industry; and the readiness to act for the protection of rights. In the analysis of answers we defined six semantic blocks.

1 Paths into the industry
84 per cent of employees in film and television have higher education: however, this is by far not relevant to the field. 43 per cent acquire their specialist skills through practice. The main film school in the country today is the St. Petersburg Institute of Film and TV (23 per cent of the respondents graduated from here): even Moscow respondents are in a majority its graduates.


The majority come to the film and television industry because of relatives, friends and acquaintances already working in it (55 %), or having connected to film people during their study (20 %). This data shows that cinema is a very closed world.


In Russia the role of nepotism is much higher than, for example, in Great Britain where acquaintances, friendship or relations lead only 46 per cent of employees to the film industry, while staff agencies play a much more appreciable role (24 per cent, against 1 per cent in Russia).


It is interesting that a symmetrical answer concerning the search of employees by employers was received during the research on staff needs in the film sector: more than 90 per cent of producers work with a tested and experienced crew, and over 60 per cent recruit new employees on recommendations of friends (in this case the question allowed several choices for the answer).


2 Work conditions in the film and television industries
Work conditions are defined by contract. However, in Russia’s film and television industries 25 per cent of employees have no contracts with their employers, and only 26 per cent conclude employment agreements; more often people are hired as “independent contractors”, or freelancers (34 per cent). The level of deals with such freelancers is especially high in film production; contractual links between employee and employer under the employment code are most frequently concluded in the distribution sector. Distinctions by profession are appreciable: freelancers are typically found in technical jobs and among writers/artists (scriptwriters and composers), while non-contractual work is frequent on the set. Age and level of education of staff have an impact on whether a contract is concluded or not: young people have often no contracts, but with age the proportion of freelancers increases; higher education gives more chances of a labour contract, its absence means it is more likely to get work only without contract.

7 Leontyeva-Danilov

The average level of monthly income of respondents is 89,000 RUR, the median (half of the respondents receive less than this sum) is 70,000 RUR; the majority received no more than 200,000 RUR, only in single instances did the payment reach 500,000 RUR. The minimal payment is 10,000 RUR, the second quartile equals 50,000 RUR (25 per cent of the respondents receive no more than this figure), the third quartile (75 per cent of respondents earn less than that per month) is 111,500 RUR. More than the rest receive men aged between 36–44 years, with secondary education and rendering services as freelancers in film production in Moscow.


A little over half of the employees negotiate a salary with the employer; in 40 per cent of cases the salary is dictated by the employer. In film production, employees have more chances to reach a compromise on the pay than in other spheres. The greatest pressure is experienced by employees in St Petersburg, working in an office or in sound production and receiving less than 70,000 RUR a month.


Overall in the sector 28 per cent of workers received a pay-rise recently, in 2017–2018. Mostly this concerned the spheres of film distribution and festivals (60 per cent). The longest delay in a pay rise occurs in television production, where 44 per cent of employees received their last increase in 2016 or earlier. In film production the greatest instability of salaries has to do with dependence on projects.


Only a quarter of respondents have an indexation of their payments depending on the rate of inflation. In television production the salary is least linked to inflation (14 per cent); most of all this is among employees who earn over 70,000 RUR (in over 30 per cent of cases an increase in salary). Young men without extensive work experience see their salary grow fastest with improvement of professional skill and career growth.


Payment delay is the main trouble in film production: always or nearly always it is encountered by 64 per cent of respondents. This problem affects less technical experts, but more the artistic and creative staff (including scriptwriter, composer and director) and actors. The problem grows with work experience and the salary size of the employee.


The higher the salary, the greater is the probability of receiving overtime payment. Most often overtime is paid to technicians (82 per cent receive it always or frequently) and actors (60 per cent), while creative staff receive it less often (41 per cent during post-production; 33 per cent during shooting), and the producer’s and director's groups (only 11 per cent). On TV 56 per cent of cases never receive payment for working extra.


Employment benefits in film production are very weak; more than often it is limited to food on location; therefore many respondents do not at all feel they get social protection from their employers.


The peculiarities of concluding contracts in the sector lead to the fact that 32 per cent of employees have no paid holidays, and 23 per cent no payments during sick leave.


3 Problems of employees in the film sector
The overwhelming majority of respondents (96 per cent) believe that people working in the industry have problems. They are less felt in film distribution and among technicians and office staff.


The highlighted problems differ depending on the field of activity:


Film producers do not consider the small application of labour contracts by employers to be problematic. Meanwhile, such a form of employment gives the greatest protection to employees. Today the majority prefers to bow to producers and freelance, allowing the employee to have a higher income and the producer to make savings. However, this kind of cooperation shifts a significant part of the responsibility on the employee, including all insurances.


Freelancers can count on overtime payment, but they are not protected from payment delays. Thus only a work contract guarantees sick leave and holiday pay, and provides a medical insurance, including against accidents. A more civilized and open labour market in the film and television industry could facilitate an increase in the frequency of labour contracts, the expansion of social benefits, and a reduction of payment delays. In exchange for acquaintances there may be a system of recommendations, trust in the educational background and an acknowledgement by trade unions of the qualification of employees.

4 Peculiarities of the position of women
The industry is very conservative concerning male and female professions: the survey shows that technical staff (drivers and light engineers, camera and sound crews, editing and special effects) are basically men, whereas artists and office workers are mainly women.


Men earn noticeably more than women: the average monthly income of the respondents was 101,000 and 73,000 RUR respectively. Here, there are fewer men who receive less than 70,000, and more men with top incomes (up to 500,000 RUR). But women have more commonly labour contracts.


The salary of women depends less on the project; the majority have received a pay rise recently, but there are also many who cannot remember when they last had a rise. Indexation linked to inflation applies less often to women, but they are more often praised for good performance. Women encounter payment delays less frequently than men, but they hardly ever receive payment for overtime work. As for the social benefits, we see noticeable differences in paid holiday, sick-leave and voluntary medical insurance: women aspire (and receive) these opportunities more often, as they more often have labour contracts.

5 Attitude to trade unions
A knowledge check was included in the questionnaire about trade unions and public organizations in Russia: the respondents were asked to identify on a list (or specify others) those public organizations that protect the rights of employees; not all the organizations on the list were trade unions. It emerged that 62 per cent of respondents do not know any organizations, and only 18 per cent recognised those that protect labour rights.

From among those who know organizations (only 36 per cent of respondents), over half were convinced that labour rights are defended only in courts and through lawyers. 27 per cent know about the Union of Cinematographers (the most popular answer); the popularity of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Employees in the Film, TV and Radio Industry, which supported the current research, was very low at only 6 per cent.



An extremely small number of employees in the Russian film and television sector are members of trade unions or other public organizations: only 9 per cent of the respondents. By comparison: in Belgium this is 85 per cent.


Given the low level of awareness and weak involvement of employees in the activity of public organizations, almost nobody turns to these organizations for help (only 7 per cent did). The main reason for approaching unions for support are delays in payment. It is interesting that in 44 per cent of referrals, the union’s/organization’s help has been successfully provided—a big enough percentage of success for such feeble and almost unknown organizations that trade unions in film and television are today.

The analysis has shown that the situation of trade union members in some cases is better than of those who do not belong to public organizations. In particular, they work less often without contract (although they mostly freelance), and can influence the level of salary to a greater degree.

6 Readiness to take action to protect one’s rights
The majority of respondents are certain that public organisations are useful. 60 per cent of respondents trust in the success of the respective association, and only 10 per cent are afraid that associations will lead to a deterioration of the position of employees.


The respondents indicate a high level of readiness to act for the protection of their rights; 79 per cent articulated this, and only 1 per cent categorically rejected such an opportunity.


The majority (56 per cent) would like to join a trade union, and 40 per cent are ready to pay contributions; from 36 to 19 per cent are ready to participate in different ways in trade-union activity. The resoluteness of film and television employees concerning street protests is extremely low, at only 4 per cent.


The research has shown that in the domestic film and television industry nepotism is highly developed, and the industry is more closed for access than foreign industries. This affects the level of readiness among the workforce, since more than 40 per cent train in their specialism directly at the workplace after coming to the job; more than often they have higher education and a degree in another area.

Nepotism and low professionalism in combination with a romanticised vision of cinema and the high aspiration of people to work in this field lead to the preservation of adverse working conditions of film and television employees in Russia. A quarter of employees have no contracts with employers, a third are forced to freelance so that producers can make savings (thanks to the optimization of tax burdens for the latter), which deprives the freelancer, however, of the opportunity to receive social benefits (including holiday pay and sick leave), although it provides them with a higher level of income. Nevertheless, the absence of contracts and their unwarranted benefits leads to an aggravation of the most serious problems in film production: non-payment of wages, which have reached a mass character and force workers to turn to the weakest public organizations, known only to a few, or to court.

The infringements of labour law and the absence of real tools for their solution means that almost all employees in the film and television sector recognize that there are problems in the field; over half believe in the opportunity for change for the better, and two-third are ready to take action, including joining a trade union and participating in its activity. The number of public organizations is large enough, and almost all of them declare their rights-based activity, even if only a few engage in the actual protection of labour rights, and even though they do this not without success: the fact remains that very few people know about them.

In this connection the launch of trade-union activity in Russia is extremely topical and timely. On the basis of the conducted research, it is possible to define the following priorities, which should be put before trade unions and should be different for film and television production, and for distribution and festival activity.

In film production the most topical issue is to address payment delay through the intervention of trade unions in dispute solution and through the attraction of lawyers to participate in litigations. Also in this sphere a solution is needed to the closed recruitment procedures and cronyism, which will help create a more transparent, fair and balanced payment system and pay rises; it is necessary therefore to develop a pay-scale by profession and to fight for unified costing on individual projects.

In television production problems of the infringement of the work schedule stand most sharply, as well as the lack of payment of overtime; the intervention of trade unions in this case may be in the form of information activity (gathering data on similar infringements and explaining to employees their rights depending on labour contracts). Besides, TV workers have no salary increases related to the rate of inflation in the country; the solution of this problem should be connected to the development of collective agreements, as there is such an opportunity in this sector, unlike in film production, where there is no permanent employer with whom similar negotiations could be had.

At last, in film distribution and festival organization a fight should be put up with wrongful subcontracting or the absence of contracts altogether; working conditions here are easily proven to fall under the labour code.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

The research was conducted with support of the St Petersburg branch of the Russian public organization “Union of Cinematographers of the Russian Federation” and the Inter-regional Trade Union of Employees in the Film, TV and Radio Industry based at the Producers’ Faculty of the St Petersburg State Institute of Film and Television, and published in Russian in spring 2018. The full report is openly accessible.

Xenia Leontyeva, Pavel Danilov
St Petersburg State University for Film and Television

Works Cited:

Siongers, Jessy, and Astrid Van Steen, John Lievens. 2016. “Loont passie? Een onderzoek naar de sociaaleconomische positie van professionele kunstenaars in Vlaanderen.” Universiteit Gent, Flandersartsinstitute.

Carey, Heather, and Lizzie Crowley, Cicely Dudley, Helen Sheldon, Lesley Giles. 2017. “A Skills Audit of the UK Film and Screen Industries.” British Film Institute,

Barsukov. D. (ed.). 2018. Report on the scientific research on the topic: Research on the requirements of staff in the film industry. Ministry of Culture of the RF, 2018. UDK 7; 7: 331.108, Registration АААА-А18-118030290124-9.

Xenia Leontyeva, Pavel Danilov © 2018

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Updated: 2018