Sturla Gunnarsson, Part 3: The Role of the Directors Guild in the Struggle to Secure the Rights of Content Creators

Interviewed by Evelyn Ellerman at Toronto on March, 2012

Ellerman. You've been involved for some time with the Directors Guild of Canada. Talk about the work of the Guild.

Gunnarsson. The Directors Guild was founded 50 years ago by four filmmakers on a bluff. They set up office in a broom closet with a desk and a phone; they had decided that there needed to be an organization for filmmakers. They heard that there was an American film coming into town. So, they called themselves the “Directors Guild of Canada” and phoned the DGA (Directors Guild of America), and asked to speak to the president. They declared themselves the Directors Guild of Canada and claimed jurisdiction. Much to their surprise, the DGA accepted it. That's what spawned the Directors Guild of Canada.

It's built on simple notion that directors united are stronger than directors divided. Over the years, it has expanded beyond directors to assistant directors, production designers, editors, production managers: basically all the people who make the film. What we do is to provide membership services like health and welfare (because artists’ children also need braces) and we are involved in the public policy discourse. We are the voice of the filmmakers. We say that the livelihood of all of our members is dependent upon there being an effective public policy.

E. The technological environment for the making of film has changed a great deal. There are questions about the regulatory environment and in how people are going to be monetizing their efforts in the future. What kind of thinking or work has the Directors Guild being doing in that direction?

G. The plus side of the digital economy is that it has the potential to make the entire world our market; the Long Tail theory. These cheap Canadian films may not find a huge audience in North America; but, in the aggregate of the globe, there is an audience. So, we always try to approach what we do in a positive way. We don't want to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world, but to be in the modern world first.

We had a disappointment recently. The Supreme Court ruled against our appeal. We wanted to capture the Internet in the Broadcast Act. And the Supreme Court ruled against that effort. It was not so much about trying to regulate the Internet as it was to monetize it, to make sure that the newcomers to our neighborhood are paying to fix the road, as it were -- the Netflixes... we're all for it. I love Netflix. But, if they're going to function here, they need to pay their freight. So, I think we're going to be looking at other ways to try and capture those platforms. People say you can't regulate the Internet. Talk to China. Talk to the Harper government. The Internet is eminently controllable. It's just a question to what end.

We're looking for new ways to monetize our work as it goes out on other platforms. It’s a challenge. A producer friend of mine who owns a very successful show franchise (and they're all over the Internet), says that it costs him money, but that he can't afford not to be there. I think that's where we are at with the digital economy: we can't afford not to be there.

E. A challenge is that the older model of the domestic and international sales is conflating. Or do you see it that way?

G. Well I'm not sure, because there's always been aggregators. If you go to Rajasthan, there will be people there who aggregate the carpets that are woven. NBC, CBS, CTV: they’re aggregators of audiovisual content. Netflix is an aggregator of audiovisual content. So, it all comes down to how you create the material and what's the function of public-policy in relation to the material that is created.

E. What do you see as the role of the CRTC in this changing digital soup?

G. Without the CRTC, there would be no Canadian television, there would be no Canadian film, although they have not been kind to the feature film sector lately, inadvertently. I think it's absurd to suggest that the Internet is not involved in broadcasting activities. I watch most of my audiovisual content online. Anyone under 30 watches all of their audiovisual content online. So, the Internet is broadcasting. And the Broadcast Act is a very wise act. What we are probably looking forward to in the future, is revisions. Somehow or other we have to capture the spirit of the Broadcast Act in the new economy; without it, the community voice won't be there. A lot of people will say, “So what?” Maybe it was just a thought. Maybe it was just a stupid idea: Canada.

E. The Copyright Act is involved in this as well. How do you see shifts to that act affecting the business that you're in?

G. For directors and writers, the important thing that we're trying to achieve with this act -- and we are still optimistic -- is recognition of our copyright. The Copyright Act states today that the copyright longs to the author, but it does not define who the author is. So, writers and directors are in a kind of limbo as we move into the new digital economy in terms of maintaining an ongoing economic relationship to our work. So, with that caveat, with that modification, we absolutely support the Act. Audiovisual content does not fall off trees. People make it; it costs money; it involves investment. There has to be legislation in place that ties the makers of screen-based entertainment to the revenues that flow from it. Nothing is free in this world.

E. Where do you see yourself as a director in five years, given the conditions of working that we've been talking about and the flux of regulation and technologies?

G. I like to think that I'll go out with my boots on.

E. Still in there working?

G. Yes I'm a working director; it's what I do; that's where I'm alive. That's what I like to do. I like to be on the floor.