Among French audio-visual production, it is impossible not to notice the rise of series these last past years. Within this context it is interesting to consider the actual place of series in the French production landscape before we focus on their legal framework.
First it is to be noted that regarding audience rating, series are not separated from the audio-visual fiction films. In 2017, audio-visual fiction is the first category of works represented in the French audio-visual sector as regards both supply (23.2%) and consumption (24.4%). Nonetheless, the series get a very important place: 52 minutes series are the most produced format (41,4% of the hours supported by CNC) followed by the 26 minutes series (23,9 %) while 90 min reach is lowest level in the decade (- 33% in comparison with 2016). Indeed, series are predominant in audio-visual fiction.
While developing and producing series, several specific texts and legislation shall be considered and it is notably useful to linger on the agreement between authors and producers regarding the transparency of the author-producer relations and the authors' remuneration, the protocol on contractual practices between producers and writers (2012) and the France Télévision (French Public channels) development charter
This agreement is essential as it implements a new definition of the net earnings serving as base for the proportional remuneration of the authors within the frame of audio-visual production supported by the CNC. Thus, while drafting authors' agreement, it is necessary to ensure that the definition of the net earnings complies with the agreement. In addition, this agreement introduces a new mechanism for the on account payment, in favour of the authors. Accordingly, the producer may only be reimbursed of such advance on the proportional remuneration until the amortization of the cost of the work or, failing that, until the refund of the guaranteed minimum. On the contrary, if the cost of the work is amortized, and if the minimum guaranteed is not fully recouped yet, reimbursement of the on account payment to the producer shall stop. In order to enforce such mechanism, the producer shall provide Author with the audio-visual work production account within 6 month from the delivery of the work in compliance with article L. 251-1 of French Code du cinéma et de l’image animée and a detailed account on the amortization of the work as well as the exploitation accounts on a yearly basis as provided in article L 132-28 of French intellectual property code. Again, it is necessary to ensure that the contracts and assignments signed as part of the development of the work take into account theses obligations arising from the agreement.
Different authors and producers union (l’Union syndicales de la production audiovisuelle, le Syndicat des producteurs indépendants, la guilde française des scénaristes) as well as the SACD (French collecting society) signed the protocol on decemebre 12th 2012. The protocol aims to implement fair practices between producers and authors while developping audio-visual fictions.
The following provisions (articles 5 (b), 6.2 et 7 of the protocol) were made compulsory for all audio-visual production companies by means of a decree dated May 17th 2013:
Shall the producer refuse the works of an author, such authors shall retain all the sums previously perceived and shall be compensated, in the form of a percentage of the amounts already paid by the producer at the tile of the termination of the agreement being : 20 % if such termination arised at the synopsis stage, 15 % if the termination after the delivery of the detailed treatment and 10 % after the delivery of the script in dialogues form ;
At least 30% of the initial remuneration of the authors must be a « prime d’inédit » bonus entirely for the author and non refundable.
The protocol also implements a genealogical form for the writing of the projects, that shall detail the writings steps. This provision is mandatory for the signatories but remains optional for thirds parties. The case may be the process to establish such form must be detailed in the agreement between the author and the producer.
As a broadcaster, France Télévisions is the main investor regarding audio-visual fiction. Indeed, in 2017, French national free channel are the first investor and constitute 88,5% of the investments of all channels for audio-visual fiction. This is why the conditions of the development of series with France Télévisions is essential for the players of the sector.
Accordingly, France Télévisions commits to inform the authors and producers of its etidorial policy and displays all useful contacts on its website.
Regarding the development and production of series, the charter carries out a shortening of the writing deadlines, development phases and the decisional process. It also details the contents of the files to be completed and delivered (presentation folder comprising for the first phase of the development a pitch, a narrative arch and the script in dialogues form of the first episode…). It is to be noticed that within the development, the first epidose must be written script in dialogues form, without any intermediate step with France Télévisions. Mostly, it is understood that the remuneration of the authors for the writing of the first episode shall me increased by 30% in exchange for a priority commitment and a delivery time shortened to 3 months.
Finally, the development of a new season must be sorted out prior the end of the editing of the first season of the series, in order to allow the authors and producer to work with efficience.
Thus, it is necessary, both as an author and as a producer, to implement the appropriate agreements. While drafting the agreements it is notably essential to precisely define the conditions of the collaboration between the parties in compliance with the applicable texts and legislation. Therefore, it is wise for a producer to consult wit a specialized lawyer who will study the specificities of the project and will draft and negotiate the necessary agreements at best for the parties.