The final cut™: Directors, producers and the gender regime of the Swedish film industry

Focusing on Sweden, this article departs from the proposition that film production and the film industry are governed by institutional arrangements that produce and reproduce gender and gender relations. The article is based on interviews with directors and producers and analyses how Swedish directors and producers describe their roles and relationship, relating this to how these roles are shaped by the law, film policy, and financial arrangements. The article argues that the Swedish film industry rests on a gendered division of labor, that the professions of director and producer are constructed in relation to masculinity, and that the gender equality measures undertaken are not sufficient to come to grips with the gender inequalities in the industry.

The relationship between director and producer is paramount in most film production. This relation is characterized by a dual leadership that entails that the producer is the leader of financial and organizational aspects of the production, while the director is considered to be the major artistic leader (Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2017; Soila Wadman, 2008; Svejenova, Vives, & Alvarez, 2010). Meanwhile, both the director’s and the producer’s positions are often labelled as “creative.” While the dynamics and power balance in this relationship has been studied before (see, e.g., Baker & Faulkner, 1991; Blair, Gray, & Randle, 2001; Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2017; Soila Wadman, 2008), there is little knowledge about how gender equality reforms have affected the relationship and how the roles of, and relations between, producer and director are gendered.

This article departs from theories of feminist institutionalism (see, e.g., Krook & Mackay, 2010) and the idea that the institutional arrangements of formal and informal rules, practices, and discourses that govern the Swedish film industry function to shape, enable, and restrain the roles and relations of directors and producers. Accordingly, in order to understand how the relations between directors and producers are gendered, it is important to unpack the interplay between producers’ and directors’ conceptualizations of their work and the institutional arrangements in all its “‘messiness’ and empirical complexity” (Mackay, 2010, p. 186).

This article aims to deepen the understanding of how the relationship between producers and directors is gendered in the Swedish film industry. By cross-reading interviews with legislative acts, contractual agreements, policy, and information about the organization of the Swedish film industry, the article probes two questions: first, how do institutional arrangements relate to producers’ and directors’ own articulations of their roles and their work? And second, how do gender equality efforts interact with the broader institutional arrangements governing the Swedish film industry and how do these efforts play out in everyday practice?

Previous studies of the relationship between directors and producers argue that recent changes in the industry have led to an increase in the producer’s economic and artistic influence, arguably leaving the director with less decisive power in comparison with earlier decades (Baker & Faulkner, 1991; Blair, Gray & Randle, 2001; Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2017). In a Swedish context, Hedling (2014, pp. 103–107) has argued that Swedish film policy has curtailed producers in favor of directors. Somewhat conversely, a public enquiry in 2009 stated that producers and directors alike were subjected to the strong position held by distributors in the Swedish film industry (SOU, 2009, p. 73). However, the relations between directors and producers have not been investigated in depth in scholarship on contemporary Swedish film, where research on production during the past decades has focused mainly on regionalization and the tension between artistic and commercial ideals in policies for film funding (Hedling, 2013, 2014, 2016).

Internationally, research on gender and film has mapped the number of women behind the camera, and has attempted to understand which factors promote or impede women’s presence in the industry (Cobb, 2020; Lauzen, 2019; Liddy, 2020, in press; Smith, Choueiti, Scofield, & Pieper, 2013). Such questions are also of interest to feminist production studies, which problematize relations between different professions in the film industry. However, this strand of research has not so far investigated the impact of gender equality policies; in addition, many such studies deal with contexts where gender equality measures are not applicable (Banks 2009, 2018; Caldwell, 2016). In the Swedish context, there has been some work on the outcomes and problems of gender equality policies in film (Jansson, 2016, 2017; Jansson & Wallenberg, 2020), and a few Swedish studies of individual directors have addressed gendered relations. For example, Larsson (2006) discusses how three different men all claim to have given Mai Zetterling the opportunity to direct her first feature Älskande par (Loving Couples, 1964), and Soila’s (2004) study of four women directors in the 1970s and 1980s explains how Swedish film production praxis since the 1960s has been permeated by the ideas formulated in the politique des auteurs of the French New Wave. While this research provides important insights, the studies of individual directors do not specifically address the relations between director and producer, even though Soila observes that because large film companies only employ directors already known to make economically viable films, many Swedish directors have started their own production companies (Soila, 2004, p. 13).

The outline of the article is as follows: first, we present some theoretical, methodological, and contextual information. Thereafter, we go on to discuss how the relationship between director and producer is involved in an ongoing “commercial turn,” how this plays out in the Swedish context, and how our interview participants view this. The two following sections outline the roles of directors and producers respectively. Subsequently, we present the intersection between legal norms and gender equality policy and how they are affected by the commercial turn. The article ends with a brief discussion of our conclusions.

Studying the Swedish film industry: theory, context, material, and method
Our theoretical approach implies that institutional arrangements condition women’s and men’s scope of action as well as produce gendered outcomes. From this follows that alterations in rules, norms, and praxis may change gender relations, but also that gender norms may impede change (see, e.g., Mackay, 2014; Skeije & Teigen, 2003). Following Waylen’s (2010) warning that a too narrow focus on gender equality reform risks obscuring the gendered implications of the broader institutional arrangements (see also Jansson & Bivald, 2013), this article views Swedish gender equality policy as part of a more comprehensive institutional arrangement which we call “gender regime”; that is to say, we argue that film policy in Sweden is affected by the gendered structures and processes that shape the Swedish film industry as a whole. Gender regimes “provide a framework of interconnecting institutions that comprise the overall pattern of gender arrangements” in a specific environment (Mackay, 2010, p. 189), such as the film industry. According to Connell (2002, pp. 53–58), important aspects of a gender regime include gender division of labor, power relations, gender norms, and scripts about, for example, gender difference. This approach makes it possible to analyze the interplay between the institutional arrangement and the practices and articulations that producers and directors describe. Hence, our analytical focus will be on (a) how the roles of director and producer are constructed in terms of gender; (b) how the institutional framework produces a division of labor and how it is gendered; and (c) how control and authority as expressions of power relations are distributed and gendered.

The case of Sweden was chosen because its comparatively long history of gender equality being part of the institutional arrangement in the film industry. Gender equality policies were introduced into Swedish film policy in the year 2000. Furthermore, Sweden has recently been hailed for its success to introduce more women behind the camera (see, e.g., Byrnes, 2015). While women’s presence is an important aspect, this article argues against the idea that gender equality can be easily measured in terms of the share of women in specific positions. In addition, it highlights the significance of problematizing the existing and changing institutional arrangements and how they affect efforts to increase gender equality.

Sweden, as most European countries, provides public support for film production, and in 2018, 37 out of a total of 51 feature length films produced in Sweden, equaling 72% of all Swedish feature length film productions produced that year, received public funding (SFI, 2019). Public support for film was actualized after the introduction of Swedish television. There were some minor efforts to support film production in Sweden already in the 1950s, but a full-scale film policy was instigated in 1963, when the first Swedish Film Agreement was set in place (see, e.g., Ilshammar, Snickars, & Vesterlund, 2012; Snickars, 2012; Vesterlund, 2018). As in most small Western film nations, Swedish film policy targeted so-called quality film and the 1963 policy included a definition of what was meant by “quality.” However, the government decision was also concerned that the focus on quality would disqualify more popular film genres such as comedy. Basically, Sweden originally niched its policy toward auteur ideals (Hedling, 2013; Soila, 2004). With time, the definition of quality has changed although it remains a criterion for the granting of production support from the Swedish Film Institute (hereafter SFI). Anna Serner, CEO of the SFI, explains that the decision to grant a film project production support rests on three pillars: “originality, craftsmanship, and the degree of priority or urgency” (Interview, December 10, 2018), and that the SFI continuously assesses film quality through a “quality index” which ranks films according to reviews in major media (see SFI, n. d.). Nevertheless, the Swedish support system has always entailed a dual setup of support schemes, for art films and for more commercially viable films (Bondebjerg & Novrup Redvall, 2011). The support scheme has thus contributed to institutionalizing a tension between commercial and artistic objectives, which has been observed to be highly significant in organizations in all cultural industries (see, e.g., Caves, 2000; Cohendet & Simon, 2007; Holbrook & Addis, 2008).

In the year 2000, the Swedish government tasked the SFI with promoting gender equality. Although there have been numerous activities to promote gender parity since 2000, the single most important action was the insertion of a quota into the Swedish Film Agreement (2006; 6§) in order to reach the goal of an equal share of women directors, producers, and scriptwriters. Getting more women into these positions has been seen (a) as important in its own right, but also to; (b) improve women’s conditions in the industry; and (c) give rise to onscreen representations of women’s experiences (see, e.g., SOU, 2009, p. 73; Swedish Film Agreement, 2006). The gender equality efforts have increased the share of women directors and producers, and in 2018, the share of films with a woman director was 29%, films with a woman scriptwriter 27%, and films with a woman producer 50%. Films with public production support generally fare better than other films in this respect, and in the top year of 2014, feature length films with public production support displayed a share of 50% women directors, 61% women screenwriters, and 69% women producers. Since then, the number of women has decreased to around 30% for women directors and screenwriters, and 60% for producers (SFI, 2019). Despite the recent increase in the numbers of women behind the camera, women do have a disadvantaged position when it comes to budget size and distribution: feature films directed by women between 2013 and 2017 had on average 83% of the budget of a film made by a male director, and films featuring a female lead actor during the same period had 67% of the budget of films with a male lead actor (SFI, 2018).

To study how the gender regime in Sweden plays out in the relations between directors and producers, we have used legislative acts, contractual agreements, public record and policy material from the SFI, and interviews with directors and producers. In 2018 and 2019, we conducted 13 interviews, with three women producers and one male producer, six women directors, and three women who are both directors and producers. Our interview participants have been active in the Swedish film industry in various positions from the mid-1950s until today; hence, our eldest participants were in their mid-eighties, while the youngest was in her late twenties. In addition, this article makes use of interviews made with five producers, three women and two men, carried out in a previous project reported in 2013 (Jansson & Bivald, 2013).1 All 18 interviews were semistructured and they lasted between 1 and 2 h. The participants decided where the interviews should take place: some interviews were conducted at Stockholm University, others in the homes or offices of the participants, and two interviews took place in cafés. The interviews were sound-recorded and transcribed.

The analysis is the result of collaborative work by the four authors, who come from three different disciplines: cinema studies, law, and political science. The material has been read to understand first how directors and producers conceptualize their work, their role, and their relation to each other, and second, to analyze how gender equality goals, values, and tools interact with other institutional arrangements. We interpret the statements by our interview participants in the light of institutional arrangements in order to understand how their conceptualizations relate to the institutional framework and how this framework is gendered. Together, these two parts form a basis for discussing how the gender regime informs the organization of the relationship between producers and directors.

Producers and directors in an era of change
Recent developments in the Swedish film industry have accentuated the power of finance and commerce. In the words of Lisa Ohlin, director of both feature films and TV productions, “film is no longer seen as [an art] work, it is sold as a commodity” (Interview, September 12, 2018). Her perception of changes in the industry is reflected in policy changes. The influence of New Public Management in film policy (Jansson, 2016, 2017), along with changes in the industry such as increased globalization and changing film distribution channels has led to a “commercial turn” (see Hesmondhalgh, 2019; for the Swedish context see ; Jansson & Bivald, 2013). The manifest expressions of this include the 2013 introduction of a new commercial production support scheme called “automatic support” (automatstöd), favoring films with high audience estimates and private funding, and the demand for a project to have an “experienced producer” to be eligible for public funding (Swedish Film Agreement, 2013). Another example of how New Public Management has affected Swedish film policy is the addition in the 2013 Film Agreement of the principle that the SFI should consider the structure of production companies when distributing funding in order to promote larger production companies (Olsberg, 2012, 2008; Swedish Film Agreement, 2013).2

In our interviews, these changes are captured in discussions about the so-called final cut. Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång,3 film producers and owners of the Swedish production company Garagefilm, argue:

“…you need to accommodate [your opinions] because in Sweden and the rest of Europe, the director has the final cut […], so we cannot take that away from the director. In other countries, where big money and studios are involved, then it’s the funders who have [the final cut].” (Interview, December 19, 2018)

There is a widespread notion that directors in Sweden have a strong position regarding the final cut in comparison with other national film contexts.4 At the same time, this position is perceived as gradually weakening, not least due to producers’ increasing economic and organizational power over most film productions. Annika Hellström, film producer and owner of the production company Cinenic Film AB, states that she is about to change praxis in her contracts:

“you usually write that the director has the final cut. But I’m starting to think like this, and I think that some [other producers] also apply this, that [—] the director can have the final cut on the festival release copy, and that you [as producer] can sort of have the final cut in case there are different opinions.” (Interview, June 14, 2019)

This, she says, is motivated by the fact that she has the main responsibility for the end result vis-à-vis the film funders.

Rojda Sekersöz, who has so far directed two feature films, points out that the director is under pressure when negotiating the contract regarding the final cut:

“It depends on your contract who has the final cut […] It becomes some kind of compromise anyway, you don’t want to be the one who [—] because then they can say that ‘well, then we won’t premiere the film’. […] It’s always a collaboration.” (Interview, March 22, 2018)

These statements indicate that the final cut plays a part in the ongoing negotiation of the relationship between producer and director. The commercial turn is also reflected in the design of gender equality efforts, as the SFI has announced the need to increase their efforts to have women directing films with larger budgets (SFI, 2016).

Adding to these changes, new distribution windows, such as Netflix and HBO, have changed not only the distribution landscape, but also film consumption, film education, and dramaturgical norms. According to Maria Hedman Hvitfeldt, a former scriptwriter and film director who is now the head of the film department at Stockholm University of the Arts, the commercial turn has affected the educational system in the sense that employability has become more important (Interview, April 9, 2018). She describes how the film workers most likely to succeed are those whose work in film and television follow a narrative structure similar to Bron (The Bridge, SVT and DR, 2011–2018) or The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008; Interview, April 9, 2018). This interest in quality popular narratives chimes with the SFI’s efforts to analyze audience preferences in relation to recent Swedish film productions (SFI, 2020), and with how Anna Serner describes the ideal film as being both of high quality and attracting a significant number of ticket-buyers (Interview, December 10, 2018).

One of the gendered implications regards the representation of gender on screen. Several directors describe how their depiction of women is contested and found irrelevant and not commercially viable. Director Mia Engberg, who has been making both feature and documentary films since the mid-1990s, tells us how funders considered her choice of a female voice-over “provocative and meddlesome.” Her interpretation is that “it rubs the wrong way somehow because it’s not the norm” (Interview, March 8, 2018). She argues that films that do not conform with ideas about how gender should be portrayed on screen are seen as unviable film projects. This is corroborated by Rojda Sekersöz, who was told during the production of her film Dröm Vidare (Beyond dreams, 2017) that her portrayal of female friendship was not credible:

“[—]‘why does she not just say to her mates that she is working?’ And well sure, of course she could do that. But in this group they don’t. I mean, if it had been a gang of guys and one guy had started to lie [—] then it wouldn’t be [—] ‘why isn’t he just honest?’ [—] it’s part of a mentality [—]”

“[when portraying women] you are supposed to be a lot more kind of logical”

“[—] And it’s something that I think constricts female characters, [—] making them less active in films [—] and then you can also think like this: if that’s the kind of feedback you get during a process, the process going on for several years, then [—] there’s not going to be much left in the end.” (Interview, March 22, 2018)

This quote demonstrates that notions about how a film should be narrated are connected to views about how gender ought to be portrayed on screen. These ideas may reinforce gender stereotypes that are already in place (see, e.g., Haskell, 1974; Mulvey, 1975; Rosen, 1973; Silverman, 1988). However, research has shown that certain elements from feminism have been appropriated and incorporated into popular culture and that in this process, the “new” ideals have been intertwined with neoliberal ideas, creating new formulas for what constitutes “credible” portrayals of gender (McRobbie, 2007).

To sum up, gender equality policy argues that promoting more women in the positions of directors, producers, and screenwriters will improve women’s working conditions and provide new representations of women’s experiences on screen. At the same time, the commercial turn has led to a focus on economy and on the commercial viability of film productions, production companies, and ticket sales. This reorientation includes the fabrication of norms regarding which narratives are supposedly attractive to audiences and how to represent gender on film.

The role of directors
Directors are seen as important for the quality of the film in the funding process. Director Ella Lemhagen, who has often worked in larger film projects, describes how she has been summoned to meetings at the SFI:

“you are often called to a meeting to talk about your vision, but then it is often a project that is already anchored there. But for them to be able to decide somehow, they need me to go in and tell them about it, so I have done that tons of times.” (Interview, January 22, 2019)

In this way, the idea that the director carries the creative vision of the film is institutionalized also in funding. This expectation is also noticeable in most film reviews: from the viewpoint of film critics, directors are often considered (solely) responsible for how films turn out. They—together with the actors—carry the film and hence, a director’s (good) reputation and name is clearly an asset when promoting a film. Considering that film from its inception has been dominated by male directors who accordingly have been able to build their “brand,” this helps sustain and reinforce the idea of the director as a male creative and artistic genius (Lantz, 2007; Lauzen, 2012; Marghitu, 2018; Regev, 2016; Schatz, 1988).

The directors that we have interviewed are all dedicated to the stories they tell, and wish to make films that are relevant to contemporary society in one way or another. For instance, Rojda Sekersöz says that she really wanted to portray the Swedish public housing program of the 1960s and 1970s in a new way. These environments on the outskirts of Swedish cities are often subject to one-sided, negative representations, and Sekersöz wanted to break with this tradition: “and I wanted […] to kind of make it more beautiful because I know from my own experience that if you come from the working class, you don’t want that [the dirt and the rough] to show” (Interview, March 22, 2018). Sekersöz’ dedication includes making herself responsible for the way the film depicts public housing Stockholm. Other directors describe how they are intrigued by current political events or certain narratives and want to investigate them in their films. Ella Lemhagen describes her involvement in the family picture Tsatsiki, morsan och polisen (Tsatsiki, Mom and the Police Officer, 1999):

“then this Tsatsiki turned up, and on the one hand I liked the story, and on the other hand I also wanted to work with Ulf Stark who had written it. So, then I agreed to do it even though it was a children’s production, because actually I had decided not to do any children’s productions….” (Interview, January 22, 2019)

For the directors among our interview participants, commitment and dedication to their vision is paired with a sense of responsibility which may be grounded in personal experiences, ideology, or existential beliefs, or in a profound wish to do a good job.

Many of the conflicts with producers that directors describe derive from problems to actually realize the film in a way that corresponds with what they perceive as their responsibility. They describe how information about the budget constitutes a means of control over the production, and how sharing or not sharing such information forms part of the relationship between producer and director. Ohlin talks about once being shut out from information about the budget, which made her unable to make decisions about what scenes to add or cut out. Similar stories are told in other interviews. Lack of information, late information, or no information at all leads to dismay and sometimes distrust. And as long-time director and producer Agneta Fagerström-Ohlsson puts it: “When you have produced [films] yourself, you go crazy you know, when you do not get any answers” (Interview, August 27, 2018).

As demonstrated in this section, directors construct and understand themselves to be responsible for how their films turn out. The SFI funding procedure, film reviews, and the general idea of the director further underline this responsibility. Since the director’s reputation and name are crucial for new job opportunities, in order to find funding for new projects and in relation to film promotion, the institutional construction of the director’s responsibilities for a film means that there is much at stake for the individual director. In this situation, interview participants in the field of directing describe the perceived lack of control, and the necessity to adjust one’s vision to demands from distributors, financiers, and producers as frustrating. According to the statistics presented above, this situation is more challenging for women directors than for their male counterparts since women have an even greater difficulty finding new jobs. This is closely connected to the fact that the very notion of “the director” as male remains strong within the industry.

The role of producers
The producer is in charge of the organizational and economic aspects of a film project. The production companies also invest a fair share of money in their film projects. On average production companies put in 21%–25% of the budget of a feature film depending on whether it is a low, medium, or a high budget film. Of that 16%–18% accounts for the producers’ own work. The remaining finances comes from the SFI (23%–45%), distributors (2%–13%), film funds (14%–20%), public service or commercial television (7%–12%), and finally private capital (1%–7%; SFI, 2018). According to contracts,5 sometimes directors also invest personal capital in the productions. The main nonpublic financial stakeholder for a low budget film is the producer, while for medium and big budget films, the producer and the distributor hold rather equal shares (SFI, 2018). However, a public inquiry in 2009 contended that the economic structures in exploiting films favor cinema owners and distributors, who “take precedence over the producer when the proceeds are divided and everyone involved should be compensated for their costs and expenses” (SOU 2009, p. 73, 81). Despite the focus on economy, the profession of producer is considered a key creative role. Producer Annika Hellström describes her work to be about making things run smoothly:

“well the role of producer, it is incredibly demanding, you know, and also fabulously fun — the creative, that is being able to visualise…and of course later, when there is also the director and scriptwriter and you are, well, working in the same direction, working and interpreting, agreeing, that is a very fun process, to kind of decide, this is what the story is about, what is essential, and then to try to chisel out characters and narrative to go with that. But it is also super demanding.” (Interview, June 14, 2019)

Hellström’s account shows how the producer is involved in many different aspects of a production, and this is well in line with how other producers define their job. Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång describe it as being “in deep, in everything” (Interview, December 19, 2018). Producers also stress the responsibility they have in financing the project, and for the output—the film. This includes to “take a few uncomfortable decisions” (Annika Hellström, Interview, June 14, 2019).

When producers discuss their relations with directors and to the film project they describe the major friction in terms of the interface between creative ambition and economic restrictions: “everyone is so keen to do their outmost and sometimes there is not room economically, and sometimes different people have different opinions about what exactly needs to be done or what it should look like” (Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång, Interview, December 19, 2018). Our interview participants argue that it is not their task as producers to make decisions on the set, but that they have to follow the work closely for economic reasons:

“I look at the daily rushes [film footage] and I review, trying to see if something is kind of getting out of hand or that there isn’t enough coverage in terms of images, or things like that, so then you might go in and say something, and then also in terms of economy, [ensuring] maybe that there is not too much overtime.” (Annika Hellström, Interview, June 14, 2019)

Monitoring the process is also necessary in order to be able to communicate the progress of the project to other parties:

“on our latest production we had a so-called ‘bond’, a film insurance, and then you also need to constantly maintain a regular weekly contact with them, report back financially, and they receive reports from the shoot and can follow what is put on hold, is the production in line with the plan […] and if not; why? So you need to motivate every overdraft, you could say, or every delay […] so it is always a matter of keeping that, and looking at dailies and understand whether we are getting everything together, getting that scene to work, is it funny, does that actor make it work…?” (Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång, Interview, December 19, 2018)

Here, the concern about the economy is put forward as an incentive for keeping the production together and for creative deliberations (“is it funny,” “does that actor make it work”). It also reflects how the producers construct their work as based in economic responsibilities: (a) for the production, to ensure that the director and other professionals involved can produce a good film, and (b) for the finances, so that the investors will get their money back (or at least get value for their investment). This includes following the film as it goes “out into the world, and it’s openings, and what figures are you getting in the cinemas, what did the funders think” (Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång, December 19, 2018).

While producers are being held accountable to financiers, recently, they have also been mentioned in debates about the problems for Swedish film to attract audiences (see, e.g., Fornstam, 2019). Here, producers are constructed as key actors for selecting the projects that are made into films and thus made responsible for the repertoire available to the audience. Producers have also been portrayed as important actors for accomplishing gender equality (Jansson & Bivald, 2013), since they are key players in deciding who gets to write a film script and who gets to direct, but also, in selecting the scripts for filming. A study of the Swedish film industry by Deb Verhooven (cited in SFI, 2018) shows that 46% of all male producers have not worked with any women in their creative team during the period 2006–2016. However, rather than being the responsibility of the producer collective, we would argue that the gender structure in the film industry reflects institutionalized norms where homosociality is both accepted and normalized. In the interviews, we have found explanations to why women producers are more often involved in low-budget projects that construct women as less prone to take risks, and “in order to have their own freedom and do their own projects, they have opted out of the big projects and gone more into narrower projects and documentaries” (Patrick Ryborn, Interview February 20, 2013). Statements like this indicate that, like most leadership, film producers are associated with ideas about masculinity (see, e.g., Bendl, 2008; Connell & Wood, 2005; Hearn et al., 2015). The industry’s apparent androcentricity—positioning both director and producer as male—is clearly in line with a substantial amount of studies showing that women leaders are often described as “lacking” important skills (see, e.g., Holgersson, 2003; Player, Randsley de Moura, Leite, Abrams, & Tresh, 2019; de la Rey, 2005; Wreyford, 2015).

To sum up, the role of the producer is complex and comprehensive, and producers that we have interviewed express a deep sense of responsibility. In contrast to directors, who construct their responsibility in relation to the film’s content and artistic qualities, producers describe their responsibilities in relation to economy. They also describe themselves as responsible to others: to investors, to the project, and to those working on the project. While remaining “on top” of the production, they have to deal with communication around the progression of the project and with being controlled by financiers. Accordingly, they are positioned as mediators between the economic interests of distributors and other investors and the artistic interests of directors. In media, as well as in the film industry, producers are considered key actors in the implementation of gender equality. At the same time, the fact that male producers rarely have women on the positions of director and scriptwriter in their film productions, and indeed rarely work with women, suggest that there is a widespread tolerance of homosociality in the film industry.

Institutional intersections
The duality between artistic and economic responsibilities that constitute the relation between directors and producers runs like a thread through the institutional arrangement governing the film industry and film production. The legal right to claim authorship and copyright in Sweden is to a large extent subject to contractual agreements. Copyright is awarded to the person or persons whose creativity and original work has shaped the final artistic character of the work (i.e., the film). Furthermore, copyright protection may be granted for specific components of a film, such as, for instance, the music. The Swedish copyright system distinguishes between the author—the physical person who is originally granted copyright protection and with whom the moral right to the film (or to components of the film) stays throughout the term of protection—and the legal or physical person who might in the end own the economic rights to the copyright-protected work (i.e., the right to distribute and exploit the film as a commodity). Taking into consideration the complexity of different film elements that are protectable under copyright law, such as pictures, script, music, and of course the film as a whole, striking a balance between the original contributor and the final copyright holder has largely been left to contractual agreements. This also means that in cases where the producer is involved with creative aspects of the film, the producer would be a coauthor and thus one of the potential copyright holders.

Current Swedish legislation only partially meets the challenges of distribution of rights in film. The 1960 Swedish Copyright Act (SFS, 1960, p. 729) includes a list of sui generis rights and so-called neighboring rights, several of which concern film production, but it does not provide a clear-cut solution to the conflict between the moral rights-holder (the one contributing) and the copyright holder. Neighboring rights are closely related to copyright; they enjoy copyright-like protection and are applicable to such intellectual (or other) input that deserves a protection but does not qualify for copyright protection (such as production right, photography right, etc.). The difficulties in deciding on one party as the rightful copyright holder of the film originates in the collaborative nature of film production work. Artistic work might cover typical copyright-protected subject matters (literary, dramatic, and musical works) as well as sui generis elements, which are not protectable separately, such as mise-en-scène or editing. Some contributions are protected independently of the film itself, such as for instance the music used in the film. Hence, every film production seems to allow for different levels of independence and creative space for its contributors (Kamina, 2016).

The many different “authors” involved in filmmaking traditionally transfer their rights to a production company in order for the distribution and exploitation of films to be manageable. The transfer of rights is most often achieved by means of employment or subcontractor arrangements. This implies that the production company holds the rights to economically exploit the film, that is the rights to distribute the film, while the moral rights (where they apply, i.e., in copyright-protected works) remain with the individual contributors.

While the Copyright Act leaves much to be regulated via contractual agreements, its organization of moral and economic rights sets the foundation for the relationship between directors and producers. Furthermore, it produces a distinction between artistic and economic aspects, which is important to the organization of film productions (Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2017). The evolution of the role of the producer, from being a source of financial support and infrastructure, to taking active part in the creative work and making decisions with an impact on the end result, raises questions on whether producers might also be granted “the final cut.” The final cut has, from a copyright law perspective, traditionally been considered to be an indispensable part of the moral right dedicated to the director. However, there are indications that change is necessary due to recent developments in the film industry and in particular the financing landscape. This has also been confirmed in our interviews, where both directors and producers have corroborated a certain shift in this regard.

Since gender equality efforts have sought to increase the number of women on what is considered to be key creative positions, that is the director, producer, and screenwriter, the difference between the actual person acting as the producer and the rightsholder, which usually is a legal person, is an important distinction. Speaking of the “producer” may denote the actual physical person working alongside the film team, or a multinational company. Because gender equality policy includes the “producer” as a key position and hence one of the target professions for the “quota,” the SFI is tasked to consider the gender of the “producer” when distributing public support. Efforts to get more women to work as producers, with the aim to increase women’s influence in the industry, assume that women producers have actual control over the production, hence gender equality policies are based on the notion of the producer as the organizational and economic leader of the film.

As noted by several interview participants, the gender equality framework provides incentives to select a woman as a producer. However, in the words of Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång, women may well be listed as producers, but their actual control and influence may be circumscribed: “… the female producers, where are they actually based? Well, they are in big companies… like Filmlance [one of the largest film production companies in Sweden], which is owned by EndemolShine” (Interview, December 19, 2018).6 Lafrenz and Spång argue that the larger the production company, the less the actual influence of the acting producer. The idea that the amount of money involved in a production lessens the influence of both producers and directors is frequent among our interview participants. Hence, although the quota effect may work as an incentive for companies to appoint a woman as producer, the actual power and control of women cannot be easily measured.

Another aspect of problematically intersecting institutions is the criteria for funding, in which a demand for “an experienced producer” was inserted in the 2013 Swedish Film Agreement. This was unquestionably problematic for newcomers, since it favored established and larger production companies, and because there has historically been fewer women producers it counteracted the gender equality ambitions (see Jansson & Bivald, 2013). Producer Martin Persson explains that this has given rise to a praxis where more established producers—who are often men—become chaperons for new producers—who are often women (Interview, May 23, 2013). This means that experienced male producers receive credits for work done by less experienced female colleagues.

An even more problematic issue is who actually performs the creative work expected to be carried out by the producer. The Academy Award-winning Swedish film Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander, dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1982) was formally produced by Jörn Donner, then CEO of the SFI. He went to much trouble to find funding for the huge production, and he was also the one to go on stage at the Academy Awards to collect the Oscar statuette. However, when we interviewed him, he acknowledged that the production leader Katinka Faragó did most of the actual producer work on the set. At the same time, he justified his role: “I was in charge over the production and she executed it, and the person in charge received the credit, as it were, but what can I do about that?” (Interview May 14, 2019). Faragó also addressed this in our interview with her, calling him that “damned Donner,” though adding “I like him anyway,” and explained:

“But he was never there, I don’t think he was there even once. And production plans and actors and crew, I wrote sixty-five contracts with actors. And about one hundred with teams, and painters and carpenters and what have you. And I negotiated with all of these people. But he stands there as the producer, it makes me so mad. They are charming, the boys.” (Interview, May 15, 2018)

Although this production was undertaken before the introduction of gender equality measures, Donner’s and Faragó’s statements reflect the fact that it is difficult to know who actually does the creative work in large film projects. Hence, women may actually do work for which they are not credited, but in order to accommodate productions to gender equality requirements, it may also be the fact that the actual work undertaken by women does not mean women have the influence we might imagine. Thus, the interplay between the actual producer (the physical person) and the producer (legal person) holding the rights complicates our interpretation of what the statistics regarding the gender of the producer actually means. This is also a reminder that filmmaking is a teamwork, as stressed by production studies and other feminist film scholars (Banks 2018; Hollinger, 2012; Stigsdotter, 2019), and that to capture the dynamics of such processes is far more complicated than just identifying the presence of women on key positions.

This article has analyzed the relationship between directors and producers in Sweden at a point in time where a commercial turn is increasingly affecting the film industry. We have studied how directors and producers describe their respective roles and how gender equality policies play out in film production. In this conclusion, we will describe how the results from our study outline the gender regime of the current Swedish film industry, including a gender division of labor and constructions of gender difference. We will also discuss how this gender regime is intertwined with the efforts, ongoing since the year 2000, to promote gender equality in this film industry.

Our findings suggest that the current gender regime upholds a gender division within the Swedish film industry. Statistics (SFI, 2018) show that film projects with men producers are likely to have men directors and scriptwriters. Films with women on any of the positions of producer, director, screenwriter, or lead actor are more likely to have lower budgets, to open in fewer cinemas and to reach smaller audiences. In addition to this, we have argued that homosociality is an accepted norm in the Swedish film industry, or as put by Maria Hedman Hvitfeldt (Interview, April 9, 2018) film production is “a playground for the chaps.” We have also pointed to ideas in circulation that describe the positions of director and producer as connected to masculinity—and to men. Because of the normalized homosociality in the industry, men producers can also be described as “relieved” of the burden of contributing to gender equality, since they are permitted to continue to work with the directors, screenwriters, and actors that they already know.

The institutional framework of the Swedish film industry is based on a separation between artistic and economic responsibilities. This is in line with how our interview participants describe their roles. Directors describe their responsibilities as related to the content and the artistic qualities of the output—the film—while producers describe their responsibilities as mainly based on economy. Directors connect to films and filmmaking through commitment, and this commitment in turn can be understood as a reflection of how they think about film: frequently, they view films as important to society and aim to contribute to change through their work. But their commitment may also be founded on an understanding of film as a product that should be professionally executed. As noted by, for example, Betz (2013, pp. 495–513) there are many different connotations to the word quality, and the question of how they are enmeshed with the Swedish institutional regime, is clearly a task for further study. Nevertheless, the institutional arrangement makes directors accountable to the audience through reviews and notions of the director as artist, or auteur, which regulates the work of the individual director. The concept of the film auteur is also gendered, since the myth of the male genius directors lingers on, reflecting how Swedish film policy was formulated in its inception. When constructing the new ideals of commercially viable narratives, this is done with reference to stories made by men.

Gender equality efforts in the Swedish film industry provide incentives to appoint women as directors, producers, and scriptwriters. However, when it comes to producers, there is a confusion between the actual person producing a film and the production company. While funding is awarded to a production company, gender equality targets speak of the actual person producing the film. If this person is a woman, the film might qualify for financing support and fulfill gender quality targets, but this tells us very little about the power and role of the woman in the production company and her status in relation to the film rights. Our interviews reveal cases where the producer is not the individual doing the actual work, and where the producer is not in control of the process. The larger the production company, the more complicated it is to discern who is in control and who is doing the work. Our results indicate that producers who are in control of the production are heavily dependent on investors, and subject to control by parties funding the productions. When producers discuss such control, they put this in terms of economic assessments. We contend that gender equality measures in Swedish film have been designed in accordance with the auteur ideal informing early film policy. With the commercial turn, this ideal has been adjusted to a situation where the producer is considered more important. Considering recent changes in the structure of production companies, this means that there is a possibility of confusing the film company with the actual producer. This result highlights the need for gender equality policy to consider (and potentially change) the institutional regime in addition to look for ways to “add” women to an already existing set-up informed by a historically male dominated industry.

Our results complicate and nuance the fact, often put forward in Production Studies, that film productions are collective processes. Not only are films the outcome of collective work by a team of film workers, they are also collective in the sense that the economic organization affects the creative work and the outcome in a multitude of ways. Based on our findings, we argue that the current situation in the Swedish film industry cannot be changed through gender equality measures based on the idea that an equal share of women and men on so-called “key positions” will be sufficient to improve conditions for women in the industry and/or the portrayal of women’s experiences on screen. As our study shows, to count the number of women as producers or directors—the key measurement used by the SFI to evaluate their gender equality efforts—says very little about gender equality and women’s working conditions. It is an old truth, but one that deserves repeating: the institutional setup of film production does have an impact on what films will be produced, and on how the gender regime plays out.

Maria Jansson, Frantzeska Papadopoulou, Ingrid Stigsdotter, Louise Wallenberg

This text was first published in Gender, Work & Organization, 28(6), 2010-2025.

This work was supported by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond under Grant no. P17-0079:1.


1 The interviews from 2018 to 2019 were conducted by Maria Jansson and Louise Wallenberg. The interviews from 2013 were conducted by Katarina Bivald and Maria Jansson.
2 This, in turn, followed a concern in European film production that state subsidies had encouraged the creation of many small companies that each were involved in producing very few films, leading to a situation that was hazardous both to the economy of the industry and to the maintenance of film professional crafts (see Dahlström & Hermelin, 2007; European Commission, 2006; Hedling, 2013).
3 In our sound recording of the interview with Rebecka Lafrenz and Mimmi Spång, it is often difficult to hear which of the two interview participants makes a statement. We have thus chosen to attribute the statements to them jointly.
4 Several of our interviewees referred to this idea, for example, Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, as well as film directors Lisa Ohlin and Agneta Fagerström-Olsson.
5 We have access to 23 contractual agreements between directors and production companies from 2000 to 2019. Because these are subject to nondisclosure agreements, we are unable to give further details about the parties to the contracts.
6 The EndemolShine group owns production companies like Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox.

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