Firstly, consider the ‘could’:
When collaborating with international commissioners, creative organizations often fail to seek advice on how their work gets exploited. They are often intimidated by the commissioners who tell them "this is how it is done". We have discovered it is important to always assume you are going to create something successful. Do not let external partners kill the conversation because you're inexperienced or because success is hard to come by. The reality is it could be a massive hit. Do not agree to anything until you've had discussions around the "could" and have talked to legal advisors or membership organizations who will provide free legal advice.
Secondly, be careful with international commissions:
If you are a small organization – and particularly if you are an emerging organization or a new creative business – people can assume that you are not sufficiently informed about things. Equally when you work with international partners there are a way things are done in certain contexts and landscapes and countries. It is necessary to find a way to have a dialogue, and to work with a mutually agreed language. Sometimes terminology becomes a huge problem. We recently have been commissioned to create a new production for which all of the contracts were presented in the international language. We were told we had to sign it in the international language. We negotiated it, we had agreed to the terms – but actually we could not simply get it translated: we had to get a legal translator. That can be hugely problematic as a small company with small means. We have started to say to the international commissioner, “No, we will not sign anything. You are working with us as a British company, as an English language company, and so therefore if you want to commission us creatively the one thing we can say is that we will not sign it until you present the translated versions”. Really emphasize that because they have come to you because you have got something that they want. Do draw in any advice you possibly can.
Thirdly, the benefits and challenges of working with international co-producers:
We have discovered there can be a huge benefit to working with international partners in terms of co-productions. It is the benefit of them being able to negotiate better contractual agreements in this country. So for example, as a company that is co-producing our work with international co-producers very often we have discovered that international festivals will say, “We want this stake in your work, we want to commission you as a creative organization.” So you end up agreeing to that, but then they do not want any stake going forward. A lot of UK arts organizations will insist that the international partner must have a stake in the work going forward, so you then begin to unpick with them why their contracts do not have that clause and then you can negotiate better contracts with UK partners. This is on the basis of wanting an even co-production agreement. We have really benefitted from understanding the legal practices with international partners to inform our agreements with UK partners here.
The other thing that I have discovered working internationally in terms of co-productions is the loophole around legal requirements in terms of taxation. Taxation is a massive issue but a big thing that is really important is that as a UK company, we are not for profit, but we are also not a charity, and we’re also not funded. This is a really odd discovery that I made in terms of tax loopholes in lots of European countries, which is if you are not funded you are therefore perceived to be commercial, and so therefore you are subject to higher rates of taxation. This means that independent artists and companies working internationally are often receiving less money than their funded counterparts. They are sort of being hit twice, which is kind of extraordinary. You need to understand that loophole and really interrogate the tax systems at the beginning of contract and legal agreements because it is really important. It is different in every single country, and often states within those countries. The really key thing is having advisors, really finding out who you can speak to. And importantly, find some legal advisors. If you cannot afford to pay for lawyers find out who in friend circles or professional circles might be able to advise you. There are some really important people out there. Really importantly also, speak to your peers.
The next topic I want to tackle is logistics:
The key parts of logistics I want to talk about are visas and work permits; they are an absolute nightmare and it’s going to get worse. We’ve experienced challenges with the logistics around visas and work permits where having lawyers on site has been tremendously helpful. All of our companies have double passports so that we can do the rotation visa applications constantly. Make sure if you are touring that you have two passports, if you can get them. It means that you can have a passport in a visa office whilst the company is still touring. There is this constant exchange and making sure that the logistics make sense, but there are still problems. For example we had a problem in the U.S. a few years ago where we kept having to get the passports released, because we kept needing them again to travel. They were updating the system which meant that we had a month long tour of America and we knew there was no way that we would have the visas in place. What I discovered by working with some U.S. immigration lawyers is that there is a manoeuvre you can perform. Firstly you have to fly into an airport beginning with ‘J’ in the U.S. where border control is more flexible. But the manoeuvre is that they have been advised in advance that there is a group arriving in the country that have had their petitions approved, that have all of the documents in place, just simply do not have a visa finally in their passport. The one thing I would say is that whilst there are huge challenges, internationally pull in the advice wherever you can get it; find performance immigration and sports immigration specialists in the given country because they will understand the specifics of how you can find ways around it legally. In terms of logistics everything can be done, it just takes time and money.
In terms of working internationally and touring work, we have to be aware that you might pan for something to happen and it may not be approved. You have to make sure your agreements and contracts reflect that possibility. We need to find ways in contracts to articulate that this might get cancelled for reasons beyond our control. What I would say is that if you can find a way through the censorship you should work with international partners really closely to find out how you might present work in a way that overcomes censorship challenges. Artistically, socially, and morally, it is very important that diversity of work gets presented, and sometimes as in international company you are more privileged to present work in a contact than any artists making work in those territories would be able to. Ways that we have discovered to get away with that is we always surtitle all of our productions but sometimes don't surtitle and have contractural agreements where you don't have any translation of the language so that certain things you are saying apparently get missed. Be aware that you look at censorship in relation to your contracts with artists and collaborators, and work with local people on the ground to work out how you overcome censorship.