Blink Productions and the minimum wage.

Word reaches the Watercooler of a company which has had a stream of people through its doors doing unpaid work experience, under circumstances which suggest they should have been paid for what they did. 

The company is Blink Productions based in Wardour Street. I asked the Managing Director, Paul Weston, why the company did not pay those who came in to do work for the company at least the legal minimum for their hours. He replied that “we are not currently able to offer any work experience for the foreseeable future” which, while that may be true of course, isn’t really an answer to the question I asked. 

If any worker believes that they have not been paid the minimum wage in circumstances which suggest they should have been, that can always be reported to HMRC here. They would be happy to follow up and secure you the payment you should have received, as well as levy arrears on offending companies and name and shame them on their offenders list. 

No pay, but you are allowed to take the dog for a walk…

Linkedin is the go to place for many a career hungry young person nowadays, but lurking on the pages are also to be found those employers who fancy getting a bit of free labour for their businesses.

Which is what a company called The Longest Stay did this week, posting this advert for someone to film videos for them and do some social media work:

The owner of the company is Sherry Roberts. She presumably also owns the dog mentioned in the advert – the one who likes to be petted and taken for a walk.

I imagine that the little Shitzu pooch gets its three meals a day (or however many a Shitzu eats), which is more than the person who takes this work would be able to fund, given that food does cost real money, which is in somewhat short supply in terms of a wage packet for this work.

I asked Sherry why she was not paying this person at least the minimum wage for their work. She replied by denying that the work was ever offered as unpaid (rather odd, given the presence of the words “non paid” on the advert). She also now says that she has decided to pay a freelancer to do some of it instead and then get unpaid University students on work experience to do the rest.

Lucky them. She’d better get those students in soon. That dog won’t walk itself.

Worthily Films – avoid!

As the industry slowly gathers itself together and productions start up again, the less honourable employers have of course woken up too. 

Fast off the blocks is a company called Worthily Films, a set-up which is clearly going places, albeit mostly downwards. This bunch have decided to mark the restart by advertising for an unpaid worker (with a van) for three days on one of their productions, and laughably calling it an “internship”.

Despite numerous requests from many people, neither of the owners of this company,  Steve Dodsworth and Chelsea Leigh Macleod, were able to say why this work would not be paid at least the legal minimum. It seems then that they don’t really care about that kind of thing.,

Worth bearing in mind if any organisation is considering availing themselves of the services of Worthily Films. If so, it is quite possible that your production will be funded on the backs of unpaid workers so, if you care about that kind of thing, maybe you should look elsewhere for an “Independent, Innovative and Full Service Production Company”.

Worthily Films – Avoid!

***UPDATE**

Since this was posted Steve Dodsworth has said that the original advert was posted in “a bad error of judgement on the part of a junior” (an odd way of referring to fellow Director of the company, Chelsea Leigh Macleod) and that he hired a man with a van and paid him for his work, so no-one was taken on unpaid.

The heroes and villains of the TV production world (but mostly heroes).

We are fast approaching that time when the last of the TV companies will have finished signing up the last of their freelancers on furlough. As such it seems a good time to reflect on where we’ve been over the last couple of months, to pay tribute to some of the good guys and upend a well aimed bucket of bile on those few companies which have failed to rise to the high standards set by others.

And while by no means everyone has got the furlough they badly needed (for a variety of reasons) it is worth lauding and applauding the many companies across our industry who have busted their guts to help out where they can.

Taking part in the CJRS is of course entirely voluntary, no company has to do it and actually, unlike companies in other industries, there really isn’t any particular benefit for companies to take part, given the nature of our business where freelancers come and go all the time. 

Which makes what so many production companies – big and small – have done for their freelancers bring a tear to even the most jaded old eye.  Because pretty much every day my email inbox has bulged with stories of how hard the management and owners of production companies have worked to look after those who have worked for them.

Companies big and small – be they Hat Trick (standing up really early to do what they could), Nick Bullen’s Spun Gold (“fantastic company”), Sky (paying salaries out of their own pocket), Gameface Productions (Adam Adler – “if there’s anything Adam can do to help his staff in any way, he without a doubt will do it”), Knickerbocker TV (“MD Jonathan Stadlen personally rang his staff within 24 hours to let them know”), Five Mile Films (Nick Mirsky – “new company but fully behind their freelancers”) or TwentySix03 (Duncan Gray – “have gone above and beyond”) to name just a very few. 

We’ve even got to extend a warm stroke of love to the good old BBC who, while they got there a little slowly, have really come through with a whole raft of ways to help their workers.  We’ve recognised some of those great companies on our Coronavirus Hall of Fame but they are just a tiny percentage of the many companies who have done their bit and they keep on coming.

In amongst all this loveliness however, it would be wrong not to mention the flip side of the coin – those companies that could have done some good and who conspicuously fell way short. 

Top of that list would have to be CXC Global, a company which displayed a callous disregard for everyone who they employed on behalf of IMG Productions. Not only did they refuse to furlough anyone, they did so in a thoughtlessly offhand manner, not bothering to engage in any real way with the possibilities of what they could have done. IMG should not of course go unmentioned in that regard either, for letting them get away with it.

And then there is Zinc Media, consisting of Blakeway, Blakeway North, Brook Lapping, Reef Productions and Tern Television. Worth highlighting because, not only did they reject the pleas of desperate freelancers, they did so for the most bowel twistingly holier-than-thou pretence of a reason. Not because they couldn’t under the rules, not because they didn’t have the cash flow to achieve it. No, their given reason not to furlough is because they didn’t feel that helping freelancers whose contracts had ended in that way would be “true to the purpose of the scheme“. 

Yes really. So where the BBC, ITV, All3Media and almost every other big production company see the most important thing to be looking after the people who make their shows, win their awards and secure their recommissions, these Zinc companies think that it is way more important to protect the public purse even in the situation when the government has actually asked companies to put their hands in to help those who are out of work.

So stand up where we can see you everyone at those companies who is responsible for this:

Sarah Murch and Alison Lewis (Blakeway North) 
Karen Edwards (Blakeway Productions) 
Greg Sanderson, Norma Percy and Brian Lapping (Brook Lapping) 
Rachel Platt, Ann Walsh and Lucy Underwood (Reef Television)  
Harry Bell, David Strachan, Gwyneth Hardy and Diane Dunbar (Tern Television) 

And not of course to forget Katie O’Callaghan, Andrew Mckerlie and Mark Browning of Zinc Media without whose inaction none of this would have been possible. Collectively you all badly let down your freelancers because you weren’t there for them when they so badly needed you. That won’t be forgotten, and if any commissioning editors are reading this, please feel free to remember those companies when their representatives next trot through the door looking for a commission.  

But let’s not end by dabbling around in the scummy end of things, the really big story of the past 2 months has been about those companies who did stand up when freelancers so badly needed them. They are many and widespread, they took risks, bore costs and it took time but they worked at it and helped so many in so many ways.

It will be a new and changed industry we stagger forward into now but, if nothing else, this crisis has shown the big heart that exists at the centre of our industry

Onward and up!

Zinc Media – a question of disloyalty.

A week or so ago, it was finally confirmed from the very highest levels of HMRC that all freelancers on PAYE could be recontracted and then furloughed with immediate effect. 

This was great news for a large number of companies as the management of them had badly wanted to help out all their freelancers but had been a bit nervous to do so until they got some firm proof that HMRC wasn’t going to turn up at some later date and demand the money back.

As a result lots of them followed the lead of the BBC, All3Media and other companies and groups and got on with furloughing, to the huge relief of many TV workers, all of whom greatly appreciated the loyalty their companies were showing.

Not all companies though. Loyalty it seems, turns out not to be a quality much in evidence within the offices of Zinc Media,  a group which has a number of production companies under its banner (Blakeway, Blakeway North, Brook Lapping, Films of Record, Reef and Tern).

Because while other companies were doing the decent thing, those who run Zinc decided it would actually be rather a good time to scuttle indoors and close the gates behind them, preferring to shut up shop and not to furlough a lot of now very anxious freelancers who are left wondering how they were going to pay their bills.

When asked why they were not helping their freelancers in the way other companies were doing, the Head of Human Resources, Katie O’Callaghan told them that furloughing wasn’t something the company wanted to do, while further enquiries of senior management (Chairman Christopher Satterthwaite, CEO Mark Browning) produced no response at all.

So while Zinc is happy to wave around their various awards on their website, it seems they are somewhat less keen to offer support to those who actually made the shows that earned them. Not much loyalty on evidence at all. 

Worth remembering if Zinc Media ever starts looking for any loyalty back after the current crisis passes. 

Envy Post Production – refusing to furlough their runners.

There are lots of wonderful companies out there, doing their best at a difficult time for all their workers, both staff and freelancers.

And then there’s Envy.

It seems that this particular company is not quite so keen to spread the love, having dumped their runners onto the job market as soon as coronavirus hit and then refused to furlough them. This despite many impassioned appeals to Dave and Natascha Cadle, CEO and Creative Director of the company, asking them to do the decent thing.

Given that Envy isn’t exactly a small company and given that it is essentially cost-free to do, that seems a pretty tough way to treat the most junior people in the production chain.

So to all those HOPs and Production Managers who are contemplating which company to pass their post production work onto when we do emerge from coronavirus, might I suggest you give The Farm, MPC, The Mill etc a ring first? 

You might have missed this Envy but Runners need to eat too.

More on Envy here too.

Mental Health Awareness week.

It’s this week. To mark it, here are various resources available to freelancers (thank you The TV Mindset!):

General Support:
The Film & TV Charity
Samaritans
MIND
CALM
SHOUT (text service for those who don’t feel like picking up the phone): 

Film & TV Charity initiatives:
Online Mental Health Community & Peer Support (includes guided self-help courses plus problem-solving and assertiveness training)
Community grants

TV Mindset talks – wellbeing:
The Science of Wellbeing – Practical Tips for Freelancers
“Stress Less” Session
Understanding Your Value in an Uncertain World
How To Deal With Inner Critics and Find Your Inner Champion
Managing Fear & Anxiety in a Post-Lockdown World
Physical & Mental Wellbeing in the Remote Workplace (Yoga in the Boardroom)

TV Mindset talks – career:
Talent Manager Forum
The Culture of Fear in TV & How To Dismantle It
How Job-Sharing Can Support Your Mental Health
‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ – Mental Health on the Production Frontline
Stigma in the TV industry

CXC Global: shabby, shameful and uncaring.

In every war there are heroes, and in the battle against coronavirus it is no different. Our heroes are the owners and managers of production companies across the industry who have stepped forward to rehire and furlough those freelancers who have worked on their shows, as well as to offer much needed messages and phone calls of support at a time when pretty much all production work has been suspended. All of this has cast hopeful rays of sunshine at a time when things are looking pretty bleak for workers in the industry. 

But there is the other side of the coin, and it comes in the form of a company called CXC Global

It’s a name which might not be particularly familiar to those who work in TV production but it is one which is worth remembering for the future, albeit not for entirely laudable reasons. The company provides payroll services to businesses and its connection to our industry is that is provides that facility to the sports production company IMG. As a result, numerous freelancers who have worked on shows for IMG will have actually had CXC Global as their employer.

So it is CXC which has been in the position of being able to furlough those freelancers when Covid-19 hit. Naturally enough everyone turned to them expecting the company to do the decent thing and participate in the CJRS as every caring business would, given that it comes at no cost to the companies involved.

It is an assumption however which was met instead with a firm hand in the face, dispatched via a curt email which gave all freelancers one day’s notice and informed them that the company had “taken a business decision not to operate the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme” and that “CXC is under no obligation to offer this scheme or agree to it”.

This obviously came as pretty unwelcome news to everyone who received it, especially given that it was conveyed with scant words of support or sympathy. So I wrote to CXC Client Services Director Hannah Warman to ask why the company had taken this decision, given that it would cost the company nothing to provide this much needed support? All she would say however is that CXC had “not changed its position on the CJRS and will not be furloughing”. 

Managing Director Connor Heaney was similarly terse too when I asked him the question, confining himself to confirming that the company could furlough everyone if it wanted to but saying that it had “made the decision not to furlough any workers engaged as this would not be compatible with our business model”.

It seems then this is the kind of caring HR function you get then when you farm out employment services to another company like IMG has. At the end of the day they see you as just part of their “business model”. Nothing more, nothing less; it appears that you’re pretty much just a line on a spreadsheet to them.

So a name to remember for the future then.“Thriving through trusted connections” is one of the.slogans which greets visitors to their site.  Not really I would suggest. As many freelancers have discovered, these are pretty shallow words when the company can’t be trusted to extend a helping hand to its workers at a time when so many need it.

“Shabby, shameful and uncaring” pretty much covers it.

About to start a course with the NYFA (National Youth Film Academy)?

Are you about to start a course with the National Youth Film Academy?
If so you may wish to consider whether what you have been offered does actually match what you paid for when you signed up. If it doesn’t you have every right to ask for a refund, whatever Rob Earnshaw or anyone else at the company tells you.

If you pay for a service, you have the right to expect that that service is what they agreed to supply. Meeting groups and planning productions in a virtual way rather than in person are materially different experiences  – and if you were promised a screening at Raindance and that does not happen, that is materially different too.

If you do want to claim a refund, then do write to the company and ask for it.  Expect a serious amount of gaslighting in response but be firm, insistent and clear that you do expect to get your money back! And if you want any help with that, feel free to email me: derrywatson@gmail.com.

These courses have attracted a serious amount of criticism in the past, which the company has sought to stifle as much as it can. They also pay for positive reviews on Trustpilot, albeit that salient fact is not declared on the many glowing reviews in the way that is required by Trustpilot’s own rules.

At the best of times feedback has suggested that NYFA courses are not worth the money that people shell out – right now that is even more in doubt.

If you know anyone affected, feel free to pass this message on.