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!

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.


Message to employers – go for it, Rishi wants you to furlough!

Many TV employers are keen to recontract and furlough their freelancers (of course they are, most were freelancers themselves once and know what it’s like). Lots are also a bit nervous of doing so though, fearful that they may fall foul of the whims of HMRC and suddenly discover they are expected to pay the money back because they furloughed where they should not have.

If it gives any comfort to those companies, the man at the top is very clear that he does expect employers to furlough if they possible can – as he puts it in a letter to one of his constituents:

“The government expects employers to do the right thing – the government is standing behind business and business should stand behind their employees”

So to those employers who are hovering on the edge of the diving board….please JUMP! Everything that HMRC has published about this scheme and every public utterance by Rishi Sunak suggests that they want companies to furlough everyone they can.

Numerous companies have now done so, to the greatest possible extent they can so. More are also doing so every day – so please take the leap now and do what you can for freelancers who really need it.

Any chance that PACT can be a bit less crap?

**EDIT FRI MORNING**
In response to the request on this page, thank you PACT for removing the incorrect guidance in the first of these links. Confirmation then, if it were needed, that freelancers on naturally ending contracts (ie which didn’t end because of Covid-19 CAN be rehired and furloughed).

Just a thought Mr McVay, but if you have two pages on your site which completely contradict each other and are causing such confusion that some companies are not furloughing their freelancers and thereby leaving them unable to pay their rent and food bills….

Like this, which says this:

And this, which says this:

It might be a bright idea (after a week of having them up) to remove the incorrect one and stop sowing chaos in people’s lives.

Just a thought.

Channel 4 hits the bottom with a thud.

Working life in our industry is going to get a lot tougher after we all emerge from lockdown, that we know for sure. But Channel 4 don’t want to wait that long it seems. This broadcaster currently has its own well-publicised woes but it appears that the way they are responding is not to cut back on their own expectations but simply to hack away at the workers who make their shows for them.

In this way word has reached various Facebook freelancer groups of a production currently being made for Channel 4 which is offering jaw droppingly low rates of pay – including a pay rate of £400 for four weeks work as a data wrangler.

Yes, you did read that right. £20 a day. 5 days a week. For a month.

It’s a job which HMRC classify as one that must be PAYE and hence falls under the minimum wage regulations, however when I asked about that – a total of eight times – they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) confirm that the person who took that job would indeed get paid at least the legal minimum.

They also wouldn’t (or couldn’t) answer the question of whether they would be slashing all their rates on all productions in a similar way, based on the current situation.

It seems then that Channel 4 has now decided to place itself right at the very bottom of the market when it comes to paying for their shows, a place traditionally held by the likes of those local channels which run endless talking head shows and old films. No cutting their cloth, much easier to cut everyone else’s instead it seems.

Freelancers be warned in that case; any thought of paying your bills while working on a production for that outfit are likely to face some disappointment in the future.

It does leave the question though – if you can’t budget a production sufficiently to enable you to pay workers at least the legal minimum, then is it maybe time to give up the game entirely?

A few of the thoughts from freelancers on Facebook:

New furlough guidelines are out – and it is excellent news!

Because they confirm what we knew all along: contracts can indeed be renewed (even if they have expired) and workers can be put on furlough until the end of the scheme (currently the end of June).

Despite all the chaff thrown into the air by PACT over the past two weeks, this is confirmation of the details contained in the email sent to the Watercooler in rapid response to the question asked of the Director of Covid-19 Policy Coordination on Tuesday.

Specifically, these are the parts of the PACT guidance which do not apply:

“Where a fixed term contract has ended naturally, an employer cannot re-engage that individual and furlough them under the scheme”.

The new guidelines are much clearer that the above does not apply, endorsing what HMRC Customer Support have been saying repeatedly over the past two weeks:

An employee on a fixed term contract can be re-employed, furloughed and claimed for if either:

their contract expired after 28 February 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 28 February 2020 (or)

their contract expired after 19 March 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020

If the employee’s fixed term contract has not already expired, it can be extended, or renewed. You can claim for them if an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020″.

There is also no mention of there having to be work for the freelancer to return to, as specified in PACT’s guidance:

(There must be) “some remaining work still to be done under the contract, and the prospect of returning to complete that work at some point in the future”.

It is also not the case that the worker’s contract itself must have ended due to Covid-19, only that the employers’ business in general must have been affected (which is clearly the case where pretty much all commissions have dried up due to lockdown). Here is what the guidance says about that:

“It is designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to retain their employees and protect the UK economy. However, all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the government recognises different businesses will face different impacts from coronavirus”

All in all then, a great result and clear freedom for companies to do what almost all had been striving hard to do: to furlough as many freelancers as they possibly can.

No doubt PACT will be racing hard to amend its guidance so it fits in with what the government guidelines actually say. It took them one day to change them last time, let’s see if they will be inclined to be so fast this time…

Dear government…

An email just sent to Cerys Mcdonald, director of CV-19 policy co-ordination:

Dear Cerys,

I apologise for bothering you at such a busy time but I am writing about the conflicting interpretations being offered by HMRC about the CJRS, where it relates to PAYE freelancers.

I would be grateful if you could look at these two responses, both given by HMRC Customer Services in the last hour. They are two entirely contradictory answers to the same question which was put to them about rehiring and then furloughing workers whose contracts have come to an end:

These two responses match a vast number of others given by HMRC over the past four days and have resulted in chaos being inflicted on the lives of freelancers in the TV industry by the rewriting of the CJRS. It was this kind of thing which has caused a large number of TV production companies to feel they had to withdraw the offers they had made to furlough their workers, resulting in many people suddenly discovering they no longer had the means to pay their bills over the next few months.

It clearly is not the fault of the benighted HMRC representatives in Customer Services when they do this – not when the official guidelines have been written with such a lack of clarity. Please, please then can someone in authority confirm, as soon as possible, that what Rishi Sunak said in his Twitter live feed on April 3rd does still apply – that “if you were on payroll on the 28th February and then left – for whatever reason – the company can indeed take you back and then furlough you”.

The longer this confusion is allowed to continue, the less chance there is that companies in our industry will take the risk of doing what this scheme clearly set out to achieve: to be a lifeline for workers in these incredibly difficult times.

Would it be possible to address this? I would be grateful if you could let me know.

(And when you do know, y’know, do something about it please).