New review in for the National Youth Film Academy.

This comes from Trustpilot and provide a good balance against the paid for/invited reviews by the company (which most of the positive ones are).

1. Do not trust them. Hard not to call them a SCAM.

Spend your money elsewhere. They will lock you into a contract and not deliver. Happy to take your money but not answer the phone. I applied for the August 2022 intake for the SetReady programme. Part of the contract stipulates that there can be no changes to the dates you sign on for under any circumstances except for Covid.

Two nights before heading down to London for a week, I received an email from NYFA stating the programme was cancelled and everyone would be changed onto the April programme citing the cost of living crisis.
We were told to submit a response on their form and we would be contacted within 10 days to resolve this issue on a case-by-case basis.

To this date, I have received only one email from Rob himself after I sent a strongly worded email detailing my disappointment in the company and how I will be pushing this issue through small claims court.

They have a major issue with answering their own phones. If you manage to get through to them, there isn’t much further conversation other than “I don’t know his schedule”.

All in all, I cannot help but feel as though they have preyed upon my eagerness to enter the industry.

The programme is poorly managed, the clothing has not been sent, and the communication is nonexistent.

I had high hopes for them because they supposedly are associated with some high-profile actors and actresses, whom I am sure would not like to know that their names are tied to a company that takes advantage of young people pursuing their dreams.

Date of experience: 17 August 2022

Nikky Akinwande. ProductionWorld.

In the last week a job advert has appeared on many Facebook TV industry pages. The role is to work as a Production Assistant on an Apple TV Production, pay £500-600 per week.

So far so normal. But what isn’t quite so normal is what applicants discovered they had to do to be considered for the position.

At this point enter Nikky Akinwande who had advertised the job via her newly formed company “Production World“. As soon as people applied, they received an automatic email back thanking them for their CV and telling them that, to even be considered for the role, every applicant was required to take part in her two week “TV Production Training Course” first.

Whilst the course was free, this happening so soon after Akinwade set up her company does raise the suspicion that this process is more about being a marketing exercise to promote her company and its wares than being a legitimate way of recruiting for a job, not least because (by her own admission) Apple TV had not asked her to set up any training scheme like this as part of the job application process.

When asked, Akinwande was unable to explain why anyone should have to be trained in order to apply for a starter job in the industry, what the job involves, what genre of programming it is for, how long it’s for or what are the criteria are for selection (a “test” she will apparently set at the end).

Needless to say, all this is somewhat concerning. It is also the case that this training (based on the first one that took place) was pretty insubstantial at best, and only what might be expected from someone who doesn’t have much in the way of TV production experience, and what there is at a fairly junior level. An hour a day over two weeks would be spreading that experience and knowledge very thin indeed, all for the chance of maybe being in contention for this unsubtantiated vacancy (or even “vacancies” – Akinwande doesn’t seem sure on this point – having advertised one position, she is now claiming there are “several”, even though she isn’t specific about what those roles actually are).

Until Nikky Akinwade provides more details about all this and why anyone should trust that there is actually a job at the end of it, caution is strongly recommended.

**EDIT** Two things worth noting about this company/individual:

  1. On the company’s LinekedIn page, Akinwande describes it as “The Largest Production Community for Freelancers and Companies” which does show a rather inflated sense of its own worth given that the company was founded only a few months ago, has no website and seems to consist only of her. Hardly a very honest start to the business of offering services to the TV industry.
  2. Akinwande was once a pastor of SPAC Nation Church. It’s now closed down but resurfaced as Nxtion Family. It closed under allegations of financial exploitation by senior church personnel. It is not clear whether Akinwande has herself has joined up with the new iteration of this set up.

A new low for the National Youth Film Academy.

The National Youth Film Academy has been a regular feature on the pages of The Watercooler over the past few years. Unsurprising when there are so many ex-customers who have had poor experiences of the over-priced and under-delivering “courses” they offer.

Time to feature that august institution once again, as word comes in of their latest recruitment activities. This month the NYFA, through Programme Leader Brooke Ward, auditioned and signed up a 16 year old to one of their courses over two Zoom calls. This person was on Universal Credit (£265.31 a month) so a payment of £93 a month for 12 months was clearly a huge chunk of her available income.

As she was also only 16, the company required a parent signature but no checks were made on this, nor whether she could really afford these payments, nor that it was right for her and that she knew the implications of signing away this sum of money for what many have found to be a pretty worthless offering. They also signed her up for a “Spring Social” (£8) and for the “Film Awards” (£29.99) to boot.

When she asked for her money back the company, having been very happy and responsive to sign her up, displayed a noticeable silence in response to her email explaining that she had changed her mind, as is often their wont. As others have noted, and a current Trustpilot review of the company reflects signing you up and getting your money is very much their first priority:

Follow up emails over several days also failed to garner a response, right up to the moment where the Watercooler made contact with the owner of the company, Lauren Hendry. She didn’t respond (and still has not in any way at all) but all of a sudden, her partner and sometime CEO, Rob Earnshaw (aka Rob James) jumped to attention, now apparently full of huge contrition that such an awful set of circumstances should have taken place, explaining how he would of course now be putting it all right. In the event, the young person in question had cancelled the Direct Debits just in time so that only one month’s payments were taken and had to be returned.

One wonders how quickly Earnshaw might have jumped without the thought of all the negative publicity that this might attract, given that numerous people have reported that once this company has your money there is usually next to no chance of getting it back. Viz Trustpilot again on that:

Leaving that aside, on what planet do these people live that they feel it is acceptable to sign up anyone who is on Universal Credit for a £900 a year commitment (plus extras) for a course which doesn’t even have a start date, let alone someone who is clearly too young and without making any appropriate safeguarding checks.

This company is currently recruiting again for these courses. Caution be thy watchword.

And NB: Do not be bamboozled by the name. It may have the same acronym as the prestigious “New York Film Academy” but this NYFA bears no comparison to that institution. The National Youth Film “Academy” is nothing more than a profit-seeking company peddling what it calls “courses” but which mostly consists of putting groups of inexperienced individuals together, giving them a camera and letting them get on with making a film.

There are a few more chargeable events along the way followed by an “awards ceremony” (for which they also charge you and your loved ones to attend) and the perfunctory business of handing out “awards” to as many people as they can. 

There is no accreditation, no external mnitoring, no assessment, no qualifications and hence no value for your CV in taking part in this kind of thing. At best you make a few friends along the way – for which you will be shelling out hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

Best advice: Avoid.

Ascendant Fox Films. Bart Ruspoli, Hester Ruoff.

A warning for any freelancers working for (or intending to work for) a company called Ascendant Fox Films.

This company has recently employed a number of freelancers on terms which look to be in contravention of HMRC’s guidance on taxation of junior workers (including Runners).

As most employers in the industry know, HMRC are clear that there is only a limited number of grades of workers which can legitimately be treated as self employed and be responsible for their own tax and NI. These are only workers with higher levels of responsibility and the ability to control their own time and work etc (guidance to which HMRC also lays out here).

Ascendant Fox Films (Bart Ruspoli, Hester Ruoff) seem not to be following these rules with respect to junior staff on their production “Gassed Up“. When asked about this, Ruspoli claims that, as the workers involved have signed a contract that declared that the worker will be responsible for their own Tax and NI, that that then absolves the company of responsibility of having to do so.

It does not, however, work like that of course as (obviously) employers can’t draw up contracts which might suit themselves financially but might break tax laws. The company then promised to make further checks (presumably with HMRC) but then stopped responding when asked the outcome.

If you are currently employed by this company in this way and you think you might be being taxed incorrectly you would be very wise to contact your tax office and report the situation. Your rights to some benefits are contingent upon having a good NI record and may well be affected if companies like this don’t do things properly, as well as potentially causing all kinds of other grief (eg unnecessarily having to fill in a tax return every year) as a result.

Vice. The Cowboy Kings of Crypto.

There is very little which irritates freelancers in our industry more than not being paid on time. And it’s particularly aggravating when big companies do it, given that they usually have ample funds and should know better.

Step forward then Vice, which has recently featured heavily on social media as a company which failed to pay freelancers on time who worked on their production “The Cowboy Kings of Crypto” (for Viceland). Worse still the failure to pay came after repeated promises that said the money would appear on given dates, which then did not actually turn up in freelancers’ accounts. After all the fuss, Vice now promises that everyone will be paid tomorrow but this only happened after the Production Manager got so (rightly) fed up with the delays that he walked off the show.

When asked why the promised payments had not turned up as agreed, Dan Bowen (Vice President of Production) blamed a “clerical issue” for the last failure to pay, but these were all overdue by then anyway. When asked if he would confirm that all freelancers could claim late payment fees, he did not respond.

It is, of course, not up to the company to choose whether to pay late fees and interest or not, it’s a statutory requirement. So if any freelancer wants to claim, they need only invoice and the company must cough up. All details on the gov.uk site.

Hopefully after all the bad publicity, Vice will see the wisdom of paying workers on time for their work in the future. Time (and freelancers) will no doubt tell…

Grierson Hero of the Year Award.

News in from The Grierson Trust:

For the second year running, we are presenting a Hero of the Year Award – sponsored by The Talent Manager – which seeks to highlight the unsung talent of documentary and factual TV.

The deadline for nominations for this award has now been extended to 12 September. Nominations are free and can be made for anyone matching the below criteria:

  • They should have contributed behind-the-scenes to the factual and/or documentary industry – whether their impact is wide reaching or on a day-to-day level with their colleagues. They can be at any level of their career from new starters to established execs and further afield 
  • The work they are nominated for should have largely taken place between June 2021 and May 2022 (the same eligibility period as the films submitted to the Griersons) 

You can find suggested social and newsletter copy here.

Also known as the Griersons, or Grierson Awards, the British Documentary Awards celebrate excellence across a variety of documentary genres and are a key date in documentary and factual filmmakers’ calendars. You can find out more information here.

Rick Taylor.

Surprising it might seem but in 2022 it appears there is at least one employer working in the production industry (or claims to be) who has yet to catch up on a piece of legislation that was passed some twenty five years ago.

It’s the one that says that you really must pay the people who work for you and is called The National Minimum Wage Act which – to save anyone having to trawl through and parse the stiflingly dull legal language therein – basically says that if you take on someone and expect them to do work for you, that person does have to be paid a minimum amount for their time and labour.

The individual in question is called Rick Taylor, a self-described “Sports TV entrepreneur and Fashion Show personality” and also sometime alumnus of the University of Hertfordshire and former employee of British Sky Broadcasting.

Lately Rick has taken to wandering around industry employment pages on Facebook touting for workers, but not ones he would actually like to pay thank you very much:

When asked how he might legitimately be able to avoid having to pay these Runners, Rick said “like most new shows they have no/little budget none of my crew is getting paid at the moment until sponsors start paying me which won’t be until September/October (this is normal for the entertainment business)” . When the folly of this was pointed out, he responded with

Not wishing to challenge the superior knowledge of someone who has worked for BOTH Sky AND Channel 5 (as well as being a “fashion show personality”), it may benefit Rick to check out some of what has happened over the past twenty years in terms of what TV production employers now do if they want to take on Runners (ie treat them like human beings and pay them for their work). And he might consider stopping being such an arse too obviously.

Anyone who has the misfortune of working for this individual on one of his sports shows and who finds they aren’t being paid for their work, do get in touch about how to make a claim for that pay.

But meanwhile: Rick Taylor: Freelancers beware!

Chatterbox Media and their treatment of freelancers.

Hot on the heels of the reports of bullying and poor treatment of freelancers by Marc Hayward and Spark Content comes another similar tale, this time about Chatterbox Media and one of its founders, Nav Raman.

The article speaks for itself but one thing is fast becoming clear – if you treat workers in our industry badly, you can expect to reap the consequences. Times are long gone when freelancers bit their tongue in the face of unacceptable beahviour for fear of losing work as a result.

Now publications like Deadline (and of course, the Watercooler itself) are more than willing to stand up and call out this kind of nonsense without any danger to the livelihood of the freelancers involved (who almost always ask for anonymity and rightly get it).

Worth remembering if you find yourself a victim of companies which engage in this kind of thing. There is always a willing ear and free and confidential advice to be had (derrywatson@gmail.com).

Get up, stand up…

In the olden days, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the TV picture was made up of 405 black and white lines, employers in the TV industry had developed the bad habit of using unpaid workers to staff the junior levels of their productions on the basis that it was “good experience” for them. Bit like it being good to beat children to stop them talking too much or to make them use their potty.

We now live in more enlightened times of course. But that didn’t happen just by accident, it came about because a group of industry freelancers got together (online) and decided to agitate for something to be done to stop that kind of thing, as well as the practice of employers using freelancers for illegally long hours of work and failing to give paid holiday (or payments in lieu) to their workers.

As a result employers don’t now use unpaid workers. And they do pay holiday pay. And……well let’s put the long hours thing to one side (you can’t win them all). All in all though TVWRAP is generally now considered to have been a thoroughly good thing, loved by all and everyone (except John McVay of PACT of course, who moaned and grumbled but was summarily forced to make his members bite the bullet and treat their workers fairly).

So how did it all happen? Well if you’re interested to know then do read this, a piece that’s just been written by two whiskery old boffins from the groves of academe, one of whom being one of those very people who did that agitating thing way back then when he was a boy.

If nothing else it does illustrate that direct action can work, opening your mouth when things aren’t as they should be is the right thing to do and that it takes just a few people with a head of steam and an online presence to effect change for the better.

Happy 17th Birthday TVWRAP.