Mothers working in Unscripted – a survey

Useful and interesting piece of research here. If you fit the bill, it would be great if you could take part.

On the eve of UK schools reopening after a third national lockdown, and after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Nottingham are launching a major academic research project into the impact of the pandemic on mothers working in unscripted television.

The research project Locked Down and Locked Out? The Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mothers working in the UK Television Industry was proposed by Share My Telly Job Co-Director Natalie Grant, who said: 

“It has long been known that the ‘motherhood penalty’ is very real and painfully prevalent in the TV industry. Recent research has indicated that across all industries, mums have suffered exponentially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and been disproportionately affected by job losses, the burden of home-schooling, caring for sick and elderly relatives and a lack of childcare. This research will be really important in highlighting exactly how mothers in unscripted television have been impacted and what the industry could and should be doing to support them better.”

The research is being led by the Institute for Screen Industries Research at The University of Nottingham, in partnership with SMTJ and the Telly Mums Network, and is being supported by Bectu. Leading on the research is Professor Helen Kennedy who said:

“The pandemic has revealed longstanding weaknesses in the way we as a society organise childcare and employment, and this is particularly true in industries like TV where work cultures, practices and attitudes place many barriers to equal participation for mothers. This research presents a unique opportunity to understand how women’s caring responsibilities intersect with demographic, spatial and structural inequalities in order to inform better policy and practice responses towards a more equitable post- COVID future.”

Cheryl Woodcock, founder of Telly Mums Network said:

“Since Telly Mums Network launched in April 2019, the message has been loud and clear from our community: telly mums need support. Combining a career in television with motherhood has always presented enormous challenges but the additional pressures of the past year have left many women feeling that it is entirely untenable. This research is so important, and the industry must take note of what is happening to a really valuable section of our workforce, and act to avoid further talent drain.”

Head of Bectu, Philippa Childs said:

“Existing research tells us that working mothers encounter systemic disadvantages in terms of pay, perceived competence and benefits, and that in the TV industry there exists a disproportionate rate of exit for women over 35. We also know from last year’s FTVC report that the industry was already in the midst of a mental health crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research will be crucial in understanding how mothers in the industry have been affected over the last 12 months and Bectu are very pleased to be supporting this vital work.”

To participate in the survey please follow this link.

The survey is open to all mothers working in unscripted television and a full report will be published later this year.

Alex Macaulay. Blackbull Lighting for Film, Television and Video.

Another company and individual for freelancers to take a wide berth around – Alex Macaulay and his company Blackbull Lighting for Film, Television and Video, formerly based at 3 Mills Studios.

Mr Macaulay, sometime gaffer/lighting technician seems happy enough to employ freelancers but not quite so keen when it comes to actually putting his hand in his pocket to pay for the services he has had. He now has a CCJ lodged against his name but that might well not stop him from doing more of the same in the future.

Freelancers beware.

Peter Wilson. Nouveau Media

A firm warning for anyone who is considering working for an individual called Peter Wilson (also known as “Vladimir Wilson“). Nouveau Media is a company he set up to make a pilot show (“Students”) which failed to pay numerous freelancers who worked on the production.

It seems that Mr Wilson has walked away from his commitments on this one but caution should be exercised by all freelancers if he decides to set up under a new name and have another go in the future, which apparently is his plan.

With his record, it is probably best all round if he detached himself from any media ventures in the future.

Spoke TV/Northern Dragon Media. Andy Lewis

This company (in production of a YouTube series, Shaun & Bez: Call The Cops) is currently unwilling or unable to pay the freelancers who work on its shows.

Caution should be taken if embarking on any financial relationship with this company or individual – if you work for this set up, you may well end up unpaid!

Blink Productions – found guilty of not paying the minimum wage.

An update on a company which recently featured on the Watercooler, Blink Productions, run by Paul Weston and based in Wardour Street (not to be confused with the very reputable Blink Films).

After hearing complaints from a number of people who had been used for unpaid work experience at the company, it was suggested that a good way forward might be for people to make a complaint to HMRC about failure to pay the National Minimum Wage where it was due.

And it seems that that is exactly what did happen as it has now been confirmed that the company was paid a visit by the inspectors – who then found cause to investigate further.

After some rigorous digging through the books the results of that investigation are now in: that Blink was indeed not paying people what they were legally required to do and have now been made to cough up the arrears to those workers.

So a deserved smack on the wrists for that company – and a timely reminder that companies who do this kind of thing can be pursued and can be made to do what every other decent company does: pay at least the minimum to those who sit at the bottom rung of the work ladder .

Well done to those who brought the complaint – and if anyone hears of this company doing it again, do get in touch…

How To Get a Job in Television: Updated

Review, by Beth Bacon.

Elsa Sharp wrote the bestselling How to Get a Job in Television in 2008. Since then, Sharp has worked her way up at the BBC and is now Talent Executive for BBC Current Affairs. Necessarily, Sharp has now published an updated version of that original book and it is also available as a shortened eBook edition.

How to Get a Job in Television: Updated begins by explaining Sharp’s background. Starting this way illustrates a similar technique that can be used on LinkedIn and IMDB: tracking back through the career of someone you admire can demonstrate how they got to where they are today. Sharp allows the book to speak for itself: i.e., follow this advice and you too might carve out a similar route to success.

Sharp’s subtitles work as a sort of tree diagram: if you tick these boxes, then you can move onto the next step. This makes the book easy to navigate and satisfying for those of us that often doubt ourselves.

The guide helps to demystify the television industry and works to remove the long-held belief that getting a job in telly is about ‘who you know’ and ‘luck’ (that’s not to say networking and luck are unimportant). Sharp describes the best approach to getting a job in such a cutthroat line of work; it’s all about the three p’s: ‘patience, planning and persistence’. This, in turn, will hopefully help to make the industry more accessible and diverse. As Sharp mentions, ‘The BBC has a rider stipulating that TV production companies who make shows for them must ensure that 20% of their production teams are diverse.’ This is great, but we can always do better.  

Although Sharp’s eBook is informative and straightforward, it falls a little flat where workers’ rights are concerned. I understand that Sharp is trying to breed determined and proactive Runners when she describes how someone, who is now a Producer Director, ‘When he got his first job as a runner he slept in his car.’ I think this mindset is very dated and dangerous. There are many ways to get jobs in telly without having to sleep in your car. Runners should not be taken advantage of. Sharp also states that ‘In order to get paid work on a programme it’s essential to have some experience of working in TV by doing a placement at a TV company’. Working for free breeds elitism, as only those that can afford to do unpaid work experience will put themselves forward for it. Although I know Sharp is a hugely experienced and well-regarded member of the BBC, I think she could have used this platform to highlight the injustices that are still prevalent within our industry.

How To Get a Job In Television: Updated is not just for those who haven’t been on a set before. There are many aspects of the book that discuss areas of working in TV that many seasoned freelancers might not yet have reflected upon. This certainly is the case for me. Sharp recommends to ‘understand their [Production companies’] brands’, which makes complete sense. After all, if you’re applying for a long contract with a company, you want to make sure they align with your own values and interests. Sharp also reveals how ‘Many freelancers will work between three or four companies who make shows in a certain genre, moving around almost seasonally. They build long standing and enduring work friendships which serve as a network for future job opportunities.’ I hadn’t thought about applying to companies I had worked for in the past and building on those foundations that are already formed. This just goes to show, there is always so much more to learn. Every day is a school day in telly. In this way, How to Get a Job in Television provokes self-reflection and new perspectives.  

Sharp’s book is to inform. I love the way Sharp is brutally honest about the realities of the world of television. She describes how ‘It can seem off putting at first, insecure and unstable, but it is possible to develop the skills and experience to progress and having the right attitude and accepting these difficulties is key.’ TV is not for the faint-hearted and this should be understood from the get-go. Sharp describes how ‘It can destroy and make monsters of some. Bullying is rife and can bring out the worst behaviour to meet deadlines and deliver.’ It is good that this is mentioned, so to prepare newbies for the worst. Bullying is often swept under the carpet and not spoken about. Drawing attention to this issue illustrates that those at the top are aware of it and happy to discuss its danger. But, then again, by far and away most encounters I’ve experienced in TV, so far, have been positive and welcoming, and I’d advise those looking for a career in television not to be dissuaded by these words.

Using this can-do attitude, Sharp demonstrates the importance of sticking up for yourself through the example of wages: The ‘unofficial rate card’ where there are ‘pay ranges’. If you’re in an interview for an entry-level position and you’re uncertain what to say when they ask, ‘what’s your rate?’, you should consult this table. If you have been working as a Runner or Researcher for a while and your pay has gone up over time, it is fair to quote them your wage from your previous contract. For example, when I started out as a Runner, I was on a flat rate of £90 per day. After about a year of work I was getting paid £120 per day, plus expenses. So, whenever asked my rate in interviews I’d always make sure to quote them the rate given my experience at that time. The message to take back from this is: don’t undersell yourself.

I would recommend buying Sharp’s new book, provided you can manage your expectations. The range of jobs that can be pursued within the business are thoroughly explained from someone who has been in this line of work for many years.  There is also an incredibly useful ‘TV Industry Organisations’ section at the end, which lists all the places to apply for jobs. However, if you believe in workers’ rights and making the future brighter for those starting at the bottom, then I would recognise that Sharp’s anecdotes are past their sell-by date. Nonetheless, How to Get a Job in Television: Updated does what it says on the cover: it offers sound advice for getting a foot in the door of the TV world by a well-seasoned and highly regarded professional.

How To Get A Job in Television Updated by Elsa Sharp costs £5 and is available to buy here

Crew Network: Avoid.

There must have been a moment in time where some exec in some office somewhere took a long draw of his cigar, put his feet on his desk and threw out a crazy thought in an ideas meeting: “hey, why don’t we set up a thing where we gather up some TV jobs and then charge people to apply for them”?

No doubt that bright idea was met with some some concerns from someone about whether that was an entirely fair thing to do and how the law kind of forbids companies from doing that kind of thing, save to a narrow range of job grades. And no doubt that was met with a roar from said exec and the lobbing of a heavy ashtray at his or her head and the instruction to “do it anyway!”

Must be the reason why, every month or so, another company has the bright idea of doing the same thing and looks to make a bob or two out of eager – and sometimes desperate – work hungry freelancers despite those jobs all being available to anyone with access to Facebook or a helpful list of free-to-use job sites.

And now here’s another – Crew Network, run by Rhian Howells. It’s pretty much the same as all the others, except the price, looking to charge an eye watering £14.99 a month for access to jobs at various grades (including those forbidden by the regulations). It boasts of beings a “creative crew network community created ‘by the people, for the people'”, which is an interesting way of describing its desire to relieve you of your hard-earned cash.

The best thing to do if you come across that site is – like with all the others – to put your money back in your pocket and move on. Sites like that are quite simply bottom feeders in an industry where everything runs quite nicely thank you without someone trying to make a fast buck out of everyone else.

If you are looking for work in the industry and you don’t know where to start, try Facebook, which is where almost every employer now goes to find workers. Start by typing “People in TV” into the search field, but there are plenty of others alongside those.

And never pay to apply for work. You simply don’t need to.

Concord Rangers FC – want a worker, don’t want to pay.

Work for recent graduates is thin on the ground at the moment, for obvious reasons. A whole cohort of journalism and media graduates have just staggered out of their academic institutions, some £50,000 lighter in the pocket but at least secure in the knowledge that they now have some real, practical skills which will be of good value to employers, to deploy as soon as they are back in the recruitment game.

Much joy then when a cracking job turns up on social media. For a “Head of Media” (a title too!) no less, for a club called Concord Rangers FC. The position calls for someone to write articles for the matchday programme, conduct interviews, run the social media and generally busy themselves in the service the club.

A perfect opportunity then for someone who has just spent three years training for such an opportunity. Except for the not-so-small print on the advert:

Pay: a ticket to each home and away game.

Now most people, even those who like to watch a bit of football in their spare time, know that tickets to a Concord Rangers game aren’t likely to be accepted by the butcher, baker and candlestick maker when you go to buy your etc etc etc. Nor are they usually accepted as a payment in lieu of rent, or heating, or even beer. So how does this organisation expect this busy Head of Media to pay all his/her bills?

Well frankly, they don’t really seem too bothered by the details of all that. I asked Andy Smith of the club why this was not a paid job, given all the demands being made of this person and given the “pay” that they were offering. He however rather took umbrage at that question, saying he did not “wish to waste time responding to unproductive enquiries”.

“Unproductive” a rather fitting word to describe the job, given the circumstances. It seems that this is a football club which doesn’t much value the work they will be receiving or the workers doing it, given the lack of remuneration. I recommend whoever does take this job to raid the fridge while the team are on the pitch and run off with the half time lemons. That’ll leave a bitter taste in the mouth…

Red Alert – The Events Industry Hold A Day Of Action

Our colleagues in the Events Industry are holding a day of action NEXT TUESDAY 11th August. The idea is the raise awareness of an industry that remains totally closed down and with no end in sight. Find out more and support them if you can.

Register here to attend

Post expires at 6:31am on Wednesday August 12th, 2020