The National Youth Film Academy and the curious case of the Trustpilot reviews…

Ever wondered how the NYFA manages to secure so many glowing reviews on Trustpilot when its courses have come in for such negative opinion elsewhere?

Then wonder no longer. The answer lies in an email from NYFA founder Rob Earnshaw to former course members, offering to cross their palms with silver if they convey lots of warm words about their experience:

I am writing to ask if you would be able to leave a review of the National Youth Film Academy on Trust Pilot?” he says.

“The reason we have created a Trust Pilot account is so that we can share with future employers and members success stories from our company. We are writing to past Members, Tutors, Parents, assistants and Mentors. The more positive reviews we have, the easier it is for us to engage with employers so as to build the reputation of the NYFA and the Members we represent”.

In case it isn’t clear what he wants, he goes on to say:

If you could leave a positive review about your experience it would be greatly appreciated

And in case you were wondering why you should bother to do that, the answer lies in nice big bold letters at the end:

We would like to offer you £25.00 for your time. Once you have created your review, please can you email me back a link to your review along with your bank details and I shall ensure that monies are paid within 2 working
days”.

So those Trustpilot reviews aren’t exactly impartial evidence of the quality of its courses then. Worth remembering if they should tempt you into forking over large sums of money for their (much lambasted) offering in the future.

Enough Talk – Time for Action.

A big callout from our friend Adeel Amini from The TV Mindset. He’s going up to Edinburgh (in a virtual kind of way) next week to host a roundtable with various TV movers and shakers, to talk about freelancers’ rights.

He’s the man who’s making this happen, on behalf of all of us, so the least we can do is to give him some ammunition to load into his pop gun when he’s holding feet to flames and noses to grindstones and probably lots of other tortuous torture metaphors.

So here’s what he wants from you, in his own words:

Enough talk: Time For Action.

Everything we’ve done over the last few months has led to this. Next week The TV Mindset joins forces with the Edinburgh TV Festival to put freelancer issues back in the spotlight. Whether it’s recruitment, diversity, hours, bullying, or any other issue, we’ll be demanding action from indies (Tuesday), broadcasters (Thursday) and then all the way to the very top – and I mean the *very* top – for public, written commitment at the start of the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Our employers are beginning to forget about what we’ve been through, and what we continue to go through every single day. This is our chance to come together and make some real change in a public forum that cannot be ignored. We make this industry go round, and our voices will not go unheard.

To do that, The TV Mindset needs the help of every freelancer, everyone who’s ever resonated with one of our posts, and everyone who’s ever felt bullied or damaged or ignored by this industry. We need you to:

1) Register for these sessions here: https://www.thetvfestival.com/whats-on/digital-weeklies/
2) Send your stories, questions, or solutions in to adeelamini@gmail.com
3) Share this event as far and wide as possible.

I’ve said before that I will do everything in my power to make sure that this industry doesn’t come out of this crisis the way it went in. This is that moment, and it needs every freelancer to show up. To speak up. To fight together like never before.

I can’t even begin to relate how difficult, fraught, and taxing the last few weeks have been in getting these sessions together. But if we can make this crisis and our pain mean something – *anything* – then it will all be worthwhile.

I hope we can count on your support, and I hope we can do you all justice. See you there.

So, as Adeel says – Time for Action – please help him by doing the above!

Mamma Marketing “internships”

Big red flags are waving over adverts which have started appearing on various job sites over the past few weeks, all posted by an organisation called “Mamma Marketing“.

This company appears to be basing its business model on hiring “interns” to work for them to edit videos for their clients. Adverts for writers have also been appearing, based at a variety of different locations, the common theme being that those who are lucky enough to be selected will have the opportunity to receive feedback on the work they do for Mamma’s clients.

There is no mention of pay on any of these adverts (despite asking for a year’s experience) and the company isn’t answering the question either, the postings simply suggesting that paid work might be possible after 3-6 months. Coincidentally the company is also offering new business clients the opportunities of testing their services for a six month trial priced “at only a fraction of what the vast majority of digital agencies ask for“. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to join the dots here on how the company may be able to offer such a cheap service for new business…

So a warning then: if you are thinking of applying for an internship at Mamma Marketing, you may wish to check whether you will be paid for your work on their client business (and you should expect a reasonable rate for skilled work). And if you are a potential client you may wish to ask how this very cheap introductory offer is being funded.

Mamma Marketing – beware!

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!

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