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!