Vox Pictures and their unpaid Runners.

There was a time, many many years ago, when TV and Film companies used to hire new entrants to the industry, use them for a few weeks and then send them on their merry way, completely unpaid on the basis of it being “work experience”.

After a while (and the odd campaign or two) news quickly spread that doing that kind of thing was a) not very nice, b) socially divisive and and c) probably illegal given that there are minimum wage regulations that all employers must work under.

So where I wonder, were the people who run Vox Pictures (Pip Broughton and Adrian Bate) while all this was going on? Word, it seems, has not reached the company’s ears that if you take on people to work for you, you do actually have to pay them so that – you know – they can put food on the table and that sort of thing, even if they are getting experience while slogging away.

Vox Pictures have been busy making “The Trick”, a “landmark film for the BBC”. Last month they took on several unpaid runners on one of their shoots to make teas and coffees, staff the car parks, work as location marshalls and support the Covid medic. These runners did this for hours on end, working full days under the instruction of the Line Producer in the hours that were dictated to them.

While doing this, not one of them received any opportunity to train or shadow, nor were they given any kind of career support or advice; they simply turned up and worked. They were also not told when they were recruited that they would not be paid, it was simply assumed by the company and they found out after they had started.

They were take on via the University of East Anglia (UEA), who offered up several of their graduating students. They were no longer studying (and anyway did not need to do work experience as part of their courses) so I asked the company – what exception of the regulations were they relying on that meant that these runners did not need to be paid, given that it could not be as “work experience”.

Vox’s answer was that, as it was an opportunity for them to gain access and knowledge to the industry, it should therefore “not be a paid experience”. It’s an interesting argument that, and one I heartily recommend you try on the staff at Tesco when you try to walk out without paying for your bag of groceries.

Given that Vox Pictures were clearly not in the mood to open their pockets (nb you can be certain that both Pip Broughton and Adrian Bate are being well remunerated by their own company for their work), I asked Chris Price, the lecturer at UEA who had put up these ex-students, if he would explain the situation so that they could get some payment (and something they could usefully use as a credit on their CV). He did not bother to respond however and it transpired that, far from doing that, he was happy to encourage the company in their endeavours not to pay any of them. Worth remembering if you are thinking of applying for a course at that particular University, their care for your prospects obviously evaporates once they’ve pocketed your tuition fee cash.

Surely the BBC would step in though, they surely would not want there to be unpaid workers on one of their commissioned productions? I asked Piers Wenger, who commissioned the film but he couldn’t even summon up the interest to reach for his keyboard to respond. So I asked BBC HR. Yes they said, the BBC is always keen to ensure that “employees, trainees and those on work experience are treated…fairly, with respect and in accordance with the law and we extend that commitment to our suppliers”. So will they do so in this case? Oh…ah…um…maybe not actually do anything, no. Well done BBC HR.

When “The Trick” does comes out, it will be worth searching the list of credits for the names of those Runners. I’m guessing you won’t find them though – the company is as unlikely to want to highlight their existence as they were to put their hands in their pockets to pay them for their hard work.

Still, they are only Runners aren’t they. Who gives a shit?

Vox Pictures. Remember the name.