Without naming names, a thread, about television…

…is how Matthew starts his Twitter thread. What follows is a story which really needs to be shared. Here’s what he has to say:

1) Without naming names, a thread, about television. TV is probably one of the worst industries for this where the hours are just a given. I think we have ‘officially’ gotten it down to a 12hr day including one lunch, but that’s not enforced, and it’s a given you will do more.

2) That 1 hour lunch, if you’re in the art dept as opposed to camera etc, you’re not getting. You can eat, only if you work. Your commute is not part of that minimum 12 hour day so if you live an hour away from whatever location it is, well, tough (prod rarely pays accommodation)

3) The long days are one thing, but they are also hyper-stressful long days because it’s *always* stuff that has suddenly become due for tomorrow. Most large TV shows now live in a constant state of make it up as you go along, so you effectively walk into work every day with no…

4) idea how the day will pan out, but it’s your problem to fix that. There’s three major reasons for this. The principal one is the horrific rise of star-writer led television. The golden goose creator beholden to no-one, who can hand in scripts whenever they feel like, & change…

5) a scene on a whim. There’s a well known writer on here who is much beloved and does a lot of advocating for a better society. That same person would also never hand in scripts, or only hand in drafts where the final thing would be the complete opposite of what youd prepped for…

6) so every. single. set. was a horrible confusing nightmare. Then at 7pm they would change their mind on what the finished set would be anyway, so you would work till 10pm to meet their whim, & come in again at 5am to make sure it was ready for camera. 2-3 times a week at least…

7) You can argue that as the writer/creative lead they don’t necessarily understand the impact of what they’re asking, but after years in TV it would seem impossible for them not to know. In my experience they chose to not know, which leads to problem 2…

8) Department heads nearly all refuse to push back on this, because they want to be seen to please, and ultimately, it’s very rarely them staying late – they can filter it down to the lower people, usually saying “don’t stay too late!” as they waft out the door at 7…

9) As a rule, department heads will happily murder their entire team to stay in the producer/director’s good books, because art departments are generally fairly replaceable, and in this line of work you should always be thinking of the job after the one you’re currently doing.

10) Overtime is usually unpaid – the trick is that producers have to approve overtime – but when the request comes in it’s usually past 7 when they’ve all gone home. Effectively, if you don’t do the work for free, the production fails and it’s pretty much on you.

11) Which leads to problem 3 – if you’re not getting paid for the overtime, then they’re not logging it, so they can pretend it doesn’t happen, so no change occurs. A lot of jobs will give you a timesheet already filled in that you can’t alter, with nice, neat, legal days.

12) 2017-2018 was probably one of the most stressful periods of my life. On Bodyguard I was leaving the house at 5:30, & getting back in at 11. Every single day, including weekends, for weeks and weeks. I couldn’t quit the job, because I knew the same would happen to my juniors.

13) at one point it was basically live TV. I finally managed to quit that job once the worst of the work was done (with 5 weeks to go) as an act of principle, and then walked into Blinded By The Light which was, somehow, worse. I worked the usual 15 hour days, as well as being

14) on stby for the nightshoots. When you’re sleep deprived for a long time as well as pressured a lot, fairly irrational Very Dark Thoughts start floating to the surface. Luckily that job was fairly short, & I got onto Black Mirror, which was practically a holiday by comparison.

15) A few weeks after that, though, a weird mystery, MS-y brain problem cropped up which persists to this day (doctors best guess is “stress” but unable to diagnose), and it is mental to think that I likely got ill for the sake of the idiot box, but here we are.

16) Film is much (much) better regulated, but television – even the high end stuff – is the complete wild west. Since we’ve come back from Covid, I have seen so many people – ever younger – burn out from how brutal it is now.

17) The industry has been entering an ever-tightening sprial over the last few years as it packs months, weeks, days, ever-tighter, with creatives left unmanaged as their star starts to rise. It’s approaching a weird critical mass and I don’t know what happens next.

18) there’s no useful ending to this, but: I should go to bed

19) A designer I knew died a recently after a job for a famously awful director. Obviously I can’t link those two together factually, but I remember the designer well, and the way he worked with me on other jobs, and: it makes you think. Quite a lot.

20) after over a decade, I’ve learned to replace aspiration with sleep, and have a circle of designers I work with who are excellent human beings, so, it’s not all bad news, but that knowledge comes much, much too late for a lot of people in my line work.

So well said Matthew. We salute you sir.