Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap

A freelancer’s work flow can be unpredictable and irregular at the best of times, but cries of hard times seem to be even more prevalent as freelancers attempt to sit-out the apparent production-crunch. If this rings true to you, maybe part-time work or a 2nd job is something you’ve already considered? This week I talk to some PB members who are already living out this reality and offers some insight into how they’re muddling through.

It’s an open secret that relatively few television freelancers can rely on their TV production work alone to pay all of their bills, all the time. And yet, there’s an embarrassment about what else people do in the gaps between contracts, almost as if they are showing weakness in their commitment to television by doing other things… I asked a range of ProductionBase members of all grades to tell me, in strictest confidence of course, what they actually do when they are not working in production… Of all the jobs mentioned by people, the biggest earner was also the most striking.

Instead, indies and broadcasters could be grateful to their workforce for getting out there to work in other roles, meeting people in different contexts, and celebrate their eclecticism. Maybe those companies should also worry that so many of their workforce need to work elsewhere to make ends meet.

I asked a range of ProductionBase members of all grades to tell me, in strictest confidence of course, what they actually do when they are not working in production. I’m grateful to all those who were frank and generous with their feedback. This isn’t a scientific study, just a snapshot, but it may give you a picture of what your colleagues are doing out there, and perhaps it will give you some pointers too.

It’s not surprising perhaps that junior people are more reliant on interim jobs in between production contracts than their more senior work mates. If you are newer to television work then you will still be building up your support networks and you may have longer gaps between contracts; and you will be paid much less than your senior counterparts who are able to save while they are working so that they can cover their costs for longer when they are not.

Temping: every kind of person has temped, including runners and executive producers. It’s a quick, reliable and relatively anonymous way to earn some cash, and gives the flexibility to start and stop according to your production schedule, and can send you to any kind of business. Some people have regular temporary office work that they can step into when they need it, one in a solicitors’ office, one for a housing association, and one took a long stretch as office runner for a music commercial company (but said that this paid particularly badly). I was surprised that only one person noted that bar work was their main filler, and no one said they had tried restaurant or catering work.

Transcribing is popular for those with the typing skills, you work your own hours from home, and the hourly rate is very healthy compared to a lot of temping work. Call centre work doesn’t all come from Bangalore, and one of our members says that working in a call centre was the best paid work with best hours that he’d had within a two year period. Another is an occasional teaching assistant.

On camera: one PB member will soon be seen donning a white coat as a junior doctor on Holby City and as a passer-by in an upcoming BBC fashion-based drama – extras work pays quite well, even better if you say a line. She found the work through her 3rd AD housemate. Another is a model, but rather than fashion, she described the photographer’s work as, “nice arty and gritty stuff, so that’s good money and good fun too”.

Off camera: of course some people are still using their TV production or editorial skills but in a different way. One respondent recently spent a few days shooting interviews with some bands towards a piece on the UK music scene for the Visit Britain website. Another writes occasional articles for the Independent. More than a few producers have started writing only to find that it takes an ever larger part of their working life. It’s public knowledge that PB member, Ian Taylor, recently published the very enjoyable TV based novel “The Big Story”. Science producer, Christopher Hale, lifted the lid on a little-known Nazi expedition to the Himalayas in “Himmler’s Crusade” and he has another history book in the pipeline. Successful detective novel writer, John Lawton, is a TV director manqué.

Of all the jobs mentioned by people, the biggest earner was also the most striking. One member had worked as a lap-dancer in order to raise the necessary money to move to London and find a job in TV. She noted that nothing else beats it for pay and flexibility, “If I ever had a big gap and needed to pay the bills, and only work 3 nights a week where you can make £1500 – £2000 (in London), then it seems like a good option as it also means you can do any work that crops up”.

All of this is not to take away from the fact that finding the next production contract can be a full-time job in itself, even taking into account the sophisticated algorithms of ProductionBase aiming to make the task easier. Pretty well everyone I contacted spends time networking, developing up their own programme ideas, building new contacts, selling their worldly goods on Ebay or making their house spotlessly clean and tidy.

The advice to every freelancer from one contributor was very simple, “Look after yourself, keep a proactive physical and mental attitude, take it day by day, and look out for any opportunities.”