As always, it was very interesting to read the latest salary survey conducted by Televisual recently.
I was hoping to hear the long awaited news that production budgets were rising, working hours were being reduced, people had their weekends back and were feeling richer than they were this time last year.
Wishful thinking. It’s almost becoming the norm for many freelancers that their salaries really haven’t risen for at least 6 years or more. And of course, with inflation, this means in real terms they are worse off than they were. I guess if you’re a high flying exec within the comfy confines of a broadcaster or big indie, you might be immune to all this as salaries seem to be increasing or at least moving along in the right direction.
The ongoing discussion on our Watercooler forum headed ‘Camera Person with Own Kit: £100’ gets to the heart of the worries of thousands of TV freelancers. At first reading, it looks as if the debate is about what is a fair rate for the job. In fact, the real subject is whether the team offering the work, and the people who apply to do it, are working within a professional industry, or one for amateur enthusiasts.
Let us be in no doubt that there is a professional television industry. A 2005 Film Council study noted that the UK’s total TV turnover was £13.4 billion in the previous year, and it has grown over the last four years. Skillset estimates that there are some 75,000 people whose livelihoods directly depend on that turnover for their income, which probably includes you and me.
Film and television-making is not a monopoly controlled by the professionals, any more than baking is controlled by Rank Hovis McDougall. You can bake cakes at home, or to sell at your tea shop but if you were employed to make Mr Kipling’s French Fancies, you would not expect to bake them in your home oven, and you would expect to be paid a sustainable rate in return for your employers’ intention to make a profit from them.
If the industry’s most sort after producers and directors are in as high demand as ever, why are their rates being screwed down to an all time low? This week Moray thinks he’s had a eureka moment. Is it time to break a few balls and bring back the agent?
“I am struggling to understand why we have an anomaly over directors’ rates that would make no sense to a market economist. Commissioning executives are increasingly involved in the choice of directors for higher-profile, higher budget, productions. Commissioning letters of agreement are being sent out which specify not just the budget and on-screen talent, but increasingly also the named director.
The directors and P/Ds whom commissioners know that they want for their productions belong to a relatively small group, probably less than sixty people making factual and factual entertainment programmes. These few directors are in the lucky position that all the terrestrial and larger digital channels are competing with each other to employ them for their grander factual projects, and those directors can largely pick and choose what they want to work on. They need never be out of work.
“It’s a real privilege to work in the corporate sector, which can give you an amazing insight into big institutions and the public sector.” Rob Vincent, Head of Moving Image at Radley Yeldar.
Does the grass look greener to you when you consider the more stable, less capricious, world of corporate television production? The corporate communications industry is not to be sniffed at; with a UK annual turnover of £3 billion, corporate audio-visual communication is a bigger industry than the entire combined European feature film business.
Budgets can be high, as much as £10,000 per minute, although Televisual magazine estimates the average corporate video project budget to be just £32,600. That being said, production values are high, usually at least as high as their broadcast equivalent.
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.