Written by Shona Smith on Mar 30, 2020. Posted in General Interest

Hard hit freelancers to receive support from industry

In lieu of delayed or non-existing governmental support available for freelancers and the self-employed in many countries, the global industry has stepped up to support the backbone of the production industry.

The film, TV and advertising production industry may be one of the industries that most acutely feels the impact of coronavirus due to the nature of working in the sector. The UK is home to five million freelance or self-employed, roughly 15% of the UK workforce, but the rate is much higher in the film, TV and advertising world where many professionals work on a project by project basis. Moreover, the loss of income comes at a crucial time when many freelancers were gearing up for what is traditionally the industry’s most busy period.

Moreover, concerns have been raised that up to half of many freelance crew members will not be supported by newly released government plans to support the UK’s freelance and self -employed with grants of up to 80% of profits due to limits on eligibility. These limits exclude those with annual trading profits exceeding GBP50,000, those that have been freelancing for less than three years, or those operating through a personal service company, as many in the industry do. Freelancers affected by the new measures are free to voice their opinion on The Location Guide Forum: Financial assistance offered by UK government.

83% of respondents to media and entertainment trade union BECTU's survey on the impact of coronavirus identified as freelancers working in media and entertainment. Results published by the UK trade union laid bare concerns. One contributor, a sound mixer/recordist in feature film and TV drama, said that most colleagues were expecting to lose well over 50% of what they were projected to earn over the course of the year. Nearly 500 reported having already lost more than GBP5000, a similar number losing GBP2000 – 5000, and over 500 losing up to GBP2000.

Worrying statistics about the state of mental health in the film and TV industry compounds the problem further. A recent report from the Film and TV Charity put mental health issues in the industry at 20% higher than the national average. The current anxiety inducing crisis, coupled with a loss of income and future instability may exacerbate pre-existing problems, and the film and TV operate a 24/7 support line accessible at 0800 054 00 00.

Given the near-total cancellation of work across the globe, the international production community is stepping in to support the freelancers hit the hardest. Netflix were among the first to announce funding for the creative community with a USD100 million fund. “This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide,” said Netflix chief content officer, Ted Sarandos.

The majority of the USD100 million is set for those who work on Netflix productions around the world, but the streamer is looking to support the wider production community too, having donated USD1 million to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Covid-19 Disaster Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Actors Fund Emergency Assistance in the US. In Canada where Netflix have established a sizeable hub, the AFC and Fondation des Artistes will receive a joint USD1 million. The streamer has noted that they are working with existing industry organisations in Latin America and Asia where Netflix has a large production presence to provide similar support. Elsewhere in the US, the Producers Guild of America has also launched a relief fund with a starting gift of USD100,000 from former PGA president Mark Gordon, to be administered by The Actors Fund, for those that cannot cover basic utilities such as rent, food and electricity.

In the UK Covid-19 Relief Fund from the BFI and The Film and TV Charity will receive USD1 million from Netflix as well as GBP500,000 from the BBC. The Emergency Relief Fund will be accessible to those working in production, distribution and exhibitions, with precise criteria and funding still being drawn up, but those signed up to the mailing list will be the first notified when applications open.

Creative Scotland have launched three Covid-19 impact funds for those least likely to benefit from government support, with Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said “The recent announcement from the UK Government on support for those who are self-employed is welcome, and is particularly crucial to this sector, but June is simply too late and we will continue to press for more immediate support”. The GBP1.5 million Screen Scotland Bridging Bursary programme will provide one-off bursaries of GBP500 to 2,500 to freelance PAYE and self-employed screen sector workers experiencing immediate financial difficulty.

Grassroots funding, such as a fundraiser for Film and TV workers location, security and utility personnel is an additional way in which the production community is stepping up to support each other during the crisis. Organised by location managers Georgette Turner and Vinnie Jassal, the go-fund-me and has already raised GBP1,935 of its GBP5000 target for location department juniors who do not qualify for the self-employed or small business allowance.

However, although industry sourced funding will be a lifeline for some of the hardest hit during the next few months, but it is clear that these funds will only touch the surface of problems faced by many freelancers, and targets those in the most need or least likely to see government support. Many more freelancers will continue to have overheads on loans or rental agreements on kit or transportation necessary to work. The industry continues to lobby government for the appropriate support that will enable the backbone of an industry that contributed GBP3.6 billion to the UK economy in 2019 to recover from the effects of coronavirus.

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