Protecting Wales’ screen industries workforce – Beyond the pandemic


Bad Wolf / Adrian Rogers

Our screens and the content within them remain the great connector at this time of isolation. This COVID:19 pandemic period is an unprecedented time for the screen industry and production in Wales.  It has brought into sharp focus the fragility and precarity of the workforce as an accepted normality within the production value chain in Wales and the importance of planning and looking ahead at this time.

 DCMS data tells us that 38% of the 58,000 strong creative industries workforce in Wales are freelance. Browsing social media, it is clear the magnitude of this impact on the self-employed in the screen sector.    

All film venues have been forced to close including a plethora of long standing independent cultural organisations pan-Wales, including Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, who will celebrate their 50th year in 2021 and who, like many others - are seeking support to stay afloat at this worrying time.

Sadly,  it doesn’t end there - film production and distribution has come to an abrupt halt and staff including production crew and large-scale studios have stopped working with immediate effect. Whilst it is always challenging to prepare for the unknown, history tells us a little about how screen industries as they are currently organised, fare as a result of pandemics; this short podcast and articles within review the impact of the 1919 ‘Spanish flu’ on the Hollywood film distribution chain. The differential here is that this pandemic takes place in a world where we are more connected to each other through technology and screens- for better or worse. For better, the chance for a collective and unified voice to speak on behalf of our freelance workforce.

 Self-employed workers are balancing financial, mental, social and emotional responsibilities. There is an urgent need for government and intermediaries to support the workforce at the bottom who inevitably prop up the chain, right to the top. The Creative Industries Federation estimate that 50% of freelancers within industry have already had 100% of their work cancelled a terrifying result of the pandemic and as such the organisation are lobbying the UK government, alongside others to implement a temporary income fund for freelancers. This industry is currently built around freelancers. Its future strength depends on them, as well as those who are employed and have had their income protected through this period by the Welsh and UK government.

 Now is the time to understand the exact demographic of our freelance workforce in Wales. This should include the productions that are made in and filmed in Wales, the workforce who deliver productions, and the training that is provided for those screen industries.

The present crisis has brought to the fore the precarious and vital positioning of ‘on the ground’ of labour in a low paid, gig economy. The often marginalised ‘lower tiered’ labour, sitting on the bottom rungs of the ladder is demonstrably vital to maintain priority services in areas such as social services and food retail. It may be that the current attention being given to these workers will lead to a longer lasting paradigm shift involving new discussions and innovation around how labour could be organised, valued and rewarded across the board.

It will be interesting to see how this can be addressed through organisations such as The Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) led by Nesta. Work is already underway such as Professor Kate Oakley’s commissioned research into co-operatives as an alternative to commercial models in the creative sector and the learning we may be able to take from this in the screen sector specifically, in the future.

The freelance screen workforce is the backbone that keeps Welsh productions running and planning ahead for the resource that will be required post-COVID-19 is essential for individuals, business and government. Freelance workers have never been as vulnerable as they are now. Keeping the ‘wolves from the door’ for our self-employed workforce, maintaining work readiness and preserving mental and physical resilience during this time is paramount. 

Some work that could usefully be done right now to protect the future of the screen industry in Wales:

1)    Map currently suspended and future productions in Wales to look ahead and clearly understand the challenges that the Welsh infrastructure might encounter in the future

2)    Assess the likely freelance workforce requirement for these productions provides the very best collective response for all organisations in Wales who are part of the film value chain.

3)    Be ready to face not only the challenges of a production hiatus, but vitally, the challenge of galvanising and developing a co-ordinated response when production is back up and running.

4)    Engage with the important organisations who are visibly and actively lobbying government on behalf of the freelance community. These include BECTU, Creative Industries Federation, Directors UK . In Wales, we collectively need our cultural and screen organisations to be shouting as loud as they can and present the best case for freelance support.

When our Welsh industry is back up and running (and it will be!), we will all benefit from being prepared at all levels, starting with supporting their freelance workforce now.

What are we doing for Wales and across the UK to support our freelance screen workers right now?

The Film & TV charity have a support line and information for freelancers at this time HERE

BECTU are working hard on behalf of the sector to develop a government response for freelance workers across the sector- follow HERE

The BFI answer some key questions for the freelance film sector HERE

Creative Cardiff have collated an excellent resource HERE for business support and useful resources

Ffilm Cymru Wales have very useful information HERE for the sector. They are also working hard to engage sector practitioners to deliver online training and sessions to support sector development during this time (more info to follow)

Screen Alliance Wales have put together a great resource on their portal with support and help for business and signposting for freelancers HERE

Wales Art Review responded quickly with a fundraiser to support those who have immediately lost income and will be delivering an online festival: ‘Digithon’ to raise further funds SEE MORE HERE  

There are a host of Facebook groups that are supporting individuals – including: ‘Anti-Viral work for freelancers and small businesses’