Paula's Projects, TV Reviews

I’m deeply jealous of the UK Screen Industry

This will be slightly different than a normal post, but I’m fired up right now and wanted to talk about this.

As many of you know, I work as a freelance Researcher and Associate Producer in the Canadian Screen Industry. I predominantly work in factual or unscripted entertainment – so reality shows, documentaries, and current affairs stuff. I also dabble in live events – specifically helping out with big award shows, but sometimes live events as they fit into other shows (for example Big Brother Canada and Still Standing both have live elements). This side of the Canadian industry (as opposed to the scripted/union side) is known for being a bit of a ‘wild west’.

At the basic level – it lacks transparent standards. So for example, say you want to work in this industry – how do you get a job? Well, there are two main ways people get jobs – through people you know or on the “I need a fixer/crew/producer” Facebook group. There are very rarely formal job postings and if you are not ‘in’ with the right people – it can be impossible to get work. I’ve been lucky to get some incredible opportunities because I do know the right people – but this system feels deeply unfair to me. Ok, so then by some miracle you get the job – how much are they going to pay you? Who knows because ‘rates’ are all over the map and there isn’t anywhere you can really go to learn what a standard rate is for a specific role. Also – how many hours will you be working for that rate? Again, there isn’t really a standard and this has caused major issues for the industry (there are a few ongoing lawsuits). In my early years in the biz, I often worked long hours and was paid below minimum wage (if I was paid at all – hello unpaid internships). Plus things like titles and responsibilities are all over the map. Shows can go on hiatus randomly and stop paying you. There is no vacation pay or any sort of benefits. It can be insane. It’s why groups like Fairness in Factual are forming.

Add in Covid and the industry feels like even more of an insiders club. I know productions are up and running right now – but I also know I have seen zero job postings for many of these productions (I know this because I’m looking!).

So in my opinion… it’s a mess.

But what doesn’t feel like a mess, is the UK screen industry.

Full disclosure – I have never worked in the UK screen industry so I could be wildly off here, but I don’t think I am. I know they are having their own Covid related concerns (lots of people got furloughed, there are concerns about Forgotten Freelancers etc) and they have their own massive Facebook groups so I don’t want to say the industry is perfect. But it just feels much better for two main reasons: they seem to have a great system to find work and they have a great training system to further the careers of people in the industry. (It also feels better because of the way it’s funded and how people watch TV… but that’s another post for another time.)

First – I’m wish Canada had The Talent Manager.

The Talent Manager is a website that is essentially LinkedIn for Screen industry professionals. As they say, their goal is to “connect the best TV production freelancers with the latest TV jobs, and providing production companies with a unique CV and jobs’ store.” It is a brilliant system. It has a clear and easy way to list out your past credits, include details and contacts for your Production Managers. You can list out relevant skills, professional training/development, and locations you can work in – all things that are critical for our industry. It also allows you to include your availability which is a game-changer for freelancers. I often find that people don’t reach out to me for work because they think I’m “busy”. Being able to clearly tell people when I’m available would be fantastic.

Additionally, You can apply for jobs right on the site using your profile. A lot of companies exclusively use The Talent Manager to post their jobs. The job board is professional and easy to search. I’ve found some killer jobs through this site (I’m just not eligible to apply). I have a profile on this site because who knows – maybe a UK company is looking for people who are eligible to work in Canada. I’m up there and they can find me.

LinkedIn works for Canadians who are looking for jobs at the big networks – CBC, Bell/CTV, Rogers, and Corus for example. These are often offices, corporate TV jobs. Sometimes you see production jobs – but most networks offload production to production companies. So where are production companies going to find people to work for them? Their networks and Facebook. It’s ridiculous. A site like The Talent Manager could solve this problem.

Ideally – the Talent Manager becomes a global site much like LinkedIn is. It would be great to have a global standard. For folks who have dual citizenship – having all their jobs in one place would be fantastic.

One perk that I get from being on The Talent Manager is their email list. This leads me to my second area of jealousy.

I’m jealous of the UK’s training and mentorship schemes.

So this week, I got an email from The Talent Manager inviting me to an info session about the “BBC Studios Assistant Producer Accelerator Scheme“. I was curious, so I signed up and went to the panel.

It was so good. I cried.

When I tell you that I cried – I mean I was sitting there, watching this panel with tears streaming down my face because I was so jealous/upset/frustrated that opportunities like this don’t exist in Canada.

Let me tell you about it. The BBC is hiring 14 people who have three professional ‘Researcher’ titles (aka me), to work at the BBC as APs (which is my current level) for a year-long contract (at £30 000 – so just over 52k in CND) to learn how to be a good AP. They are going to work as an AP, but they are also going to have monthly workshops on topics such as leadership, ethics, technical skills, how to cast, how to write, and beyond.

They are hiring people based on location and genre:

Factual Entertainment – Unscripted – Bristol (one role) & Cardiff (one role)
Factual Entertainment – London (two roles)
Natural History Unit – Bristol (two roles)
Documentaries – Cardiff (one role) , Glasgow (one role) & Salford (one role)
Entertainment – Cardiff (one role), Salford (one role) &London(one role)
Science – Glasgow (one role) & London (one role)

How amazing would this be if we had this here?! Could you imagine high-level training across Canada with all these different genres in unscripted television? I was salivating at the thought of getting to receive this training. It is exactly what I want to do.

Not to mention, the application for this particular program would be so much fun. They want you to write a review of a TV show, give some opinions on new show ideas, and talk about ways you could might sell a show to an international market. I would *crush* that. So I cried.

I spent the entire workshop getting more and more heartbroken that I could not apply for this program. But this isn’t the only program like this that the UK has. They have countless mentorship, apprenticeships, and training schemes people can do.

For example, The BBC looks like they have dozens of different options for folks at all levels of their career. So does Channel 4. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts aka BAFTA has so many cool programs. There are talent hubs for people from diverse backgrounds and underserved communities like Creative Access. There are websites like Screen Skills that are constantly offering training programs for free.

I personally have had my eye on the Ones To Watch program at The Edinburgh International Television Festival for the past few years now. I finally feel like I’m at a place in my career that I could apply and that I’m ‘peers’ with people who are getting into this program.

I’m jealous because I don’t see those opportunities in the Canadian industry. There are training programs in Canada, like at the CFC and with WIFT, but you often have to pay tuition or membership to be apart of them. If there are free programs, they come out of festivals like TIFF and Hot Docs and are short term programs. Then often these programs are focused on ‘filmmakers’ and folks in scripted (so writers/actors etc) – I have never seen a program for someone who wants to create reality TV. But I see those programs in the UK.

So I’m deeply jealous and not sure what to do.

I feel like I want to get to a point in my career where I can launch these types of programs in Canada. Where I can run a company that formally posts jobs; where I’ll have enough clout to endorse a website like The Talent Manager; where I’ll be the head of a network and can start a paid training scheme.

The problem is that I need to get there to change our industry – and I see a massive roadblock in my way on that path. It’s enough of a roadblock, that I’m thinking of getting off this path for a little while and doing an MBA. The dream plan is to come back on this path with the business skills to make a real difference in the media industry.

So if you are reading this and have the power to create programs for folks like me – please call me. I’d love to help make our industry better for everyone.

… or if you’re reading this and are shaking your head because these things do exist – PLEASE CALL ME! I would love to know about them!

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