Guest post: "Women's voices are being lost from the film and TV industries"
As a new report reveals how far caring responsibilities impact on film and television careers, producer Vicki Lesley says a cultural change within the industry is possible
Posted on: Thu 04-Aug-16 14:35:57
(2 comments )
At this year's Edinburgh Film Festival, the film and television industry was given a wake-up call. Raising Films, an organisation campaigning to help women with families continue careers in film and television, published the results of a major UK-wide survey into the barriers presented by caring responsibilities - barriers which disproportionately affect women.
The survey revealed the frustration of respondents who had shared stories of active discrimination and the difficulty (or impossibility) of trying to juggle caring roles with a television or film career. Of the 640 respondents, 72% were or had been in a caring role as parents or to the elderly. Women who contributed to the study talked of being lost from the industry, saying the investment in their training had been lost, and their voices were being lost. Of the respondents who were carers, 79% reported that their parenting and caring responsibilities had resulted in a negative impact on their career.
As a documentary director who fell pregnant part-way through making my first full-length feature documentary, I can say without doubt that factoring a baby into the already highly challenging business of filmmaking made the whole process more difficult, complicated - and expensive.
In the most difficult moments, I worried that it was selfish of me to pursue this work now I had a young child. But then I reminded myself of all of the years I'd already put in - and of the fact that as a woman, and a mother, my voice and perspective was just as valid as that of any other filmmaker. If women vanish from the industry once they have children, we all lose out - on their experience and, crucially, their perspectives on the world.
As a woman and mother, my voice and perspective is just as valid as that of any other filmmaker. If women vanish from the industry once they have children, we all lose out - on their experience and, crucially, their perspectives on the world.
The Raising Films report showed that financial uncertainty and the economic impact of family life were major concerns for industry workers - particularly as payrates were low, while childcare costs were high. But there were a number of recommendations for changes to improve things. These included enabling financial assistance for child or elder care and encouraging an industry-wide adoption of flexible working and access to care. The report also recommended formalising a way to combat discrimination and normalising conversations around caring commitments with employers.
These are not small asks. But if people at all levels of the system take these issues seriously then I believe cultural change is possible.
When I was starting out in television in the late 90s, unpaid 'work experience' was rife. Today there are clear rules about what does and doesn't constitute work experience and there have been huge efforts to enforce them and stamp out abuses. This has come about through commitment on all sides.
Online forums have provided an effective space for a largely freelance workforce to have important conversations about improving conditions for those at the bottom of the career ladder - there's no reason to think that this couldn't also now happen around factoring in and paying for caring responsibilities.
The recommendations are an important first step in the conversation the industry must have if I and others like me are to successfully combine parenthood with making great films and television programmes for everyone to enjoy.
The reality at the moment, however, is that to get on in this industry, new entrants often find themselves working extremely long hours for scant pay. When those new entrants get a little older and want to start a family, the current issues can seem insurmountable.
I started work on my own feature documentary about nuclear power in 2006, assisted by funding from Creative England and private shareholders. I couldn't actually pay myself, living instead off my savings from my TV work. Then I fell pregnant.
Initially after my son's birth, the film was completely on hold - but after about nine months I wanted to try and get back to it. Working for myself, the big question was, how could I afford to pay for childcare when I wasn't earning anything on the film? I couldn't.
My partner was able to drop down to four days a week and look after our son one day, and we also found fantastic childminders through our local Family Information Service. But while this meant I could go back to work, it also meant we used all my savings to pay for our childminders and I had to rely on credit cards. At the moment, I'm effectively earning 'negative money', paying to work for free. Of course, not everyone in the industry is going to be able to do this (or want to). For those who cannot access the kind of support I've had, quitting the industry altogether may be the only option.
My film, The Atom: A Love Affair, is now close to completion. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do next, but I know I want to keep making films, and be actively involved in caring for my son.
By Vicki Lesley
Is it possible that the long hours worked by new entrants will be changed in the future? That must surely be a barrier to younger mothers entering the industry.
It is excellent news that the amount on unpaid work experience has been reduced. That's also a barrier to people with caring responsibilities entering the industry.
It would be great to see film and TV work available to more women. It's such an asset to the UK.
I work in film and have found it increasingly difficult with children. It doesn't matter how much people tell you that they understand, the reality is that if my child minder or who ever lets me down, I'm screwed. It's not a an industry where you can call in sick or get someone to cover for you, and there have been occasions where I have been due on set at 6am, been let down via text at 11pm the night before and have been feeling sick with panic at not having a solution for childcare.
I'm 42 and have only ever worked in film and tv and wouldn't know here to begin doing something else but increasingly I have had to turn work down because it's such a non mother friendly industry.
I would LOVE to see a shift towards an environment that appreciates the years of experience we bring and is accommodating, not because it the 'right thing to do', but because people recognise you are worth accommodating.