US studios and streamers have yet to respond positively to a request last month from UK creative industries’ union Bectu to pay retainer fees for UK crews working on productions shut down by the ongoing Hollywood actors’ and writers’ strikes.
“I’ve had replies [from studios/streamers], but nothing positive,” said Spencer MacDonald, Bectu’s national secretary of London production and regional production division. “Some of them had said crew can resign and walk away from the job and find other employment, but we knew that anyway, and it’s a desert out there for work.
“They have [either] not replied, or it’s been a one liner.”
Major productions to shut down in the UK since the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes were called include Wicked, How To Train Your Dragon and Speak No Evil for Universal; Disney’s Deadpool 3 and Andor series; Warner Bros and Netflix series The Sandman; and AppleTV’s Silo.
MacDonald contacted the streamers and studios at the end of July. He told Screen at the time: “When it was busy and there was a mad gold rush for content, they [US companies] were paying [UK crew] retainers. They’ve done it before – it’s not completely alien.”
Screen understands there has been at least one incident of a retainer fee paid to heads of department working on a stalled US streamer series.
When Screen contacted them, Netflix declined to comment. The same went for Apple, Warner Bros., Disney, and Universal. These grants are intended to provide financial support to film and television workers during economic crises. They come in the form of one off payments up to PS750. The charity reported that applications for its July grants had increased by 800% compared to the same month in the previous year. As well as Amazon Prime Video and Warner Bros Discovery, it has received extra cash from UK broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, UK production company Hartswood Films and the world’s largest independent TV producer, Banijay.
The Film and TV Charity told
Screen the amount donated has now exceeded the PS500,000 reported last month, with an exact figure not confirmed. Bectu conducted a survey of 4,000 film- and TV-industry workers. The survey revealed that three quarters are unemployed and 80% of respondents have had their employment directly affected by the US industrial dispute. 90% of respondents said they were worried about their financial stability. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they did not see themselves working in the industry in the next five years, and 60% say they are struggling with their mental health as a result of loss of work and/ or financial worries.Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission (BFC), said of its response to the strikes: “The British Film Commission is keeping the UK Government closely updated on the situation and the impacts on the production community here in the UK. We are also supporting our incredibly talented work force through signposting to support, guidance and training available during this challenging period.”
A petition has been launched by campaigner Laura Evans, to put pressure on the government do more to support UK TV and film crew who are unable to work due to strikes by actors and writers. As of September 8, it had almost 30,000 signatures.
The government’s department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has issued a statement in response, saying: “We are engaging with industry to understand the impact of continued US strike. We continue to support the screen industries by providing competitive tax reliefs and investing in studio infrastructure, as well as supporting innovation and promoting independently produced content. The policy allows individuals and businesses experiencing temporary financial difficulties to schedule their tax obligations into more affordable instalment plans with no maximum repayment term. The UK government has not provided any financial or other support for workers in the industry who are on strike.
“It is just words about the industry,” MacDonald said of the government’s response. “They talk about how they support the industry with tax breaks and other things, but that’s really about encouraging investment and supporting the production companies.” It’s not just about the workers. The UK industry faces the biggest threat from a skills shortage. If they’re going to try and grow the industry to speed they have been, they won’t have the trained workforce.
“There’s going to be a massive gold rush again when everything’s back up and running, then we’re going to hit another disaster and everyone’s going to get fed up and leave
again. We can’t have this hokey-cokey.”
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