As the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike nears the 100-day mark, leading UK film and TV technicians and suppliers are continuing to speak out about the extreme financial hardship and uncertainty they and their colleagues are facing due to the hard production stop caused by the strike.
Although the WGA strike is now resolved, the UK industry remains in crisis mode. Even if SAG-AFTRA reached a deal today with AMTMP, production in the UK would not resume in full until January due to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Industry leaders continue asking why the UK government did not intervene to help struggling crew. “A large question must be asked from the government’s perspective,” said Christopher Ross of the British Society of Cinematographers. “The British film industry does contribute a large sum of money to the British economy and for us to be so tethered to an industrial dispute in another nation makes us an industry a volatile commodity.”
Screen from Croatia where he is shooting Ronan Bennett’s TV version of Day Of The Jackal for Sky and Peacock. Ross detailed how UK camera crews have been suffering.“It has been pretty devastating for the whole filmmaking community,” Ross said. “2023 began as a bad year for many people. In January and February, there wasn’t as much happening as in 2022. Just as it appeared the industry was warming up and some productions were on the cusp of being greenlit, the strikes curtailed a lot of that.”
Construction teams were among the first to “go idle,” even before the strikes began. Several other departments are also facing months of worklessness. There has been little sign of UK independent productions picking up the slack.
“Almost every project is tied in with either US money or US talent. Ross explained that this is why the situation we are in is so dire. All of these associates are out of work if the cinematographer goes out. It’s not just cinematographers. It’s the same with costume designers, hair and make-up, with editors, production designers and construction managers…the more idle the HODs (heads of department), the more idle the general workforce is – and this year has been dire,” said Ross.”The people that have found this time particularly hard are the industry starters and those at the lower levels of each department.”
Most crew members are self-employed and haven’t had any kind of safety net. Blair Barnette, the chairperson of British Film Designers Guild(BFDG), makes this point with force. She said that the UK’s HMRC encouraged freelancers to register as limited companies. They were not eligible for government assistance during the pandemic, and couldn’t furlough. They still don’t receive any support. Many have had to turn to the Film and TV Charity for support.
“There are people who are really struggling. Barnette said that since May, there has been no work. “it just feels that people who are freelance and work in the film industry are very much misunderstood by the Government…everybody’s mental health is going down because they don’t feel they are being heard or seen by anybody. It’s an invisible plight.”
Barnette, whose credits range from UK indie pictures such as
to US series including
FBI: International, is currently doing freelance work as a project manager for a construction company because her film and TV assignments have dried up“It saved me from losing my apartment. I know people who drive Ubers or have returned to bar work,” explained the BFDG Chairperson on how film designers and artists are making ends meet. The survey revealed that 38.9% had last worked between three and four months ago, while only 16.7% were currently working. Some 21,5% said they were struggling to make rent or mortgage payments – and 44.4% said that they would soon be struggling. 7.5% said they struggling to pay for food and 18.6% said they were struggling to pay bills and creditors.“It has been kind of like Covid,” said Eddie Standish of Locate Studios, managing agents of more than 200,000 sq. It has been like Covid,” said Eddie Standish of Locate Studios, managing agents of more than 200,000 sq. “If America gets a cold we
have the flu. Everything has shut down here. Maybe we need to learn from this and support more independent British productions…everyone in the film industry has been affected by this whether you’re renting out a honey wagon or trestle tables, lighting houses, facilities, everyone. “Overnight, we were inundated,” said Russell Allen, director of business development, camera grip and lighting divisions at Arri Rental. “Overnight, we were inundated,” said Russell Allen, director, business development, camera, grip and lighting divisions at Arri Rental.
“Business-wise, at least when we had Covid, we had help from the government which certainly helped to a great extent and made sure we were able to keep all our staff employed,” he noted.
However, he said there has been a “massive upsurge” in commercials, which have not been affected by the strikes.[in the UK]Arri Rental used the early strike period “for cleaning up equipment, a lot of maintenance has been going on.” It helped too that the company was servicing HBO’s
House Of The Dragon,
an Equity-run production that was able to continue shooting during the strikes at Leavesden Studios.
With the end of the WGA strike, Allen said he is already seeing signs that productions are booting up. Arri Rental received several calls from companies in recent weeks looking to ramp up productions. He predicted that soon it would “be crazy with lack of equipment and crew, as well as lack of stages.” We will be back to where were beforehand.”
However, Allen also warned the UK industry will lose valuable technicians because of the strikes. “You are always in a predicament where if you fall into hard times and lose skilled people, it is very difficult to get them back.” It takes years and even decades to become an engineer or camera tech.