Local production company’s closure exposes need for freelance workers’ union

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The recent closure of a particular film production company has left a group of local freelance film crew frustrated and upset because none of them have been paid for X number of jobs.

While I understand that this is an unfortunate situation, I believe something needs to be done for this group of skilled professionals who are not protected by any union or association.

As a producer and owner of a production company myself, I feel the need to ditch the bystander attitude and speak up for this small but very essential group of skilled professionals.

First of all, let me explain the structure of a film production – just so that people are aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and how a piece of content, whether entertainment or commercial, is physically created.

A standard content or television commercial shoot requires the following key crew:
– casting crew
– location scouting and clearance
– styling: make up and costume
– spark unit (min. 2)
– gaffer and light grip (min. 3)
– camera team and data wrangler (min. 3)
– film director
– director of photography
– art department (set design)
– runners
– driver

These are mostly trained and skilled professionals who are 99% freelancers, simply because production companies cannot afford to keep them on payroll unless they know that they have jobs lined up for the entire year – which is hardly the case. The nature of the industry is such that we pitch for every shoot, and there is no such thing as a retainer fee.

This is the case for production companies all around the world – but the difference is, in some countries, the above-mentioned professions are UNIONISED.

The larger production houses usually have an administrator and a producer on their payroll, and if they have more capital, they can have a director as a partner and maybe a production lead. Usually, good production houses with strong reputation and fair treatment of staff usually last longer in the industry and have more full-time employees, such as casting, accounting, etc.

However, there is always the chance of irresponsible production companies surfacing, who are not experienced enough to manage their finances well, and their problems then trickle down to the crew who are hired to produce a film – because sometimes these guys don’t get paid.

The livelihood of these professionals depend on the integrity of the production companies. The owners of production companies can choose to delay payment, because the crew will never know when the client has paid up. And should the production company decide to transfer the money somewhere else and shut down the company, there’s nothing the crew can do about it.

Of course there are ways around this, such as asking for the first 50% payment before filming starts, but this still only mitigates half of the situation. The working relationship is based on trust, and when such trust is broken, the consequences are 100% born by the freelancers who have contributed their blood, sweat and tears to get the film out and gotten nothing in return.

Yet their hands are tied because they have no one to fight for them.

This is exactly what happened recently, and if these irresponsible companies can get away with such behaviour so easily, it certainly has a huge impact on the future of our film industry. It’s a matter of time before these skilled professionals have to find new vocations because it’s just not viable for them to continue working with such cowboy terms, especially if they have a family to raise and a life to build. It is such a shame to lose these talents in an industry that we have worked so hard to build.

Please help protect our film industry and support the artists who have so much heart for their jobs and the industry.

From my experience shooting with international film crew, having a union that can provide advice and legal help to these freelancers can really make a difference.

Any form of help or advice for their situation will also be appreciated.

Thank you for reading, and if you’re not in a position to help, sharing this with someone who can will also make a difference.

On behalf of our local film crew,
our sincere gratitude.

 

 

Ace Tan is Singaporean employed in the local media industry.

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