New research released today by Creative Skillset, the industry skills body for the screen-based creative industries, reveals the impact on the UK’s High-end television (HETV) production sector from the recent growth in FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) and increased homegrown production activity.
The research shows that the UK production sector is enjoying a boom - driven by recent SVOD demand as well as increased high-end drama commissions from traditional broadcasters - fuelled by the government’s tax credit. However, there is widespread industry concern that future growth is unsustainable without increased investment in skills and training at every level, from trainees up to professional development for heads of department, writers, producers and directors.
Based on a survey of senior HETV production roles across the UK, the research backs Creative Skillset’s experience and activities over the last two years. It reveals a shortage in talent and skills across the whole of the UK, with some respondents saying infrastructure and crew levels in London are becoming unsustainable while the nations and regions are suffering from a perceived or actual lack of available talent.
Particular issues raised in the survey include:
- Widespread skills and talent shortages leading to delays in crewing up and much longer startup times for productions
- An increase in “show jumping” practices, with individuals leaving productions early to take up another job, or in some cases leaving before they’ve even begun work on a production – creating serious difficulties for the original production
- Significant pay inflation, particularly in some areas/job roles across the industry, making it more difficult for productions on lower budgets
- A lack of movement on diversity in the industry, with hard-pressed productions focused more on trying to find available crew than source diverse talent
- Some suggestions that the increased cost of paying crew was affecting “on-screen spend”
Seetha Kumar, CEO of Creative Skillset said: “The increase in commissioning of high-end television content from UK producers, and in particular by newer players such as Netflix and Amazon, has provided a welcome boost to the industry and demonstrated that we are world leaders in creating and delivering ambitious,much-lovedd programming that resonates globally. Creative Skillset’s research confirms what our experience over the last few years has shown - that if we want to maintain and grow our international competitiveness we need to further step up our work together as an industry to urgently address the skills and talent shortages and knock on effects, that this boom is causing and the lack of inclusivity that as a sector we need to tackle.”
The growth in HETV production, including international commissioning and investment from FAANG companies, has been driven in part by the government’s UK High-end Television Tax Relief for productions located in the UK. In return for receiving this tax credit, HETV producers pay a voluntary levy, administered by Creative Skillset, which funds skills training and professional development at all levels within the industry to enable sustainable growth.
Through its HETV Council and industry led working groups Creative Skillset has been working closely for the last two years with more than 50 senior members of the HETV production community - from freelancers to companies and guilds - to ensure the levy continues to be used to meet the demand for more skilled workers.
With a particular focus on delivering new, diverse talent, it is running schemes and programmes including:
- Industry driven production courses, training, upskilling and continuing professional development - from new entrants to those at the top of their profession
- A new Skills Passport scheme being launched in 2018 offering a host of industry quality-stamped short courses suitable for freelancers, to enable those moving up quickly in their careers to acquire the required training and skills.
- Freelancer skills shortage bursaries to support training costs
- Trainee Finder and Make a Move schemes
Creative Skillset's research in more detail
Widespread skills and talent shortages leading to delays in crewing up and much longer start up times for productions. 90% of those interviewed named at least one role in short supply. Roles mentioned the most were: production accountant, production co-ordinator, location manager, line producer, grip, script supervisor and trainees. As a result of these shortages, respondents said it is now more common to bring in crew from other areas, which can impact negatively on budgets; that they are increasingly compromising on skills and experience, for example taking the second or third best option. Half of all respondents said that people are stepping up into more senior roles earlier than their experience should allow, which can impact on health and safety.
- Line producer: “If we’re saying we’re a scalable industry and based on the trajectory we’re on, there’s a shortage in everything.”
- Head of production: “If it remains this busy then everybody's going to continue to struggle until the next wave of people can come up through."
- Line producer: “Whereas before it would have taken two weeks to pull everyone together, now it takes about five."
- Line producer: “We’re just starting on a production at the moment and it’s taken us literally six weeks to find a production runner.”
An Increase in “show jumping” practices
Crew are now much more readily jumping off productions early, and sometimes accepting a job and then leaving even before it’s started shooting. This seems to be nearly always a result of the chance of higher pay or longer contracts. Where in the past it happened less often and only in particular trades, it is now happening across departments and up to Head of Department level.
- Production manager: “Last year I did a job where we had HoDs taking the job and then decide to go onto something else and I’ve never ever heard of that before and never experienced that.”
- Production executive: “I find the lack of loyalty phenomenal.”
- Line producer: “I’d say it’s happening more now – it never used to be like that, you’d never ever, ever, ever do that."
- Production manager: “My last job -the whole costume team stayed, the make-up team stayed, the locations team stayed but by the end of the shoot there was only one member of an 8-person camera team left, none of the original grips – replacement grips got replaced and they got replaced again... they all went onto other jobs which were presumably either better paid or were longer contracts."
Significant pay inflation
US productions (notably Netflix and Amazon work) are pushing up the level of expectations around rates of pay and crew are less inclined to drop back down. Some respondents suggest the increased use of budget needed for crew pay affects the money on screen.
Pact and BECTU’s agreement on pay and conditions is supported by Creative Skillset but it requires further engagement and action by the industry to train and skill up the next wave of talent and bring a more inclusive and wide-ranging pool of people into the business.
- Line producer: “We are going to come to a point in this country where we price ourselves out of the market and that’s when I think things will fall over. We are rapidly approaching that."
It is fairly accepted by interviewees that crew shortages and skills gaps means considerations around diversity take more of a backseat at the moment.
- Head of production: “You sort of have to end up throwing that [diversity] out of the window because you’re so desperate to get your crew."
Download Creative Skillsets' Skills Research Report (PDF).