How does the money work?
You’ll likely have a number of different work contracts over the course of any year. How many will depend on the type of work you do and the size and scale of the projects you are involved with.
You will be paid by the job and when you agree the work with your client (employer) you should agree payment terms for your work so you can plan your personal budget accordingly. It’s likely you will have gaps between contracts so you’ll need to manage your money to ensure you can cover the downtime as well.
How much do I need to live on?
Taking ownership of your personal finances and knowing how much you really need to live on will allow you to work out how much you need to earn each year. A good starting place is a spreadsheet which totals this up.
Once you know how much you have going out each week or month you can add up all your expenditure for the year. This tells you how much you need to earn, after tax and National Insurance, to live the life you want to lead.
It’s quite common when you are starting out that you do other non-industry work alongside your screen sector work – this work can provide you with valuable behavioural skills relevant to the sector in addition to much-needed income.
To keep your finances in order it’s a good idea to separate your personal banking from business banking. In this way you can easily identify your income together with any allowable expenses that you’ve incurred during the year as they will all have gone through your business account.
Having a separate business savings account as well means you can put aside any tax liability you have accrued in the year.
Freelance work can be sporadic – it can feel like it’s either feast or famine. So it’s prudent to try and build up an emergency fund to cover you for those lean periods and/or any unexpected costs such as a boiler or car breaking down.
If you can save up three to six months of living expenses it will give you a cushion to fall back on. And if you are having a quieter time you can use that to work on your personal development.
What do others charge?
Currently in the UK there is no simple answer to this question as different genres and sectors within screen pay differing amounts for the same job title. For example: a production co-ordinator in drama will be paid a different rate to a production co-ordinator in factual. This will be due to the different amount of skill and experience needed to perform those roles and the differing budgets. Likewise a concept artist with ten years’ experience in animation might be paid double a concept artist just starting out.
Bectu has suggested rates for most roles and genres operating in film and TV. However, it’s up to each individual production company, and often the individual production, to determine budgets so rates can vary considerably.
There is ongoing lobbying work happening to ensure rate parity across productions but this is still a work in progress. An example where this works well in the UK is with the APA (Advertising Producers Association) - production companies have agreed to work within these suggested rates.
It’s never easy, especially when you are starting out to know what rate you should charge and then express that to a client. By doing your work you will be adding value to the production and that is worth being paid for. Understanding your value is an important part of being able to express what your rate should be when you meet a client about a new project. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
National Minimum Wage
Irrespective of the differences paid for roles, the UK does have a National Minimum Wage which details the minimum hourly wage a worker should receive. If you are over 25 then you are entitled to the National Living Wage.
It’s a criminal offence for employers to not pay someone the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.
If you think your pay is below the correct minimum wage rate you should talk to your employer in the first instance. If this does not solve the problem, you can ask the employer in writing to see your payment records. You can take someone with you and make copies of the records. If an employer owes you any arrears, they have to pay these to you.
You can contact Acas to help you solve a payment dispute. You can also make a complaint to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about your employer or employment agency or complain on behalf of someone else.
Whether you work a day, a week, a month or longer if you are PAYE or a sole trader then you are entitled to paid holiday for every day you work. It doesn’t matter what role or rate you are working at. If you don’t take your accrued holiday entitlement by the time you complete the contract then you should be paid for this untaken holiday (known as ‘payment in lieu’).
For example: a runner is employed for two weeks. They start to accrue holiday entitlement from day 1 but take no holiday leave during the two-week period. At the end of their contract they should be paid in lieu for all holiday accrued during this two-week period.
There is a holiday entitlement calculator on GOV.UK which can be used to calculate paid leave. Workers who are in employment for a full leave year are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ statutory leave subject to a cap of 28 days.