There’s a common shared belief in the creative world that you have to work for years, often unpaid, before you can even hope to get a stable job that pays you properly for your creative services. This is an idea reinforced by people who’ve made it to the top, and then eulogize that the creative grind is part of the process.
This idea permeates through the creative scene and brings together fellow creatives, that whole idea of ‘the struggling artist’, a kind of comradery. Then, when creatives are paid for jobs, they get paid so little that it can barely cover the down time between when their current job ends and their next job begins. This is why it’s so hard to get paid, creative freelancers are paid inflated prices to account for these down times between working so it’s understandable that creative companies are cautious to risk investing lots of money in people who aren’t proven. So, what’s the solution? How can the living wage be considered here?
The living wage is a broad term to describe “the amount people need to get paid to maintain a normal standard of living”, so in terms of video and film, what does that even mean? To understand that let’s look at the basic math of someone in the creative industry, the video editor.
A good video editor can command £450 a day for their services. That’s almost 5 times more than the London Living Wage (currently at £11.98 per hour). This makes sense, it’s a skilled job that’s hard to come by. It means that they have five days to find work for every day they work. As a producer for a video production company in Cornwall, I wouldn’t want to be paying anything more than £450 unless they’re exceptional. So what if you’re not considered great yet? Well, then you’re in trouble. I know of agencies that pay freelancers a fixed rate of £150-£200 a day for short term contract work. That’s only 2 times higher than the living wage. So for every day of work they have one day to find work. This can lead to some pretty unsavory situations…
Hidden dependency: At £200 per day people can’t afford to not take the work as they only ever have one day of buffer to find new work. This is completely infeasible and leads people to become dependent in positions unable to escape. This is then just a form of employment as they have none of the perks of freelance freedom AND they get none of the perks of employment.
A lack of creatives: How on earth can anyone put meaningful time into their creative craft if they can’t afford to do it? It took me 2 years to set up my video production company whilst juggling another job, but I had my dads spare room to live in and he paid for some of my food. That’s a very privileged place to start from, so what about those who have the talent but not this ability to get a foot up?
Low diversity: Creativity is best when coming from a diverse mix of people from multiple different backgrounds. Currently, the world of video and film production, along with a lot of the creative industry, is a white middle class privileged area to be in. This is because these are the people who can afford to not be paid for years of ‘work experience’ before getting their foot in the door. How can we tell truly inclusive stories if the people telling them are historically the people who are not aware of the hidden biases and issues facing society today?
Looking forward we need to work out a way of growing the idea of the living wage to encompass a living freelance wage. This would take into account a staged approach that considers a number of things.
- How much work are you giving the creative? Is it a day… or is it a week?
- Where they live.
- The Industry rate.
Obviously this is an incredibly tricky question to tackle, but it needs to begin with an appreciation that the current system is simply not working for the majority of the creative world. Let’s start the conversation around the living freelance wage!
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