Full Production’s Steve Richardson on why respecting freelancers’ time is the way to win their loyalty.
We don’t work a standard 9-5 job: load-ins start in the early hours of the morning, with rehearsals quite often shortly after lunch. Then there’s the show itself, followed by the load-out – all in the space of 18-24 hours with very little downtime. We work in an industry which famously has a “show must go on” mentality.
But at what cost?
Poor sleeping patterns, long periods away from home and bad eating habits on site are very common. It wasn’t that long ago, perhaps even before the pandemic, where a lack of sleep and generally being run down was worn as a badge of honour by many throughout the industry.
More recently, my LinkedIn and Facebook networks have been crying out for staff. Not an hour goes by without a post on various freelance forums or company pages, requesting assistance in finding crew for shows and events across many genres of the industry.
Simply put, there is a real shortage of skilled crew for events and installations, and as a company owner I’m finding myself having to pick up the shortfall both mentally and physically.
I think this has been caused by a couple of things:
Firstly, many people have outright left the industry. Myself and my colleagues all know people who have left roles in events to go and work elsewhere, in industries they believe are less likely to be shut down by virus regulations. This, coupled with film and dramas swallowing up a large number of console operators, has left a massive shortfall in areas of the entertainment industry which have been shut down for a long time.
“There is a fine balance between getting what the client wants, and offering your staff and contractors healthier working hours.”
I think another reason for the shortage is that, for many people, the benefits of freelance work are beginning to be outweighed by the risks. There is a smaller pool of talented freelancers than there was pre-pandemic, and many of them are now only searching for full-time employment. That shouldn’t be a surprise: many freelancers were forgotten about in the government’s financial aid. Who can blame them for wanting a bit of financial stability moving forwards?
One way I think we can entice freelancers back onto jobs is to show them that we respect both their time and their wellbeing. We need to support them with strong HR processes, and we need to stop offering them shifts which, whilst financially tempting due to the length, offer very little in terms of personal wellbeing. I’m talking about those 1.5x or 2x days, quite often with 12+ hour shifts. After spending more time at home with family and friends, people value their time much more than they used to.
At Full Production, we’re making this change. We’re trying, as much as possible, to split those long shifts in half, hiring a day crew and a night crew, or a load-in crew and show crew with a handover in between. Sometimes, though, this is dependent on the client – they need to play their part by offering a realistic budget and just as important, a realistic schedule.
There’s the trickle down effect and when clients start cutting budgets, the impact is felt most strongly by the people on the ground, who quite often will have to make up the difference with longer hours.
There is a fine balance between getting what the client wants, and offering your staff and contractors healthier working hours. We’re committed to making this change, but it won’t happen overnight. It also isn’t always going to work for everyone, I’ll be the first to admit it – there are always going to be key personnel which sadly aren’t able to be swapped out due to continuity – but even small changes when and where we can will benefit the majority.