I recently retweeted this from Graduate Fog:
Well the obvious answer to their question is YES. But how bad is this situation? Well, given my experience over the past few months, pretty bad. In order to get jobs, you have to have experience. Ideally paid experience. But even the unpaid experience can be very hard to come by. My first work experience placement in TV was with Oxford Digital Media, a company that liaises with Oxford University Press, who publish my mum’s English teaching materials. My work experience coordinator at school fought tooth and nail to stop me from taking the placement: as far as she was concerned, if I was taking Latin and Greek A levels with a view to reading Classics at University, the only suitable placement for me was in a museum.
I then emailed Mentorn Media and Hat Trick Productions for two and three years respectively until they finally agreed to give me two weeks of work experience placements. I met the Head of Sky News and the Head of Lion Television at a networking event organised by my drama teacher, and those contacts led to a day’s placement with Sky and, after four years of tactical emailing, my job with Lion.
But what if I hadn’t had a drama teacher with excellent contacts? What if I hadn’t been able to stay with my grandma on the outskirts of London during these placements? What if I hadn’t been so persistent? Then it would have been almost impossible to get a foot in the TV door.
Even now, unless I work both days (free) and nights (paid) during my work experience placements, I couldn’t possibly fund myself in London. It would only be possible for me to be permanently free for TV work if I were housed and fed by my family, or some other generous soul who would support me free of charge.
But this isn’t the only issue facing those starting out in TV. Many companies recruit through the Talent Manager, a great website where you can create a profile, upload your CV and apply for jobs. There’s the Basic Subscription, which is free, and the Pro Subscription. I signed up for the Basic one, thinking that would still give me a fair chance of applying for jobs, which was all I needed. But take a look at this:
So basically, unless I pay £70 per year, my job application automatically goes to the bottom of the pile. To put that in perspective, £70 is what I earned in August 2014 for a 10 hour day of manual labour on a building site at the end of the Edinburgh Fringe. During that same Fringe, I was producing a comedy show during the day and working Front of House by night, which involved queue managing and cleaning up a variety of alcoholic and bodily fluids. The money I earned from that paid for the month’s extortionate rent in Edinburgh.
So unless things change, and change soon, diversity will always be a challenge for the TV and film industry. And the changes can be simple: paid internships, or a fairer way of applying for jobs. For as long as breaking into the TV industry remains harder than the Twelve Labours of Heracles, high quality creative talent will continue to be lost to other industries. And wouldn’t people from low income backgrounds who are used to having to budget carefully be very good at managing a decreased production budget? Given how fast-changing our media industry is, and given how many budget cuts are constantly affecting productions, this is something that cannot afford to happen.