I started University when I was 17 years old. As soon as I finished my first year, one of my professors referred me to a contact of hers who gave me my first job. I had just turned 18, and I already had a full-time job. I had no experience, and I had only finished 1 year of classes which only covered the basic stuff. Nevertheless, she took the risk of referring me and, without her foreseeing it, the opportunity that she gave me unleashed a 20-year long career. I am fully aware that I was fortunate and that an opportunity like that happened just because I had the means to go to that University in particular and also because the professor who spotted me had those sorts of connections. Is it possible to make these opportunities available to anyone from any background?
A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a young cinematographer about how difficult it is for starting creatives in the UK. If you don’t have contacts in the industry, or if you haven’t attended the “right” schools, finding people to give you the first opportunities can be a discouraging task. Disregarding whether you are good or not at what you do, if you don’t have experience or the right connections is almost impossible to find work. Starting creatives resort to unpaid jobs to gain experience and also to meet as many people as possible in the hopes that one of those connections will be able to open a door into the industry.
However, reality kicks in, and when living expenses demand to be covered, you have to get yourself a day-job to be able to make ends meet. Up until here, it all sounds very logical, but any creative will be able to tell you that not every type of day-job counts. Creative gigs come and go easily, they usually appear without notice, and they tend to have an unforeseeable duration. This means that, whichever day-job you get, it must give you enough flexibility for you to be able to take time off with short notice for those sudden gigs for which you might also not know the duration. Let me know when you find an employer who is willing to hire you under those conditions.
This young cinematographer told me that they rely on temporary jobs and creative gigs in other fields different from their own to be able to make it to the end of the month. But, at this pace, their chances of one day achieving the dream of working in the film industry seem to be running low.
The Creative Industries in the UK are one of the strongest in the country. According to the Department of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Britain’s Creative Industries play an essential role shaping how we are seen around the world and are also a vital part of the economy. Yet, for starting creatives whose parents can’t support them throughout the first years or who don’t attend the right schools, building a sustainable career in the industry is very difficult.
Why is it so different for other industries? In the Creatives Industries, if you are a starting creative with no experience but you can afford to get unpaid internships/apprenticeships, there are options plentiful. But, if you are like the majority of starting creatives and have bills to pay, your chances of getting entry-level paid jobs are very slim. What if you are starting your creative career at a certain age when you have even more obligations? I don’t see anyone addressing that demographic.
I know that it is easy to write and campaign for No Free Work from the comfort of my office when starting creatives out there would take any opportunity that comes their way to get a foot in the industry. I also know that when setting up teams for client work, it is challenging to fit inexperienced people in the crew and with limited budgets, it is even more difficult to fit in additional assistants.
But, something’s got to give. As an industry, we are a referent for the rest of the world. I just watched the Emmy Awards 2019, and British creatives took most of the statues home. That is only possible when you support and invest in the industry. And, as an industry, we are only as strong as our weakest creative. Without the proper support, the newest generation of creatives will not be able to hold the weight of the legacy that they are inheriting.
Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.
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