Navigating the Wild West: Dial F for Freelancer asks the industry what the future holds

Posted on June 3, 2021 by Anna Kime

Categories: General

On Friday 14 May, freelance audience development consultant Anna Kime hosted a roundtable for Dial F for Freelancer to consider the future of support and advocacy for freelancers in film exhibition and distribution. In this piece, Anna covers some of the headline topics discussed, the work speakers are undertaking and Dial F’s hopes for the future.

Dial F for Freelancer is a volunteer-run grassroots and advocacy network. We hope to help standardise industry practice and improve behaviour towards freelancers in film exhibition and distribution. Last Autumn we held a members’ workshop, sharing experiences of freelancing and looking to agree headings for our emerging code of conduct to propose to the industry. This was followed by a panel discussion at This Way Up 2020 that sought to consider common experiences with freelancers in other creative industries.

As a voluntary organisation we at Dial F consider our capacity carefully. If we’re talking to our members and to other creative industries, what’s our next move? We invited industry organisations we felt have a role in supporting freelancers to discuss the future of support for this cohort in a roundtable discussion on 14 May, which I hosted. For this discussion I was joined by:

What challenges do freelancers face right now?

I opened the discussion by asking: what is the most pressing issue for freelancers currently?

Lucy felt mental health and the retention of talent were priorities, highlighting a real danger that freelancers are lost from the industry when forced to seek alternative employment.

Evy felt an overall framework was needed – she made a good case for this overarching all creative industries as freelancers move between sectors. CIF’s three strands of Voice, Value and Power feel well considered and insightful.

Philippa felt a lack of understanding about the sector had led to massive frustration and a voice in government is needed to improve this.

Sonali also agreed the lack of understanding of the landscape freelancers are working in is pressing. Excluded UK state that over 3 million people are affected by exclusion from government financial schemes.

While Ben and Gareth felt that the ‘restart’ as we hope to come out of the pandemic should create opportunities to better support freelancers.

Ann voiced her concern about freelancers’ pay rates, particularly in the context of reopening when budgets will be under pressure. She pointed to frameworks from the BFI such as their Diversity Standards and bullying and harassment prevention guidance that could inspire a similar initiative for fair pay. We agreed a potential roll out across the Film Audience Network would provide the opportunity to reach a large proportion of the exhibition sector.

A word-cloud showing lots of words relating to concerns for freelancers, in orange, red, green and blue text.
Dial F for Freelancer roundtable attendee freelancing concerns. Image courtesy of Anna Kime.
Bringing about change

This example on fair pay was usefully specific. I have often felt a gap yawning between agreement about the challenges freelancers face and what needs to be done to tackle this. I wondered about the problem of articulation. How can we communicate clearly, loudly and persuasively about a situation that is nuanced, niche and ultimately experienced on an unsupported and underrepresented individual basis?

I was concerned to keep the discussion forward-focused and asked who is accountable for freelancers in the industry. Speakers talked about allies, advocates and alignment. A need to be collaborative, collegiate, collective. This feels laudable but not as tangible as Dial F would like.

At Dial F we’ve often described how freelancers are expected to be their own promoters, accountants and line managers. I asked the speakers how they think we can create a mind shift in employers to consider their duty of care as standard practice.

“Freelancers are expected to be their own promoters, accountants and line managers… [how can we] create a mind shift in employers to consider their duty of care as standard practice?”

Gareth felt employers should hold inductions and debriefings at the end of their contracts with freelancers as a minimum. We agreed it was a useful comparison to consider what our PAYE peers can expect in terms of HR support, skills development and appraised activity.

The Film + TV Charity are launching a culture change campaign this Autumn to challenge unhealthy cultures and outdated attitudes. This is part of their Looking Glass research. Their initial survey in 2019 found 87% of respondents reported having experienced a mental health problem. Their follow up survey, to gain an accurate picture two years on, is open now and available here.

Evy referenced the Coalition for Change formed by the TV industry as a good example of industry bodies working together to bring about change.

Ben explained the BFI are conscious their current funding objectives resulted in a rise in employment of freelancers to undertake community and outreach work. The danger here being that freelancers are considered merely a means to funding. Dial F members report feeling this is the case on a regular basis. Ben stressed the BFI expects funding recipients to consider this audience development work as intrinsic to their activity rather than an add-on, and to appreciate the value of the work and the people they’re bringing on board to do it.

Hopes for the future

Our discussion prompted questions from the audience about financial support in future, and advice and advocacy on rates of pay. Speakers agreed much more needed to be done formally and felt they were committed to continue lobbying to bring common issues to light.

Sonali noted there were some instances of local support for creative freelancers in Sheffield and Manchester, wondering if we could be hopeful for more local and regional support in the future. Ben added the BFI are beginning work on their Lottery funding strategy beyond 2022 and want freelancers’ voices to be heard in the consultation to help the BFI find ways to support them in the future. This felt positive, a concrete opportunity for Dial F to pursue.

At Dial F we agreed the roundtable had provoked a fertile discussion and were grateful to the speakers for being so open and willing to take part. Everyone was candid about the challenges faced and spoke passionately about the need for change. We were also heartened that the speakers agreed it was important we follow up the conversation in the summer. The topics that arose reassured us our draft code of conduct is focussed in the right areas: Duty of Care, Well-being, Pay rates and Timescales, Transparency and Commitment.

We remain frustrated though. We’ve donated our time and expertise to bring about this conversation. Whilst we’re supported with words and agreement, action needs to be taken to bring about change. So far the funding and sponsorship for Dial F has been minimal and short term. We feel the industry should pay for this vital work and will continue to ask that they do so.

If you would like to get in touch with Dial F for Freelancer please write to:

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