Crew crisis threatens production boom
UK crews are undoubtedly among the best in the world, with a huge range of skills and experience to offer. But right now, and in the future, there looms a serious shortage.
My role as senior editor for scripted production in the UK means I am on the phone all day long to HoDs and agents who represent crew at all levels.
All I have heard for the past few months is how incredibly hard it is to find HoDs and crew, with approaches often being made several months in advance of the start of active prep.
Producers and line producers have told me they are “desperate”: they simply cannot find anyone available at various levels, from line producers and production managers to technicians and accountants.
In some instances, actual storylines, dialogue and shooting schedules have been changed at short notice to accommodate the shortage of particular roles.
Rush for insurance
The issues are both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, there is a bottleneck because so many producers are rushing to get their projects registered before the 31 December deadline of the government’s Covid production insurance backstop - the Film & TV Production Restart Scheme, which enabled the industry to get back on its feet last year and begin its extraordinary bounceback.
Another issue is the positive Covid tests that temporarily halt productions. We have seen it on massive projects such as Mission: Impossible 7 as much as on the smaller, domestic sets. This means that at any one time, clutches of crew - including those who have been double-jabbed - must self-isolate at home, as close contacts of the person who tested positive. Throw false-negative test results into the equation and you have a recipe for logistical chaos.
Until the change on 16 August, which is expected to see self-isolation for close contacts replaced by daily testing, this will continue. And although the safety of all crew must absolutely take priority over everything else, it doesn’t help with the shortfall in the meantime.
And the long-term may not look much brighter! In the last year, we have published story after story on The Knowledge about new studios being built and existing studios being expanded, as demand surges.
And still I keep hearing the same lament from producers and line producers: “How are we going to find enough skilled crew to service all these new films and HETV dramas?”
ScreenSkills does a marvellous job of helping to provide a new generation of trained crew, with a wide range of courses on offer. These include programmes on how to move sideways in the industry as well as upwards and, of course, its vital Covid Supervisor training schemes, which last year quickly enabled sets to re-open with the correctly-qualified individuals in place.
But long-term, the pipeline is in danger of drying up if the boom in content creation continues to get bigger and bigger. Will producers and line producers have to wait outside film schools to grab graduates as they leave? I have recently heard of crew being offered rates way over the industry standard for just a few days’ work, with offers of full travel and accommodation thrown in, sometimes for jobs that are hundreds of miles away.
Surely all this makes the need for even more long-term training all the more urgent. The ebb and flow of Covid is certainly here to stay, and the production industry has coped magnificently with the challenge so far, but it has also highlighted what we were already starting to realise – if the UK is to maintain its position as one of just a handful of world-class production hubs, we need to act now to get more training in place.
We need to guarantee that the gold standard and availability of crew continue to be a major incentive for those invaluable inward investment projects and the UK production industry as a whole.
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