Source: Screen File

US studios and streamers have yet to respond positively to a request last month from UK creative industries’ union Bectu to pay retainer fees for UK crews working on productions shut down by the ongoing Hollywood actors’ and writers’ strikes.

“I’ve had replies [from studios/streamers], but nothing positive,” said Spencer MacDonald, Bectu’s national secretary of London production and regional production division. “Some of them had said crew can resign and walk away from the job and find other employment, but we knew that anyway, and it’s a desert out there for work.

“They have [either] not replied, or it’s been a one liner.”

Major productions to shut down in the UK since the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes were called include Wicked, How To Train Your Dragon and Speak No Evil for Universal; Disney’s Deadpool 3 and Andor series; Warner Bros and Netflix series The Sandman; and AppleTV’s Silo.

MacDonald contacted the streamers and studios at the end of July. He told Screen at the time: “When it was busy and there was a mad gold rush for content, they [US companies] were paying [UK crew] retainers. They’ve done it before – it’s not completely alien.”

Screen understands there has been at least one incident of a retainer fee paid to heads of department working on a stalled US streamer series. 

When contacted by Screen, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Warner Bros, Disney and  Universal all declined to comment on the issue of retainer fees or financial support for crew.

Amazon Prime Video and Warner Bros Discovery have given financial support to the UK’s Film and TV Charity stop-gap grants. These grants provide funding to support film and TV workers amid economic crisis, in the form of one-off payments up to £750. Last month, the charity reported an 800% increase in applications for its grants in July compared with the same month last year. As well as Amazon Prime Video and Warner Bros Discovery, it has received extra cash from UK broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, UK production company Hartswood Films and the world’s largest independent TV producer, Banijay.

The Film and TV Charity told Screen the amount donated has now exceeded the £500,000 reported last month, with an exact figure not confirmed. 

A survey of 4,000 film and TV workers carried out by Bectu has revealed three quarters of survey respondents are not working and 80% have seen their employment directly impacted by the US industrial disputes. Furthermore, 90% said they are worried about their financial security. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they did not see themselves working in the industry in the next five years, and 60% say they are struggling with their mental health as a result of loss of work and/ or financial worries.

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission (BFC), said of its response to the strikes: ”The British Film Commission is keeping the UK Government closely updated on the situation and the impacts on the production community here in the UK. We are also supporting our incredibly talented work force through signposting to support, guidance and training available during this challenging period.”

Government intervention

A petition has been launched by campaigner Laura Evans, to put pressure on the government do more to support UK TV and film crew who are unable to work due to strikes by actors and writers. As of September 8, it had almost 30,000 signatures.

The government’s department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has issued a statement in response, saying: “We are engaging with industry to understand the impact of continued US strike. We continue our support for the screen industries through competitive tax reliefs, investing in studio infrastructure and supporting innovation and promoting independent content.”

HM Revenue and Customs has a ‘time to pay’ policy which may provide support to some affected crew. The policy allows businesses and individuals experiencing temporary financial difficulty to schedule their tax debts into more affordable instalment arrangements with no maximum repayment period. However, no specific strike-related support from the UK government for industry workers, financial or otherwise, has been outlined. 

“It’s just words about the industry,” said MacDonald of the government response. “They talk about what they do to support the industry because of tax breaks and the rest of it, but that’s about encouraging investment and supporting production companies. It’s not about the workers. The biggest danger facing the UK industry is the skills shortage. If they’re going to try and grow the industry to speed they have been, they won’t have the trained workforce.

“There’s going to be a massive gold rush again when everything’s back up and running, then we’re going to hit another disaster and everyone’s going to get fed up and leave [the industry] again. We can’t have this hokey-cokey.”