Employment

UK film and TV workers forced to find new jobs and claim benefits due to Hollywood strikes

Three quarters of UK film and TV workers currently out of work, leaving many feeling forced to claim benefits and find minimum wage work

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) picket outside Netflix on Sunset Blvd in LA on 5 May 2023. Image: Ringo Chiu / Shutterstock

Britain’s TV and film industry is facing the prospect of a mass exodus of crew into other lines of work as the US actors’ and writers’ strike has stripped many of their careers and income. 

“The strikes have literally stopped pretty much everything,” said Nico Moriggi, 32, who works as a freelance TV production secretary.

Moriggi has been out of work on TV sets since the start of 2023, and has taken on a minimum-wage job in a pub as well as signing up for universal credit to get by. 

Three quarters of film and TV workers in the UK are currently out of work according to a recent survey conducted by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU), as a result of the Hollywood strikes that have shut down the industry.

In the US, Hollywood TV and film writers have been on strike with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) since April, with Hollywood actors, represented by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFRA) starting further strike action in mid-July. 

They’re striking in protest of the low pay that’s left just 14% of working actors in SAG making enough money to qualify for health insurance. They are also seeking assurances that AI technology won’t be used to write scripts without the need for professional writers, or copy the likeness of actors making their physical participation redundant

“Absolutely I am in support of the strikes,” says Moriggi, “even though it’s putting me in a bad situation, it’s worth it to force change in this industry.” The issues the American actors and writers are fighting are the same ones that threaten the long-term careers of those in Britain, he explains, but in the short-term, rent and bills still need to be paid.

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This is the first time both Hollywood actors and writers have been on strike since 1960, and with the most central – and least replaceable – cogs in the industry refusing to write scripts or play parts, Hollywood TV and film production has ground to a halt. With much of Britain’s TV and film production intertwined with the US, the effects have been catastrophic for crew members working on film or TV sets, such as in costume departments, lighting, sound, set design and production.

“I’ve stopped trying to wonder when the strikes will end or not, there’s no way of knowing,” says
Nico Moriggi who works as a TV production secretary. Image: supplied

The scariest part for most is that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. The final season of Netflix smash hit Stranger Things has been delayed to at least 2025, as has HBO’s teen drama Euphoria. Production has been paused on shows including season two of Severance and Marvel’s new Wonder Man miniseries, while a production of Wicked from Universal had just 10 days left of filming before the strike shut down production. It is unclear when, or even if at all, these productions will go ahead. 

“It’s hard to even weather the storm, because we have no idea when a resolution might be reached,” says Molly Skelton, 29, a freelance costume assistant based near Oxford, Buckinghamshire. “We’re faced with an indefinite level of insecurity.

“As much as I wholeheartedly support the strikes, as a costumer it isn’t my battle, yet my whole livelihood has all but vanished in the past few months. It’s like the pandemic all over again and there is absolutely zero support for us.” 

The insecurity has left Skelton feeling forced to look for a way out of the industry, and is considering retraining as a doula or birthing partner. 

Nearly a quarter of the 4,000 freelance film and TV workers surveyed said they did not see themselves working in the industry in the next five years, according to BECTU’s survey.

“Much of the rhetoric surrounding the US dispute is about the actors, but as our survey shows the impact on crew and other film and TV workers is severe and cannot be underestimated,” said head of BECTU Philippa Childs.

Costume assistant Molly Skelton has started looking into retraining as a birthing partner due to the “indefinite level of insecurity” in the TV and film industry. Image: supplied

“The number of freelancers questioning their future in the industry should sound alarm bells. For too long we have seen a pattern of engaging crew where they are picked up and dropped again with little notice, protection or reassurances about future employment.” 

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to bring in a form of furlough, or “income replacement” for people who are unable to work due to strikes by actors and writers. 

In response to the petition, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said: “The government understands that US industrial action is impacting UK crew. While we have no plans to introduce an income replacement scheme, help is available through HMRC’s Time to Pay scheme.”

Time to Pay allows people who are self-employed a longer time frame in which to pay the money they owe in tax, but does not offer additional funds. 

“Now more than ever, as the workforce faces a fresh crisis, we need to see swift and tangible support from the government,” Childs continued. 

“The government is loud and proud about how much the creative industries bring to the UK. If it wants to stand by these warm words, it must now put its money where its mouth is and look after those who work in the sector.”

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