Victory for film interns! Pinewood-based firm makes unpaid role PAID

FDI CAVES IN TO COMPLAINTS, AFTER PINEWOOD STUDIOS FAILS TO BACK YOUNG WORKERS

A film company we challenged for advertising an unpaid PA role appears to have changed its mind and made the job a paid opportunity. The revelation comes despite a disappointing lack of support from Pinewood Studios, where the firm is based, who refused our request to ask all companies leasing their spaces to abide by the National Minimum Wage law (despite their supposed commitment to diversity and fair access to jobs).

The row began last month, when Film Design International (FDI) posted an advert on Facebook for a four-month ‘voluntary’ role. From the advert, FDI appeared to think it was okay for payment for the successful applicant’s PA work to take the form of technical training for film work. Here is the advert:

We were less sure that this was okay. So, we wrote to FDI asking how the firm feels this role fits with the UK’s National Minimum Wage (NMW) law – and entered FDI’s twilight world of self-righteousness and riddles. Here is their first reply:

FROM: FDI
TO: GRADUATE FOG
DATE: 2 OCTOBER 2017

Dear Tanya

Film Design International (FDI), was founded in 2001 by Terry Ackland-Snow in order to pass on the wealth of experience gained working on many iconic award winning feature films and television projects. Many students have gone on to work in art departments across the UK and Internationally. It is with regret that we find ourselves subject to the assertions you make given the industry respect and standing the company and its students have advanced over the years.

We understand the wide concerns about unpaid work and how it has been used within the industry to help reduce the costs of a production. This, as we are not a production company, is patently not our case however we seek to comply with the current legislation affecting our operation and in the spirit of its activity.

Whilst understanding your frustrations that exist about certain aspects of the industry, it is unfortunate that FDI seems to have become such focus for this. It is worth stating that Terry has been a forthright advocate and influence within the industry seeking to ensure that people receive due reward for their efforts. He has always made sure that students completing the courses become members of the British Film Designers Guild so that genuine production companies have to pay them according to the rate card set by the guild.

As not for profit making company, that is not a registered charity, we are in the light of this, looking at alternative solutions to assist with the day to day running of the office. Please rest assured that we are fully committed to continuing the role the company has in serving its individuals and industry in a fair and transparent manner.

We hope this satisfies your recent queries.

Regards

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Eh? “Alternative solutions to assist with the day to day running of the office”? Confused, we wrote back:

FROM: GRADUATE FOG
TO: FDI

Thank you for this response. However, there is one (rather crucial) line which I do not quite understand. When you say:

“As not for profit making company, that is not a registered charity, we are in the light of this, looking at alternative solutions to assist with the day to day running of the office.”

…do you mean that you have now decided that this PA role will be paid? Or are you saying that this training-as-pay model is your idea of an ‘alternative’ that allows you to run your office without paying a salary?

Thanks again,

Tanya de Grunwald
Founder, Graduate Fog

Two days later, they replied:

FROM: FDI
TO: GRADUATE FOG
DATE: 4 OCTOBER 2017

Dear Tanya

Further to your reply.

We have previously stated to you that we endeavour to operate in a fair and transparent manner, however we obviously, as you no doubt understand, have a certain level of business and personal confidentiality to adhere too.

We should therefore like to clarify, that the person currently in-post is contracted and is fully remunerated for all work undertaken for and on behalf of the company. The payments are at the appropriate national minimum rate throughout the contracted period.

We sincerely hope that this finally answers your queries.

Setting aside the nonsense assertion that ‘business and personal confidentiality’ should prevent them answering a simple question: Is this a paid role or not?” it seemed they may have decided to turn the position into a paid role, but just didn’t want to give us the satisfaction of saying it clearly. How grown-up. Happily, we recently heard from fellow campaigner Mark Watson, who had had greater success in getting a straight answer out of FDI. To him, they wrote the following:

TO: MARK WATSON
FROM: FDI
DATE: 3 OCTOBER 2017

Dear Mark

For further information, the post has now been formalised and is confirmed as a paid short term Office Admin position remunerated at the appropriate minimum wage level.

Hope that this assures you of our continuing support and overriding concern to assist young aspiring persons to get a foothold in the industry and has always been Terry’s intention since inception of the company.

We’re taking this as a victory for young workers! But the whole incident does not reflect well on the British film and TV industry.

After all, FDI only changed their minds on pay following substantial pressure from multiple campaigners, and the public. And when it came to the crunch, Pinewood Studios – supposedly a beacon of the British film industry, completely failed to step up and back young people’s right to pay. It is enormously time-consuming for campaigners like us (and Mark Watson, and Intern Aware) to chase individual employers like this over every unpaid role Graduate Fog’s readers alert us to – and we could use some help from those in all industries who are supposed to be leaders. We know they can do more – but it seems they simply don’t want to.

Needless to say, in dismissing this issue and complaints from young talent, the British film and TV industry continues to wilfully ignore a HUGE problem that has been allowed to go on for far too long and affect far too many youngsters’ dreams of building a career in the industry. Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After the last couple of weeks of coverage about the widespread abuses of power in Hollywood, we know the entertainment industry is is pretty good at turning a blind eye when it wants to.

* WHY IS UNPAID WORK STILL SO COMMON IN THE TV AND FILM WORLD?

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