A new focus on flexible working arrangements post-pandemic should see productivity gains all round.

Earlier this month, the UK Screen Alliance, in consultation with its members, withdrew the specific Covid restrictions on film and TV post production.

A dubbing mixer working at home for Envy

A dubbing mixer working at home for Envy

While various Covid guidance developed by the British Film Commission, broadcasters and Pact remain in place (it is still mandatory to consider Covid-19 within a company’s risk assessment) in practice these are falling away just as they are in other industries and society.

This presents the post-production sector with a dilemma for its employees, though not nearly as fraught a one as having to co-ordinate working from home in Spring 2020.

The issue is how to reset the working and home life balance of the post operation. The pandemic has, after all, put a firebreak under work conditions and a chance to cement a more flexible set of office to home office working arrangements, arguably more conducent to productivity and wellbeing.

“A lot of employees at Envy have requested to keep coming into work so that they can separate their home and work life more efficiently. It’s an individual choice,” Natascha Cadle, Envy

“We’re a progressive thinking company, so if this ‘reset’ is an opportunity to create a better work-life balance, then we should embrace it,” says Vittorio Giannini, MD/EP, Freefolk. “We believe a hybrid working model is the way forward, with a strong sense of being together, teaching and learning from each other and creating the right culture which at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean being in the office Monday to Friday 9-til-6.”

Chance to press reset

Anecdotally, few editors want to go back to the way things were. Many already moved outside London pre-pandemic and many more did so during the past couple years.

Cheryl Payne, Head of Production, Freefolk

Vittorio Giannini, MD-EP Freefolk

Nor do they need to be in a city centre suite, often with no-one else in attendance, perhaps until performing the final client review (which can also be achieved with live streaming tools).

“Flexibility is the key and letting each head of department decide, with their teams, the working week according to the needs of the project,” says Giannini. “We’re all able to have a say, to some extent, in how we want to structure our work time and we will try and accommodate it, without compromising the projects that we’re working on.

“Some of our staff are fully remote, purely because of geography and others want to come into the studio two or three days a week. Our technical set up means that there’s total flexibility and we work with our staff to ensure that they are able to work both remotely and in the studio.”

Adopting flexible work arrangements is arguably long overdue in a sector renowned for surviving on tight on budgets with staff squeezed on time.

An important creative wing of a project it may be but post production was also seen as the fixing area for when things don’t go as well as planned on set or in the edit. Any last-minute changes required by clients fell on the facility to accommodate.

“Many well laid plans are compressed into the existing post schedule with additional work,” Giannini says. “This has very rarely been reflected in either budgets or understanding of the post company’s work life balance. The knock-on effect for all employees is then burn out. Without additional budget the existing team has to complete the work.”

Prioritising mental health

Zeb Chadfield, Founder, The Finish Line, has been more vocal than most about the detrimental impact of working conditions in the industry. He says prioritising a duty of care to staff and producing great work are far from mutually exclusive.

One of the biggest problems in the industry, he believes, is long working hours and just how normalised those hours have become. That problem is compounded by things like widespread ‘imposter syndrome’, making artists feel they should simply be lucky to have a job.

“If this ‘reset’ is an opportunity to create a better work-life balance, then we should embrace it,” Vittorio Giannini, Freefolk

“Our lives get written off in our love for the work and everyone takes advantage of that,” he says. “Working long hours should be seen as a management and planning problem, not a badge of honour.”

Chadfield has been working with The Film and TV Charity which reported that almost 90% of off-screen film and TV professionals in the UK have experienced mental health issues on the job (significantly worse than the general population figure, which stands at 65%).

“We need guidelines which advise clients to talk to post in advance of scheduling a project to make sure that, even with a tight budget, the project is created based on realistic expectations that don’t require artists to forgo their personal lives because the budgets are wrong,” he says.

When Chadfield started The Finish Line a decade ago he did so with a distributed post production model and an attitude that prioritised his employee’s mental health.

“We’ve proved that not only can a post-production facility like mine survive, but it can thrive,” he says.

The Finish Line structures projects around shorter days and longer timelines to keep workloads manageable. When overtime is needed, it comes with recovery time, as well as food and travel budgets.

“Now I’ve shown it works, I want these standards to become the industry norm. After the pandemic, I hope we’ll all have learned to see things with a new perspective, and reconsider what it means to care about your team,” he adds.

Low budgets will always be a factor and have often been the start of many a great creative’s career or working relationship with an artist or post team. No-one is saying these should be culled.

Vittorio Giannini, MD-EP Freefolk

Cheryl Payne, Head of Production, Freefolk 

“More flexibility for our staff allows more space to do these projects in their own time without the added pressure of being in the studio during the weekend or late at night,” says Giannini. “Our creatives are always keen to take on interesting projects that don’t necessarily have the budget to support them but if they can be done in and around their own schedule it takes the stress out of the equation.”

Flexible work arrangements

To be clear, trusting staff to structure their work hours to fit in with their lives does not automatically mean everyone wants to work from home. On the contrary, the enforcement of that during 2020-21 has opened people’s eyes to the vital importance of colleague and client connection for health and for creativity.

“At the beginning of Covid, when we all had to work from home, it would hardly fit the idyllic image of what most people had in mind if this were suggested pre-Covid,” remarks Natascha Cadle, Creative Director and Co-Founder, Envy. “Not only did you have to work but you also had to school your children, self-motivate and hope that your internet connection kept working.

“I feel that we are experiencing almost an even more ‘pressured’ working environment now, supposedly post-Covid. Although hybrid working can be achieved for certain roles in the creative industries, which does help with the work-life balance, a lot of people are not able to do so.

“A lot of employees at Envy have requested to keep coming into work so that they can separate their home and work life more efficiently. It’s an individual choice. Not everyone has the luxury of space in their home and able to create a work environment.”

Cadle also reasons that working from home won’t necessarily benefit the next generation of talent. “You just don’t learn as efficiently from colleagues over Zoom,” she says. “We all thrive on social interaction which is essential to every aspect of our emotional and physical health. Our industry is a very social and collaborative and that is not always easily achieved when you work remotely.”

The UK is enjoying an unprecedented film and TV production boom which should be fantastic for the whole industry but it is suffering acute skills shortages. From VFX artists and set designers to production managers into post, the issue is causing delays to some shooting schedules and is also fuelling wage inflation leaving a lot of producers struggling to cope.

“Post has always had to deal with the same issues and of course it varies enormously from project to project,” says Cadle. “All we can do is show how much value we provide as a service industry and underselling ourselves is a disservice for the whole industry.”