This is a piece I wrote last year but is still very relevant .
I received an email from a casual acquaintance informing me of his new job (hurrah! Many congrats! said I) and associated project.
How exciting, I enthused. In these austere times it is always inspiring to hear of a fellow creative doing well.
“I’m looking for a short film script to be developed by my students,” he says. “Would you be interested?”
My instinct was, bloody hell yes. That’d be marvellous. As a freelance writer, I’m always interested in new ventures, how lovely of you to think of me…
Then I read further.
“Unfortunately there isn’t a budget for this, but your work will be seen by top industry professionals”.
I can hear the collective groan from fellow writers as they read this. It’s a familiar missive, not just for us writers but other creatives too.
We shouldn’t have to spell it out, but writers need money to live. To some people this is news, that writers have bills and mortgages much like anyone else. Writers, we sit by the magic money tree and pluck tenners from its branches; this is what some people think. The truth is, if I had taken on this unpaid work (I didn’t), the hours and days spent on this script would replace my paid writing work. You know, the thing that pays my bills and mortgage. What can I say? It’s greedy of me, I know, but the cats need new shoes and I in fact have no magic money tree at my disposal.
That’s my first point, the whole cash thing (or lack of it). Point two is the top industry professionals part. The problem is for me, if I write a screenplay for nothing, those “top industry professionals” will know it. How brilliant for my image! I may as well have a sign over my head saying “mug”.
Low pay is an issue affecting so many people. Minimum wage is still too low, but the £6.50 for adults is underpinned in law. For creatives though, minimum wage is often seen as a luxury.
Last year, I was offered the opportunity to lead a project. It wasn’t writing, but creative in nature, and paid £17.50 per hour for a 2 hour session each week. Hardly a fortune especially for the skills the role required, but a rate easily leapfrogging over minimum wage. By the third week, language shifted from “rates of pay”, to “we don’t want you to be out of pocket”. £25 was suggested to me, in cash. That’s rather a dramatic cut, I thought, then on the way home it slowly, horribly dawned on me. They meant not the original £35 per week, but £25 for the entire three weeks.
That’s £4.16 per hour. £8.32 per session.
Let’s do some sums.
My bus ticket to and from my home to the venue is £4.80.
For the first two weeks I took a bottle of water to drink, but on the third I forgot (sue me) and bought a cup of peppermint tea, at £1.60.
I was asked to promote the venture too, adding more hours of work for the money.
Adding up the pennies, this project was costing me money. If I wasn’t working on it, I’d be at home on my laptop, writing for people who give me money to work for them. If I continued with this project, I’d be paying to work.
I’m sorry, but this isn’t morally right. It just can’t be, from whatever angle you look at it.
In the past I’ve had suggestions that pay rates should be less because there’s been an “element of (my) training” involved in a project, that it’s good publicity for me – a very common line, and the big one – “when we get some funding…” or “there’s a possibility of paid work in the future”. Heartfelt at the time, I’m sure.
I don’t mind doing some work on a voluntary basis, if the cause is close to my heart. Us creatives are generous with our time, we realise it’s a privilege to earn a living doing something we enjoy. There’s so many people out there doing jobs they can’t bear, I’ve been there myself. I don’t even have to get dressed or drag myself out of bed to earn a crust, I know I’m on to a good thing. But I believe in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I note, as other creatives do, that those generously offering such bonanzas as free publicity and access to faceless, nameless top industry contacts, aren’t doing so for free.
Or even at £4.16 per hour. Interesting in itself, I think.
I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst, Jan 2015).