Job Shares in Film

1288 Avengers: Age of Ultron operated a job share scheme

Working in Film and TV Drama can be very demanding and difficult if you have a family. The long, exhausting hours and work trips away from home are incompatible with any sense of domestic routine. Having children can often spell the end of careers in film for some people.

It’s very difficult to work on a production full time and raise a young family, especially as a freelancer. Last year, we looked at the effects of long hours on your health in this blog, ‘Survival of the Fittest’. If a 16-hour day is a normal day for a crew member, then childcare arrangements could be so expensive that going back to work might not even cover the cost. Some very talented people are frozen out of Film and Drama when they become parents.

Twenty years ago, the prospect of a job share in the film and TV Drama industry seemed unthinkable to many new parents who were ready and willing to return to work.

Today, the Art Department are leading the way when it comes to bringing parents back into the fold. And it’s the bigger budget productions that have enabled this new trend and against the old culture of all-or-nothing.

Job sharing in the art department is believed to have started on the Harry Potter films (Prod Designer, Stuart Craig), where the years of continual work made it possible for crew members to transition into job shares, as they moved from film to film.

There was scepticism when Craig first brought in the job share but more and more films and TV Drama are able to utlilise the available talent.

Sandra Phillips is an Art Director/draughtsperson, currently working on the huge scale Disney production, Beauty and the Beast. She has two young children of infant school age and a partner who works as a TV cameraman. Before becoming a parent, her credits included Quantum of Solace and the Mamma Mia!, both large scale productions, heavy on set build and design.

Before returning to filming, she considered alternative careers that were more flexible, like party planning and interior design. It wasn’t until a former colleague Michael Carlin called, offering a flexible, part-time job share, that she was able to use her experience to the fullest.

Carlin, the Oscar nominated Production Designer of The Duchess and films such as The Last King of Scotland and In Bruges, regularly uses crew in a job share, if it’s suitable for the production. He told thecallsheet: “If the job sharers hadn’t paused their career to have children, they could be working at a higher level by now, so you are getting art directors and draughtspeople with more experience. I’m getting to work with the people I want to work with.  People who I have a history with and I’m getting 2 very qualified members of the team for the price of one. As a designer, that’s gold dust. If you want a job share to work, it’s possible” 

Since becoming a parent, Phillips’ credits have included The Avengers: Age of Ultron, In the Heart of the Sea, Dark Shadows and the Two Faces of January (with Designer Michael Carlin), as well as a number of commercials. When asked why this trend might have come about, she said:  “With production levels so high at the moment and the really large films sucking up so many crew, it means that experienced crew are in demand. There is also a younger generation of HoDs who understand that some people have families and need to be more flexible.”

Phillips works 3 days a week, while her job share colleague Alice Biddle also works 3 days a week (one day is considered a hand-over day). They invoice separately and work normal pre-production hours of 8am to 7pm. The cost to the production is one day a week extra, the value is getting their vast experience.

When asked if it would work for other roles, Production Designer Carlin was unsure. “Job shares are not suitable in every position or on every production, you need a critical mass of a team to make it possible. It tends to happen on the larger budget stuff at the moment, if you are doing a TV drama with a very small department or a mainly location based shoot, then job shares become more difficult”. 

1287 The Two Faces of January, used a Job Share scheme in the art department

Star Wars: The Force Awakens also employed art department crew on a job share basis, as did Joe Wrights’ Pan and The Huntsman, which is currently in pre-production. Some of the Production Management team at BBC Drama in Elstree also operate a job share system.

The world of TV factual, entertainment, current affairs etc has a history of offering skilled freelance talent a route back to work after becoming parents, with resources such as media parents at the forefront. A working day on a lot of TV factual production is generally shorter and more flexible than in Film and TV Drama. We want to highlight these cases to show to employers, particularly in film and drama, that there are some roles that can be shared and that it might actually benefit the production, as well as the crew.

For anyone who works these long hours, a work/life balance would be ideal, but while the standard operating day so long, we can only hope and encourage more employers to be open minded to flexible hours and job shares where they might be appropriate. With production levels peaking and with the workforce almost at capacity, we hope that sympathetic and creative solutions like this can be used to retain the wealth of talent the industry regularly freezes out.



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