How life as a creative freelancer during covid-19 lockdown has been for me

With Covid-19 spreading through the world, the very much global film and TV industry in the UK came to a complete halt at the beginning of March 2020 -- for me, and just about every freelancer I know, both here and overseas, writes a British self-employed creative consultant with 14 years’ professional freelancing experience.

How life as a creative freelancer during covid-19 lockdown has been for me

A drama few of us saw coming

I was freelancing at the time on a new Disney production called ‘The Last Duel.’ It seems like a world away now, and I rather feel that not even this impressive historical drama-thriller film can compete with the drama we’ve all encountered since.

More than four months on from being on-set and, for the most part, the film and TV industry (plus many of its bedfellow sectors) is still very quiet. Production companies and show runners are still trying to figure out the logistics of coming back to work in a safe manner, when there’s everything from face coverings to social distancing to consider and incorporate.

Why compliance is nigh on impossible

Standing back from the detail of the government’s covid-19 safety guidance, you might think that for many departments on a film or tele production, that adhering to the guidelines shouldn’t be too hard.

But for a prosthetics and make-up artist like myself, adhering to them all the time is almost impossible. In fact, given the nature of my work and how it needs to be carried out in very close quarters, it’s a logistical nightmare. With covid-19, you’re not supposed to touch your own face, let alone the faces of other people!

Throw into the mix that the more famous members of a cast can sometimes be particular about who touches them, how, when and in what circumstance, and it becomes too restrictive to even bear thinking about!

Getting by

As a freelancer with creative skills, I have been trying to do what I can to make money during the coronavirus lockdown. But anything I’ve managed to turn my hand to has provided me with only a glimmer of my normal income. Thankfully, I’ve been able to freeze my mortgage due to the government’s home-loan holiday announcement, made back in March. And the financial support from the government via the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) has made it possible for me to keep afloat and stay positive. For those two official lifelines, I am extremely grateful.

It also turns out that a bit of time off isn't too bad to catch up with those jobs around the house that your other half has been pestering you to get finished for ages!

And not getting by...

Sadly though, for many of my freelance colleagues, they still have not received any support from the government since the pandemic hit, often due one or two (tiny) technical factors making them ineligible. In that sense, the SEISS is inflexible.  

A few workers I know have received help from the government, but it’s a pittance compared to their usual take-home pay.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, did initially say that only 5% of the self-employed would slip through the net.

On the ground, anecdotally, it feels like a lot more than five per cent.

Chancellor should review his numbers

Indeed, unfortunately in my specific part of the creative industry -- Film and TV, this small, 5% exclusion rate simply isn't the case. You're looking at more like 30%. As a minimum.

Thankfully, due to lockdown now easing and industry being innovative in coming up with ideas about how to make creative sets and shoots ‘covid-secure,’ there finally seems to be change on the horizon. A much-appreciated light at the end of the tunnel. So all being well, work for me should be starting up again from the start of next week.

How my creative sector is getting covid-secure

Health and safety webinars are already taking place as a compulsory ‘pre-attendance requirement’ by production companies. Life on-set will be hugely different to how it has ever looked before. There will be PPE kits handed out to all crew and strict rules to follow.

I have to say that so far, I have been very impressed with how my sector has reacted since we got an amber light, if not the desirable solid green light to resume 'business as usual.' Some people might call the measures, like the webinars and the compulsory PPE, overkill. But personally, if it keeps infection numbers down, saves lives and keeps us all in work, I'm 100% in support.

Fears, stars and the future

My main fear now is that come October, there will be another spike in covid-19 infections and productions will stop again as a result. But this time, there will be no furlough schemes, no self-employment support and no mortgage holidays.

On a personal level, I must say I’ve been counting my lucky stars over the last four months. Lockdown has given me time to rest, self-reflect, recharge. And as part of that self-care programme, do a lot of gardening!

The outlook? Well, the next few months do have a large question mark hanging overhead – as they do for many other self-employed people. But for me at least, I now feel I can go back to work, confident that the environments are going to be as safe as possible. Let’s hope that many other creative industry freelancers can soon say -- and feel -- the same.


27th July 2020

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