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UK film and TV crew host demonstration at the opening of the BFI London Film Festival

Staff Writer and Photographer Emma Carmichael covers a demonstration hosted at the BFI London Film Festival on 4 October 2023, and speaks to campaigners at the protest to hear their stories.

Yesterday during the opening of the London Film Festival at the British Film Institute, film and TV crew carried out a small demonstration highlighting the situation facing media workers since the beginning of strikes in Hollywood. This protest was set to a contrasting backdrop of the formally dressed guests queuing for Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn premiere on the red carpet, providing a fitting illustration of the current state of crisis in the film industry.

Consequences of the strikes held by actors and screenwriters in the US, the British industry is suffering from the sudden break in Hollywood productions. A considerable amount of the U.S. film work is produced in the U.K., valued for its quality and creativity. With screenwriters and actors walking out, it is not only the production that is on hold but also the crews working on set. American productions are a big part of the British film industry’s economy – freezing this market is putting the whole workforce under water.

“For us in the U.K. it was like turning a tap off. The work completely dried off over night. It has been really hard.”

Katie, an attendant of the protest
Katie handing out pamphlets in the queue for the premiere. BFI, London. 4 October 2023. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

The union BritCrewStories called for a demonstration at the opening of the festival to “raise awareness” and “gain visibility”. A member of the crew emphasised to Roar that this event was not a protest; “We are not protesting against the film industry. We love film”.

One week ago, U.S. writers decided upon a deal with studios after five months of industrial action. However, the actor’s union remains on strike and this will continue to slow down Hollywood’s industry, both at home in the U.S. and abroad. The U.K. will still be very much impacted in the coming months.

Stationed in line, the activists are expressing their frustrations:

“Because of the U.S. strikes, people have lost their jobs without notice. A major step would be a proper redistribution of wealth. CEO’s of leading streaming compagnies go home with hundred millions of pounds in bonuses. The money needs to filtered down to the crews working 70 to 90 hours a week. I am tired of hearing that there is no budget because there is”.

Protestor with 22 years in the industry.

Standing next to us, a colleague adds:

“The U.K. government talks about how much money we bring into the country but, in situations like this there is nothing to help us”.

BFI, London. 4 October 2023. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

According to Bectu, three-quarters of UK film and TV workers are currently out of work. These include all behind-the-scenes jobs from camera operators and costume designers to technicians. Most of these jobs are filled by freelancers with no real protection from unemployment and financial precarity. The British film industry is not technically on strike, but its staff is directly impacted by its disputes.

Andrew, a TV editor attending the protest, describes his situation:

The crew are forgotten people but they make up most of the industry. We are all basically freelance. We have no real rights, no employment rights, we go from job to job. We don’t have any sick pay and holidays are a problem. People are really struggling, even when there is no strike on. In Britain we have the same problem than the U.S. but nothing is being done”.

Andrew, a TV editor

At the film opening, 30 workers held banners and distributed pamphlets whilst chanting “We love film!”. In the background, on the red carpet, fewer high-profile celebrities than usual were parading in front of photographers, and many actors were missing. Festivals and promoting events are also impacted by the strike.

For once, the two ends of the film production chain met. While the first is issuing a call for help; the second seems to be ignoring what is happening behind the scenes.

On Instagram, BritCrewStories announced another demonstration on October 15, for the closing gala of the festival.

For more about protests in London, click here.

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