Opinion Pieces

Opinion Pieces


Diversity within Film and TV


Earlier this year Sound Editor Emma Butt had a conversation with Marcus Ryder MBE who, along with being a visiting professor for Media Diversity for Birmingham University and executive producer for Caixin Global, is also an executive committee member responsible for launching the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity. The conversation centred around Diversity within Film and TV and the barriers people working within sound post production face in trying to get into the industry but also to progress when they reach a certain point in their career. In recent years we have seen more discussions about the need for diversity on screen and in Directing roles, but rarely does that conversation stretch to craft and technical roles, which are an integral part of any production.

 

Marcus and the Centre offered her a very unique opportunity, to undergo a pilot research project through the Centre where she would examine the highest rated TV shows across the Autumn period of 2019 on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One and the breakdown of diversity across the key post-production sound team roles. The data would be drawn from Broadcast magazine’s quarterly reports on highest rated shows (published online 15/9/2019), on screen credits and IMDB. The research also involved interviews with a diverse range of professionals working in post-production sound to identify barriers to career progression in this area.

 

"Being a woman working in sound post production and knowing the discrimination and bullying I have faced myself and knowing that more often than not I am the only non male on sound teams, I expected the results of the research to be disappointing, but I wasn’t prepared for how disappointing they would be. This research evidences a worrying absence of diversity in post-production sound teams specifically in drama, entertainment and factual."

 

The research looked at 36 top rated shows across the 6 broadcasters. In total there were 60 available sound roles across these shows, these were undertaken by a total of 55 people. She found that out of these available roles:

 

  • There is a lack of racial diversity in male post-production sound crew – in this sample only 1 man identified as mixed-race, the other 46 identifying as white.
  • There is a lack of gender diversity in the general post-production sound industry – in this sample 6 out of 55 people identified as women. There was only 1 Re-Recording mixer who identified as a woman, they worked only in factual TV. No women were working as Re-Recording mixers in Drama.
  • There are issues with intersectional aspects of identity – in this sample there were no women of colour working in the 60 available sound roles.
  • In the sample of 55 people only 3 people self-identified as having a disability (none of the identified disabilities required physical adjustments to a workplace).
  • As with the findings of the Directors UK research into the directorial professions, decisions on hiring are influenced by the opinions (or perceived opinions) of people in project management roles. In a risk-averse culture this results in the hiring of the same sound teams without opportunities for new entrants, or later on in mid-careers professionals moving between genres.
  • As a result of the in-flexibility of existing hiring practices, people from BAME backgrounds have felt the need to create their own companies in order to progress within the industry.
  • There are no opportunities or schemes currently available for training or progression for post-production sound freelancers, especially for those moving between short form or factual into drama.

 

During her interviews with professionals working in post sound, she found common issues arising with some issues she had faced throughout her own career. "Two participants felt that, in order to progress their careers, the only way for them to do so was to set up their own companies with one highlighting that, while working in facilities they experienced stereotyping from employers where they found themselves being given only specific projects based on black or ethnic themes. One participant, although they did acknowledge that this could only be an assumption on their part, felt their name, which is not one that would be considered ‘traditionally white British’, may have played a part in not getting responses to applying for jobs. However, it is important to note that numerous studies have evidenced that name based racial discrimination is prevalent in the UK."

 

One female participant noted that, after going freelance, she interviewed with a sound supervisor to join his team and was told “Well I like you, we get on but the problem is what if you join our crew and what if two of you started dating and it ended badly, that would disrupt the entire balance of the crew and I’m not sure about taking on that kind of risk.” Following this exchange she did not receive any offers of work from this man, arguably due to his sexist (and heteronormative) assumptions about the role women play in a workplace (i.e. potential sexual partners rather than professionals with skills to offer). The participant that struck very close to home was one that had been trying to progress their career for 8 years and was back at assistant level, not through any lack of skill, hard work or dedication but through assumptions made about their abilities. Having had a successful career in short form, they tried to progress into long form. They noted the biggest barriers trying to make this progression were that:

 

“Short form and long form feel like two separate industries and the worlds never collide, so knowing who the people are was difficult, but also technically you lack some of the skills the long form people have because they’re experiencing something different to you and there's not any training programmes out there to learn that and learn from people.”

 

In order for them to overcome these barriers they had to take a step back in their career and decided to become an assistant again.

 

"This has been a barrier I have faced with trying to progress from factual and entertainment to drama. The skillset is exactly the same, we are all pushing the same buttons, using the same plugins and more often than not, in exactly the same way, but we are working in a risk averse industry which does not want to give you an opportunity to progress until you have a proven track record of doing a specific genre or job, but how can you prove you can do a specific genre or job unless someone gives you an opportunity? It becomes a chicken and egg scenario and one Directors of high end TV drama have already faced and found a solution to."

 

"Undertaking this research was in part to highlight the growing problem our sector of the industry faces but also to help support my work in securing investment to create a scheme to address the lack of diversity and give people starting out and at mid career level, the opportunity to progress in a supported environment."

 

Emmas scheme would be based on the BBC Continuing Dramas Directors Scheme which involves shadowing opportunities that result in tangible credits in drama programming. The scheme is described on the Directors UK website works in the following way:

 

"As part of their training, each director will observe and participate in the entire production process of an episode of a show, from pre to post-production, and will ultimately take the helm for one full episode to gain a directing credit. The scheme also offers the possibility of employment after training, as there is an ambition for the series to hire directors within nine months for a full directorial commission if the director has shown that they can meet the standards required."

 

"I believe this model could work if replicated (in a particular way) across sound teams on high-end drama where credits are everything. In order to progress in high-end drama and more high-end work generally, you need to show you are capable of the job through having relevant credits on your CV. The only way to get the credits is by someone giving you an opportunity, but as my research found, there is often reluctance from people in hiring positions to give new or ‘unknown’ people a chance. When budgets are tight and people are working under pressure, questions such as ‘What if they don’t understand the workflow?’ or ‘What if training them eats into already tight deadlines and budgets?’ often become relevant to hiring decisions."

 

The risk needs to be eliminated for both the people in the hiring positions and those participating in the scheme. By following the example of the BBC Continuing Drama scheme she believes this could also work to diversify the post-production sound industry.

 

The full report is to be published through the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity on 6th December 2020 and can be found on their website. This report is just the first step. Her aim now is to make the scheme a reality by finding investment and helping people from all diverse backgrounds have a successful and sustainable career in post production sound.

 

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