The Exploitation of the Film Runner

#1

I have been a film runner for the last 2 years, and it’s the most undervalued job I’ve been unfortunate to be involved in. It’s so undervalued and underrated even that over 90 per cent of runners get paid 3,000 pounds below the minimum wage a year. There’s also an over 90 per cent chance that those runners are working 10 hours a day and 6 days a week.

The reason why the industry gets away with this is the demand for running jobs. There’re countless students university has drilled the importance of running and how pivotal a role it plays in entering the industry, that this exploitation is viewed as given. In fact, it’s not even viewed as exploitation. Students are conditioned to believe this is what they deserve. That rate is the penalty for ambition. There is no other way to break into the industry.

This rate means that countless film runners, simply don’t make enough to even begin repaying their loans. They have to live in a state of suspended financial pressure an uncertainty until an opening to progress in that company comes their way. Some might even liken it to the equivalent of waiting for a man to die, just so you can move in on his wife.
To most runners, the promise of where the job might lead blinds them from what the job is asking of them and how unappreciated (money-wise) some of those things are.

A society is as civilized as the things it nurtures or promotes, alongside the quality of life it encourages and helps its inhabitants achieve and maintain. I dread to think what the implications of this are, if runners, graduates in their field, some with honors even, are studied. No one who works that hard deserves to be subjected to such a rate and a questionable quality of life.

#2

It’s a sad truth that people on the bottom rung of the ladder in the media are notoriously exploited, film runners especially but also a lot of people in junior positions generally. As a junior reporter I’m lucky to work on a paper that looks after me pretty well, but I’ve heard some horrendous stories from various people about starting conditions in our chosen industry.

I don’t condone it one bit, but at the same time it results from basic economics - there’s no end of people who want media jobs, and big bosses at the top know they can keep a high turnover going. This is because if any given person refuses to work insane hours for shit pay, they will be able to find a hundred bright-eyed and idealistic youngsters who will.

I agree with your point entirely - it’s unfair and undervalues the talents of the individuals concerned. I’ve got a few friends who either are runners or have been and it sometimes sounds like a step short of slavery. Trouble is, it’s hard to know how to change it without forcing the entire industry to subscribe to codes of practise. I suppose one might argue that these employers are probably breaking employment laws, but it would be hard to get runners to unionise against their conditions because I think the sad truth is they’re perceived as easily replaceable…

#3

I was reading about this in the NUJ’s ‘Journalist’ magazine last week. Interns are exploited over all territories of the media, from print journalism to radio to TV to online, etc and an NUJ survey has concluded that media companies are in fact breaking the law.

Many media companies use ‘work experience placements’ to cover what are effectively full-time jobs. This is exploitative, and infringes the law on the minimum wage.

Whether or not the NUJ’s challenge will have any affect on this is debatable. They are apparently writing to media employers and threatening to ‘name’ those that don’t improve on their exploitative work-experience employment practices. To me, this doesn’t sound particularly threatening…

What is really striking though, is that so many interns and work-experience bods do work that is printed, published or aired with literally no reimburcement. Getting your name published next to an article you’ve written is good for your cuttings folder, but if you’ve filled even a small part of a comercial publication with content, you deserve to be properly compensated.

To not pay interns is to manipulate young people, desperate to break into industries they are understandably naive about. It is a practice almost entirely abused by the media. In other industries (law, banking, retail) interns can be paid up to £850/week plus expenses.

If interns at media firms were just making the tea and sitting around getting advice and information, then the case could be argued not to pay them. But they’re not. People are writing pages of content, spending hours writing freelance copy and doing critical research and not receiving a cent. This is not only exploitative, but prevents also candidates from lower-level income famalies from partaking in internships.

Frankly, if the media were any other industry the media would be berating them.

#4

“Frankly, if the media were any other industry the media would be berating them.”

Nicely put! It’s one of the great weaknesses of the media really - as the self-appointed scrutineer of public life it has no-one watching it. And as publications like Private Eye periodically prove, this would be handy sometimes.

#5

You are encapsulating a wide range of professions in ‘The Media’.

Look at it this way; there are thousands of applicants wanting to get into the industry and only a limited pool of jobs. It’s natural selection if you like. OK so the money is rubbish for a while but anyone who has researched their career before embarking on it would be well prepared for this being part of the process. If you want instant big salary, train to be something else!

There are also thousands of out of work actors and writers… and the pay is pretty poor for them as well as our Public services like Firemen, Nurses and Teachers too.

You need to get creative, find a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd in order to make the next step up.

If you have a very ‘artsy’ degree I would also strongly suggest giving this some balance with other business skills (Marketing, PR, Comms, Accountancy etc) by doing this you are widening your opportunity and able to look at a broader range of roles in your chosen industry and making yourself much more ‘employable’… as well as setting yourself apart from other runners. EG a film accountant or project manager.

P.S. I know someone who started out as a runner for a year on £5k pa! 12 years ago… she’s now a film editor with a raft of very big films to her credit.

#6

Point taken, to an extent - but in some cases the poor salary and starting conditions constitute an entry barrier of sorts. I’ve heard of London-based runner positions being offered at £10k pa - that’s not just poor, that’s unsustainable. You can’t live in the capital off that low an income - the only people who could are those with substantial savings or whose parents are paying some of their bills for them. There will be those who have the potential, but if they’re from a poor background they won’t be able to afford to live off that salary long enough to see themselves bumped up the ladder to a better wage.

I understand all too well that the bottom rung of the media is poorly paid - as a reporter on a local newspaper, I don’t get paid anything like what I’m worth at the moment. But I get enough to get by until a better opportunity crops up, which is more than can be said for people lower down the food chain than me.

#7

Hopefully more and more people will skip the running step and make the step to other roles by collaborating on no-budget amateur projects. I guess there can still be only so many winners though - but might be more fun!