Pauline Burt on creative ways to maximize the potential of the creative industries in Wales
When I came back to Wales to start Ffilm Cymru Wales just over ten years ago, there had been very little in the way of sustained filmmaking activity in the nation in contrast to a thriving television business and strong writing and storytelling traditions borne out in literature and music, for example. That storytelling tradition provided strong foundations for our offer of talent based support focused on the creators of intellectual property – writers, directors and producers. From this a rich array of material developed, some of which was set and concerned with stories in Wales, whilst others were pitched elsewhere in the World including some 25% of the 52 feature films produced as international co-productions.
Understandably, as creators draw from their own experiences, many of their stories were located in and focused on Wales. As more projects gathered financial and market interest around them, the number of productions taking place in Wales grew, at the same time as other factors increased demands on local facilities, services and crew including:
- The increased availability of finance including the broadening of UK tax credits (to animation, games, children’s programming, high-end drama and theatre); Welsh-spend based funding through Welsh Government and private equity;
- The BBC’s focus on Cardiff for its drama output, including the development of Roath Lock and filming high-profile series in Wales such as the relaunched Dr Who and relocated Casualty and Sherlock;
- Policymaking – with Welsh Government acknowledging the high-growth rate of the creative industries and placing them as a sector priority; and
- Increased market profile – success begets success, with each project that is discovered by a UK and international audience, comes more interest, augmenting an already raised awareness amongst the profession with the high-profile Pinewood brand partnering with Welsh Government.
And with this we have the conditions for growth: talent, opportunity and demand.
However, this alone is not enough. Growth is not a given. And opportunity is so far not available for all.
If we are to maximize the potential of the creative industries in Wales we need to be more inclusive, collaborative and flexible. We need to adapt the way we work and change our working practices where they have created barriers to entry and progression.
To start with inclusion: the creative industries are not known for their openness. In a sector heavily reliant on freelance and term-limited contracts, we have a tendency to rely too heavily on informal and closed recruitment practices, often not advertising posts and relying on existing networks to secure people we trust at short notice. Many, particularly those living in deprived areas or in the working classes cannot even ‘get an in’, let alone sustain careers in our sector.
That tendency to recruit on quick turnaround, usually within tight budgets, dissuades us as a sector from testing new approaches and ways of working. We don’t pause often enough to consider whether we have to define job roles as we do; whether there could be more job shares, working different or more flexible hours; and how to support people who otherwise couldn’t align their lives with the creative industries, perhaps through challenges around childcare or transport. How often do we have the seeming luxury to hold an open-casting, advertise in new places or connect with communities outside of our usual day-to-day practice?
Not often enough. But we have the conditions for growth, which suggests that now is the time to test new ways of working and to adapt and open-up our processes to make it viable for people of all backgrounds and circumstances to be able to make and sustain their careers in the sector.
Historically the creative industries and the broader arts have developed as distinct and separate disciplines, and they certainly each have their distinctive language and creative form, but this has also led to silos of working practice and crew focusing in distinct media or art forms that is worth revisiting.
At a time of demand and opportunity taking a fresh look at the common roles and disciplines across film, television, games, theatre, dance, fashion and more besides makes sense. If we look to the cross-cutting, transferable skill sets including carpentry, design, accountancy, electricians, costume and hairdressing, for example, there is terrific scope to scale up how we work if our sub-sectors work in collaboration. This is starting to happen as the eight national arts companies have come together around common priorities, including developing skills and sector capacity, and have already started promising conversations around potential collaboration, including with BBC Cymru, for example.
Moreover, these transferable skills go beyond our sectors and could, if thought of differently, offer opportunities for people to work in and out of the sector, as opportunities arise. Why not have scaffolders and carpenters working on film one month and a construction site the next?
We need a larger crew base and one that can provide consistently across Wales. Meanwhile, there are many people in Wales without work who have or could acquire relevant transferable skills.
We have become so accustomed to thinking as sectors or sub-sectors that there is a danger of overlooking the opportunities in front of us. I’m excited to think what opportunities for growth and capacity there are if we take a more socially progressive approach. Just imagine if we could take a production to any area in Wales and employ local people with relevant transferable skills. And for those skilled individuals, just imagine being able to work within your area, see your family, and not always be ‘following the work’.
Maybe this is a utopian vision! But, I like to think that industrial and socially progressive strategies do not have to be mutually exclusive. Our sector could deliver jobs and opportunities for people across Wales if we’re willing to test and adapt our working practices to remove barriers that exclude people, and to be more flexible in how we think about roles and careers. Everyone could gain.
For insight into Ffilm Cymru Wales’ current pilot for new entrants working in partnership with Charter Housing association please see here.
Editorial note: This is part of Click on Wales’ week-long focus on media issues. The Media Policy Group of the Institute of Welsh Affairs is holding the third Cardiff Media Summit on 29th March and booking information can be found here