Crew shortages a global problem

Production demand is outstripping supply behind the scenes, but some are taking steps to address the problem.

With the boom in production comes a shortage of crew availability across genres, productions and platforms.

In July 2022 a survey of Screen Producers Australia members found 100% of productions had difficulties finding enough crew, with two-thirds saying it was one of their most significant problems. There were also jumps in crew costs, with salary rises in some positions of 75%.

The survey identified particular shortages of Production Accountants, Line Producers, Production Managers, Unit Managers, Location Managers, First Assistant Directors, Make Up, Post Production Producers, Editors, Special Effects, Visual Effects, Animation.

70% of all domestic productions considered that they were undercrewed, which in turn impacts on stress and mental health for those working.

But it seems the problem is not just unique to Australia.

Speaking recently at the Screen Forever conference, Agnieszka Moody, Head of International and Industry Policy at the British Film Institute said, “The production boom is obviously positive, it’s a good problem to have. But the scale, the density and the speed of it took everyone a little bit aback.”

A review found the boom still on an upward trend until at least 2025, with the production spend set to reach $7b or $7.6 billion. BFI estimated another  20,000 more people were needed, with training needs estimated at roughly 100 million pounds a year. It identified a number of areas for improvement, including pathways and recruitment into an industry that is often seen as being too closed to newcomers.

“To be brutally honest, the main way to get in is if you know somebody. There isn’t really some widely open service or provision of information that would attract people to our industry, who don’t even imagine that they could find jobs in screen,” Moody said.

“They’re quite generic jobs. We need accountants as much as other industries need accountants, but people who have trained to be accountants might not know that there are jobs for them within the screen sector.”

The appeal of screen jobs was also a consideration. There was once a time when Film & TV was seen as a “dream” job, where workers would sacrifice much to remain employed.

“For the younger generation, there’s now more attractive sectors to put your efforts into, and you don’t have to work 16 hour days, you can raise children, you can have some private life and still make good money and having interesting jobs,” she continued.

“We also need to look at and look after well-being and mental health in our industry.”

Diversity and inclusion was another area the BFI report identified as needing improvement.

“It’s about that message to people who might feel, maybe for whatever reason, that this industry is not for them. (But) this industry is for everybody and we need to increase our efforts to reach under-represented groups so that they feel absolutely welcome.”

In Australia, production giant Endemol Shine Australia decided to take action to address its crew shortages across its huge Unscripted TV slate.

Nadia Diggins, Post Production Consultant at ESA, outlined the Accelerated Broadcast Post Production Training Program it forged to try to address a shortage of offline editors and post producers, on top of its internal recruitment department.

“We didn’t really have any other choice but to look at putting significant investment into a training program specifically targeted at the two positions that we were having the most trouble crewing,” she explained.

“What we devised was a program that runs for about 20 weeks. It’s a two phase program. The first part is an eight week intensive theory and practical. We use some of our most senior and talented offline editors and post producers to run this training. It’s looking at the specifics, theory, and working on practical needs for generating content for that unscripted genre that we work in.

“After that initial eight week period, the trainees are then progressing to working on some of our shows, usually in a somewhat junior, offline position. But they have the support and ongoing tutelage of a mentor.”

Over the last 18 months ESA has trained about 40 people, with crew moving onto live production work, and an 80% retention rate.

“But still, as we plan ahead for 2024, we are also experiencing another increase of about 20% of post production positions that we need to fill… the growth and the demand is outstripping supply even with the internal training that we’re doing.”

Producer Kirsty Stark of Epic Films also decided to do something about crew shortages she was experiencing on South Australian drama First Day for ABC ME.

“We were calling up multiple agents in different states, taking a long time to find who was available, assess their skills, download CVs, wait for calls back…. So I started having conversations with the industry and discovered that it was the same, on everything from small through to large productions,” she explained.

“So after about 100 conversations, I put together a design for an online portal. The idea is that it will be a one-stop shop for film and TV crew across the country.”

CrewHQ launched earlier this month and is now fully operational in South Australia, with plans to expand nationally. It offers a subscription service for crew, whether freelance or with an agency, to list their skills, instant availability, ability to travel, showreels, memberships, licences & gear with fully functional search, and job listings.

“It’s now live, we’ve got 500 crew already on board across the country and 30 production companies willing to take this on board, which is really exciting.”

5 Responses

  1. … fifty years ago there were regional television stations active in production recruiting mainly locals to work on the programs … as these people outgrew the regional environment they moved to smaller capital cities who also had active local production … and finally to the major centres of Sydney and Melbourne where television stations had full-time crews working on everything from news and current affairs to entertainment to comedy and drama … this particularly applied to the ABC … as the Australian film industry blossomed, many of the best of those people gravitated to that world and much of the industry today is still relying on people who came up through that model and became freelancers … now that has all gone and the people who kept the industry going are retiring, the question is being asked – where does the next generation come from? and yes, not only in Oz …

    1. That is a very good question. Regional television stations that produce their own entertainment programming are becoming an increasingly rare breed. In other parts of the world, most regional television stations only produce news, sports, pay-for-play (advertorial) and current affairs programming for their local programming slate. Any entertainment programs those stations produced are long gone, and they aren’t likely coming back, which is only making the industry wide staffing shortage we are seeing today worse.

  2. Peak TV has created more demand than supply for trained and talented workers. They are making more TV that can possibly we reasonably watched, so eventually there will be a rationalisation. Then you will find skilled workers lining up at Centrelink. This is enviable until they integrate training and working properly.

    1. The explosion in the number of television and streaming productions that are being made these days has certainly led to more demand for workers, while, at the same time, the supply of workers has declined. The industry is going to have to reduce the number of productions that are being made. There aren’t enough workers to go around, and, as you rightly point out, we the viewers don’t have enough time to watch all of the productions that are being produced. There is simply too much TV out there at the moment. The trouble is that any reduction in the number of productions being made will mean that some shows that we have made time to watch and keep making time to watch simply won’t survive the cull, and many fine people will lose their jobs in the industry, both of which are undesirable outcomes.

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