Published on: 07 January 2021 in Directors UK

A New Year Message from Directors UK Chair Steve Smith 2021

Reading time: 6 minutes and 34 seconds

Following a difficult 2020 for the industry, Directors UK Chair Steve Smith looks ahead to a 2021 that will present further challenges for directors, but also new opportunities to get involved with your professional organisation and support your craft.

Read Steve Smiths New Year message for members below.


After what was an extremely difficult 2020 for us all, I hope you have been able to have a restful Christmas break despite the limitations over seeing family and friends.

Even now, as we enter 2021, it looks like we’re in for another rollercoaster ride this year. But instead of looking back at the trials of the days behind us, I want to take a moment to look forward to a new year of opportunities and creative challenges. 

The ongoing ingenuity of the creative sector helped get many projects back into production, with directors at the forefront of establishing new, COVID-safe, ways of working. Despite the welcome news of the vaccine rollout, the current COVID situation is alarming, and we now find ourselves under another national lockdown. While the government has clarified that UK film and TV production can go ahead, the rise of a new highly infectious strain of COVID will bring more anxiety and uncertainty. And if you are working parents, you also face additional concerns over juggling work, childcare and home schooling. Our health, safety and welfare, as well as that of our colleagues, must always come first, and our Working Under COVID guidelines present a range of great advice for factual directors – much of which can also be applied to other genres. This resource aims to empower directors by providing us with the information we need to make the right decisions. And we shouldn’t be afraid to ask productions to carry out new, additional risk assessments to determine if stricter measures might be necessary to protect you and your colleagues from the B117 variant. Remember, if it doesn’t feel right, always take advice, and Directors UK is here to support you however we can. Meanwhile, many directors are still facing a daunting period without work, and the Chancellor once again excluded freelancers and the self-employed from his most recent support measures. Directors UK will continue to push for better support for the self-employed impacted by COVID. 

At least we start 2021 with some clarity over Brexit. Whilst the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which came into force on New Year’s Day, has prevented a no-deal Brexit, it will change the way UK businesses interact with the EU. You can read more about what this means for the screen sector in a Q&A from the BFI. Sadly, the UK did not incorporate the EU Copyright Directive into UK law before leaving. However, the good news is that the UK remains party to the main international treaties on copyright and related rights. These rules help underpin copyright legislation in all signatory territories and do not depend on the UK’s membership of the EU and so continue to apply following the end of the transition period. Directors UK work with other stakeholders to lobby for our own improved copyright protection for the digital age, with the goal of protecting the fair and proportionate remuneration for the use of our works. 

Aside from responding to ever-changing current events, there are other areas where we’ll be looking to make the case for directors in the year ahead. The rise of SVODs has seen an explosive growth in production, with many new studios being built in the UK. But as these fantastic opportunities develop, it’s also important that we are paid fairly for the use of our work. This year, we’ll be asking for your help to make sure that these broadcasters and platforms properly remunerate directors — stay tuned for further communications on this. 

Elsewhere, the campaign for improving freelancers’ employment conditions will continue. Some good progress was made last year, with the establishment of the Coalition for Change, allowing Directors UK to hold a dialogue with broadcasters alongside other industry groups. We’ll be taking this collaborative spirit forward into 2021 and will use our access to hold broadcasters accountable where we can. Last year, the murder of George Floyd and rise to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement saw many broadcasters and companies make diversity and anti-racism pledges; we will be making sure that these promises are upheld, whilst always seeking to improve ourselves. We’ll also be supporting the BBC as it faces the challenge of its latest license fee settlement. We will continue to make the case for a BBC that is universally funded, providing content for all, from Aberdeen to Liskeard. 

While last year will be memorable for many reasons, 2020 is also set to be one of the three warmest years on record. The world has just 9 years left to halve global carbon emissions if we are to stand any chance of avoiding going over the dangerous 1.5°C of warming that we need to avoid. So, what can we do, as directors, to help solve our climate crisis? Reaching net zero emissions will take huge political, economic, social, cultural, and personal change. Change in the food we eat, the homes we live in, the holidays we go on, and our relationship with nature, money, society, family and friends. These stories of change are shocking, entertaining, sad, provocative, inspiring and above all, true. But imagination, storytelling and culture are some of our greatest forces for change. Every film or TV programme we direct is an opportunity to create a new vision for the world and speak to audiences beyond the usual environmental bubbles. As directors we must play this pivotal role with urgency. For help on how to do this, sign up now for free BAFTA albert editorial or sustainable production training.  

The pictures on our screen shape the way we see the world. As directors, we are creative leaders, and we have the power to make emotional connections. Whether this means speaking out about the climate crisis or contributing to a more diverse and inclusive society, we must continue to use that power to make a difference. 

Finally, as I am now approaching the end of my term, this will be my last New Year message as Chair of Directors UK. I’ve truly enjoyed serving as Chair, through all the ups and downs of our industry, and take an immense pride in everything we’ve achieved as an organisation. I would fully recommend serving on the Board. In facing the challenges above, producing fantastic campaigns and advocating for directors across the country, we really rely upon the expertise and passion of dynamic directors of all backgrounds, genres and career experience. If you’d like to help make a difference for your fellow members, and support Andy Harrower and our brilliant staff team, I encourage you to think about standing in the Directors UK Board elections later this year. Look out for more announcements about this in the coming weeks. 

On behalf of the board, I wish you a safe, prosperous and creative 2021. 

Steve Smith, Directors UK Chair

You may also like

Peter Hammond obituary

Directors Digest — Monday 24 April

Honouring Piers Haggard

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more