Published on: 30 October 2019 in Industry

Occupational distress in factual television: you’re not alone.

Reading time: 6 minutes and 11 seconds

Earlier this year, a number of Directors UK members joined producer and researcher colleagues in contributing to a piece of research funded by Wellcome exploring their experience working on factual TV.

Last week, the researcher and author of this work Gavin Rees of the Dart Centre Europe released his findings in: ‘Occupational distress in UK factual television’. 

Directors UK strongly welcomes this research, as it raises public and production company awareness  of a number of issues that we continue to target for change.

The report findings stress the impact of: 

  • Repeated professional exposure to ‘second hand’ trauma and graphic imagery
  • A lack of industry trauma awareness and management policy
  • Ethical distress and moral injury from perceived exploitation of contributors or ‘complicity in moral violation’
  • Strains of working with vulnerable contributors and creating appropriately bounded relationships with them
  • Concerns over ethics and effectiveness of psychological testing
  • Lack of support for filmmakers (particularly freelancers) dealing with difficult content
  • Freelance workers lack of power to call out questionable editorial decisions
  • Physical threat or attacks towards filmmakers
  • Bullying and harassment (63% of contributors had experienced this)
  • Sexual harassment
  • A culture of long hours and unreasonable demands

Whilst the Health and Safety Executive’s ongoing sector plan for health and safety in film, theatre and broadcast events acknowledges work related stress and fatigue are risk factors within our industry, and articulates the need for these to be tackled in risk assessments and health and safety policies, the Dart report demonstrates that there is still much more detailed work to be done to create healthier workspaces. 

It does make a number of recommendations to address these issues, including  increasing voluntary and mandatory accountability of productions, increased industry trauma literacy and policy development, training on ethical engagement, a review of psychological testing and specific changes to working practices to enhance resilience. However, until the working culture of this environment evolves, and production companies recognise their critical role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of freelance filmmakers, Directors UK will continue to offer practical support to members working in this challenging environment.

Legal Advice

Full members find our legal services useful when trying to negotiate a reasonable contract of work - relating working hours, areas of responsibility and control over editorial contributions. Our legal experts can help full members of Directors UK ask for additional support, challenge unreasonable demands and provide advice and guidance over dealing with bullying and harassment. It’s free, and we’re here to help, just get in touch at legal@directors.uk.com.

Bullying and harassment guide

As well as identifying what poor behaviour looks like, our guidance is designed to help directors address bullying and harassment as freelancers who often don’t get the human resources support available to their staff director colleagues. If you need help with a bullying or harassment situation, please check out the guidance in our handbook and then get in touch for help, whether you are the victim, a witness or the perpetrator. 

Challenge industry on inadequate health and safety provisions

Directors UK has been working with directors in the Viva La PD group to challenge industry stakeholders on issues of health and safety such as the risk of attack, long working hours, fatigue and working with vulnerable individuals.  

We have also called for a new version of the current industry guidelines on self-shooting/lone working and for a change in industry culture so that personal safety is back to the top of the agenda. Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns has recently been invited to join the industry health and safety committee where he will be pursuing these aims.

Freelancer rights 

Freelancers are often given little support in the working environment. The precariousness of this mode of work and the fact contracts are often short means production companies don’t always feel the need to provide training on issues like trauma, bullying and harassment, wellbeing or even detailed health and safety briefings. We continue to campaign in both industry and in government for improved freelancer rights and better working and hiring practices, to make your career sustainable and safe.

Wellbeing advice  

Filmmakers working in this space have kindly shared with us their strategies for positive mental health and wellbeing. You can view ‘Staying sane in an insane business’ and ‘15 wellbeing tips from our Sheffield Doc/Fest experts’  on our website to help boost your own mental health and resilience. We are also seeking out additional external advice and guidance, so watch this space.

A network 

When you freelance and don’t have a set place of work, or regular colleagues that you can build relationships with, it is essential that you cultivate a network of fellow freelancers that understand your issues and triumphs. We support the development of peer networks with events, socials, screenings, festivals, committees and regional activities and even our free members space where you can meet and chat.  Share your victories and your challenges with your fellow Directors UK members. You’ll be surprised at the support you’ll find.

We’re here to help. In spite of the occupational challenges you face as director, you aren’t alone. There’s one of you, but many of us. 


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