Precarious Employment, Hiring Discrimination, and a Toxic Workplace

Two Australian directors of photography were among the five nominees in the category of best cinematography for the Oscars of 2022. Greig Frasier was awarded the Oscar for his cinematography work on Dune. Ari Wegner is the only woman ever to be nominated in the history of the Oscars for Best Cinematography. Her work on Power of the Dog was the reason for this.

The work of Australian director of photography Mandy Walker can be seen by audiences all over the world in Baz’s film Elvis. It has grossed more than US$210,000,000 (A$304,000,000) at the global box office.

The cinematographer or director of photography is responsible for the look and feel of a movie. This important creative leadership role requires advanced artistic and technological expertise. The new report A Wider Lens: Australian Camera Workforce Diversity and Development looks beyond the red carpet glamour to analyze the workforce, work model, and work culture of Australian television and film camera departments.

We found a work environment lacking in diversity, a toxic culture of stress and discrimination, and an unstable employment situation.

The findings of our study suggest that Australian cinematographers succeed on the international stage despite – and not because of – the labor markets and conditions of the Australian film and TV production industry.

There is a serious lack of diversity.

The report was commissioned by the Australian Cinematographers Society and is based on Screen Australia production statistics and 640 responses from Australian film and TV camera professionals who responded to an online survey conducted at the beginning of 2021.

In line with a growing body of research in Australia and

85% of the workforce is heterosexual and 8% are people with disabilities.

The data must be viewed in the context of the amount and quality of work that film and TV camera professionals do and the entire film and TV production industry.

A stressful environment

As a camera professional, you will need to be a high-performance worker. You’ll also require a highly specialised technical skill set and intense concentration over long periods.

Film crews often work in dangerous and unusual locations, which can add to the stress of their jobs.

In 2021, the death of Halyna Hutchins, director of photography, and Sarah Jones, camera assistant, was tragically demonstrated on the Rust set.

Read more: We are filmmakers who work with firearms. This is what is important in on-set safety.

Work stress is compounded by an employment model that is the definition of precarity.

Short-term contracts, which can last as little as a day, are the main cause of income instability and insecure employment. Access to work is through informal, highly exclusive hiring networks.

In our survey, half of the respondents reported directly experiencing discrimination during the hiring process. The most common forms of discrimination were gender, age, and race.

When the work is guaranteed, there are irregular working hours, often excessive and antisocial.

This model has severe implications for the development of workers and their well-being. Our survey respondents reported that 60% of camera professionals and 70% of women said the work model actively prevented work-life harmony.

What can only be called a toxic work culture in the industry exacerbates precarity and health stresses. It is not uncommon to experience harassment and discrimination at work.

Half of non-Europeans and Indigenous respondents say they have experienced racism at work. Trans and gender-diverse respondents and women have both experienced sexism in the workplace. Men routinely harass women.

People in positions of influence and power are often those who perpetrate discrimination, bullying, and harassment. Reporting is an industry-wide challenge.

Freelancers are part of a reputation-based economy. Many freelancers fear that reporting bullying, discrimination, and harassment could jeopardize their future career prospects in the camera industry.

A workforce-wide problem

Action is needed now. Tony Burke, Minister of Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for the Arts, has two portfolios that cover many key industrial and policy issues.

These issues are not unique to film set. The report raises many issues that are relevant to Australian workplaces in general.

The Jobs + Skills Summit is an excellent opportunity to promote the issues raised as they are emblematic of the workforce development and diversity problems cultivated by low quality, high-skilled and insecure jobs.

The lack of diversity within camera departments cannot be fixed by adding new people to an existing toxic system.

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