Tough times like these call for initiatives that will help artists in the longer run.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to its knees and most of it, Pakistan included, to an economic standstill. It is an undeniable fact that industries and corporations have suffered a big blow. Speaking for the entertainment industry, production houses have suspended a major part of their shooting schedule, which has directly affected daily workers. While some sporadic filming has restarted, it’s far from full throttle and the side effects of this suspension of work is devastating.
Many folks in the entertainment industry including electricians, carpenters, hair and makeup artists and stylists are paid hourly and work on a project-to-project basis; they are the ones that have taken the hardest hit. On an average, a decent set comprises of 200 staff members and around 150 of them are hired on daily compensation. Their livelihood is now facing a huge threat due to the pandemic; in fact, many freelancers have seen their earnings disappear overnight. Unfortunately, even the best production houses that successfully operate in Pakistan do not offer unemployment insurance or any assistance to their daily workers.
Internationally, associations have come forward with systematic ways to help artists and workers in the entertainment industry. The Producers’ Guild in India has set up a relief fund for junior technicians and spot assistants who are likely to suffer the most amidst the coronavirus lockdown. Many top filmmakers and studios, alongside actors, have also committed to donating to the relief fund.
Meanwhile, Netflix is taking steps to help the creative community amid the global pandemic; the streaming service announced contributing $100 million fund to the cause.
On March 20, 2020, Netflix announced the creation of a $100 million relief fund to support its production members, with $15 million earmarked for third parties and non-profits that offer emergency relief to casts and crews across the globe; since then it has increased this fund by 50%, taking it to $150 million. This fund benefits productions like Netflix fantasy drama The Witcher, for example, that had been filming for five weeks, after nearly half a year of preparation, when the stop orders came in. Line producer Matt O’Toole says the series is still able to accomplish some post-production work with editorial and visual effects from remote locations, but that around 70% of its crew hasn’t been able to continue on the series, by virtue of the physical nature of their work. Netflix’s hardship fund amounts to about seven weeks of pay in the meantime.
“That’s 400 people who can find some security in that because obviously in the freelance world everybody is incredibly nervous about where their next job is coming from,” he said.
The sport industry is picking up pace as well. Last month, the Cricket South Africa (CSA) outlined its plan to roll out a ‘Support Fund’. It’s a fund that will provide support to people within the cricket industry and to the most vulnerable South African sportsmen. FIFA is drawing up plans for an emergency relief fund as well to support its industry workers.
Over the past few months, the A-listers and influencers have come forward to help those in need through ration drives and Covid-19 PPE distribution. What we are talking about here is to have a systematic and consistent distribution of income among the local artists and their families, who have served the industry and know no other way of live or source of income. These are people who have been impacted due to situations like the current times or those who have lost their lives and have left families of dependents behind. We have, more than often, seen heartbreaking images of our aging or ailing artistes, suffering away once their heyday is over. This should not happen.
The question is, how can this Support Fund be brought to action and who is going to take the initiative?
Creating a fund is not a big task. Councils, film and producer associations (like there is one in India called Cine and TV Artistes’ Association – CINTAA) must take the lead. There are firms and fund managers who provide these services at a nominal fee. The funds can be generated in the same way corporations and multinationals generate funds for their employees so that they are paid pensions or other payments during emergencies. Production houses that collaborate with artists must include a clause that an ‘x’ percentage of their fee would be contributed to the fund. Similarly, when that production house sells the film or the series to any channel, the channel must withhold an ‘x’ percentage to be added to the fund. Models and actors must ensure that they include the said amount into their fee to the clients and contribute the received amount into the fund. Industry representatives can voluntarily commit to contribute to the fund as well. The beneficiaries should be the registered laborers and workers, daily wagers and families of deceased artists.
Last month, famous Indian television actor Ashiesh Roy shared on social media that he is hospitalized and is in a critical condition, seeking financial help from fans for a dialysis. Manmeet Grewal, another renowned Indian TV actor, committed suicide because he was under heavy debts. Similarly, many of our local industry artists/workers are in severe financial crunch because they have not been paid for months. Some of them have the courage to ask for help whereas others never come forward and succumb to financial pressures. Frieha Altaf mentioned in her eulogy for Zara Abid, who passed away in the tragic PIA plane crash two weeks ago, that Zara was the sole breadwinner in her family. She’s not the only one; most artistes are sole bread winners. Our archives are full of instances where mega artists like Mehdi Hasan, Babbu Baral and Roohi Bano, could have and should have been able to benefit from a Support Fund to sponsor their treatments. This is where such fund could help.
A consistent flow of income in times of health and economic crisis will certainly go a long way. We hope that someone is taking note and councils will come forward because we are as good as the people we work with.
– Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment journalist. He is also an Instep & Something Haute correspondent and can be contacted on his page, www.sidsaidso.com