One of my last ever university courses was Working in the UK Screen Industries. The module was about the working practices and procedures involved, the unions and other organizations that advocated for workers’ rights and diversity. The subject material itself was pretty dry, and there were a whole bunch of studies and industry texts to read. However, each class had a Q&A section with industry professional(s) which was incredibly exciting. In my final essay for that subject (and second last one in my whole degree), I was given some core concepts that each week had been based on. The one I chose was ‘labour of love’.
‘Labour of love’ was defined by my course leaders as (essentially) ‘art for art’s sake’, working exhaustively hard, long hours and putting up with industry bullshit because you love your art, in this case making films and television, and you love working with people in that sector. The readings I read (which I’ve listed below) emphasized how hard everyone in the industry work, with wildly unpredictable working schedules with unhealthy doses of crunch and nail-biting periods of unemployment. I’ve listed the stuff I read for that essay below, in Harvard referencing. (Might as well make some use of it now I’m not at university!)
However, one particular reading resonated with me. It was a 2017 sociological study observing a class of film students at the prestigious CalArts film school, conducted by Ritesh Meyta. The researcher observed that pretty much every interaction the students had with each other was simultaneously competitive and collaborative. Each strategic social move was a form of ‘hustling’, as they did anything and everything they could to further their careers as filmmakers. They took on every single project going, kept themselves busy to prove they could do it, so their peers and people higher up the chain would notice them and their work. Everything was for the love of their craft. They networked a lot, and despite how intense it seemed, they seemed to enjoy it. They had fun through it all, got a rush from being on the brink of burnout.
Reading all of that was all too familiar, and it really hit home. This is exactly how I have seen my writing career, even at such a low level. If I don’t take on all the projects, do everything at once, grab every single opportunity. I have been networking extensively over the past five years and made a whole lot of cool, writer (and nonwriter) friends. Falling in and out of burnout has been a state of mind for me for years now. Always cramming in all the adventures and experiences I can has been pretty much how I’ve lived my life for as long as I can remember and so much of my life has been in service of realizing the stories, bringing my characters to life by becoming a writer.
In terms of a career one might have in film, however, ‘a labour of love’ doesn’t entirely explain it. The screen industry is first and foremost a business, but it is based upon people who are (or have been) passionate about their craft. This passion is, as far as I’ve read, frequently exploited. People will tolerate projects they hate, in hopes of the next one being better. There is also ego involved. As an artist, you like to be recognized as an artist and the film industry is no different. This is not a bad reason. It’s perfectly valid and normal to want your audience to look at and enjoy your work. Part of that is your work getting famous and making a lot of money. Most artists know that this is a remote possibility, but there is always a slight chance. The concept of ‘labour of love’ does imply a selflessness, a martyrdom that a lot of artists (including myself) want to believe. It’s the art that comes first. It’s a good rationalization for having a creative itch.
As much as I am aware that I am unlikely to make bank as a best-selling author or win any prestigious awards or have some big networks or movie producers adapt my work, a girl can only dream. It’s a nice fantasy, and I’m pretty sure that most writers feel the same, even if they won’t admit to it. I want to be recognized as a writer, considering that it has been my life’s purpose even as a young child. I used to think that having some ego was a bad thing, because there is always the association with arrogance. Being arrogant would make me unlikeable and off-putting, even if I have plenty of other good traits to compensate for it. I also felt guilty for wanting to be paid for my work, as if that made me entitled. I struggle with imposter syndrome, and wonder whether my work deserves to be paid for. However, that’s an unfair standard to hold for myself. My imposter syndrome will always see my work as not good enough, even if I feel I have worked hard for the chance. At the end of the day, artists need to be paid for their work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills and can only get you so far. Even if some people don’t like what I write, I still put a lot of effort into it. Even as I’m writing this, my inner critic is telling me off for even thinking about hoping for payment or recognition. That’s the thing though. If you are worried about being an intolerable egotist, or a mediocre hack, then the likelihood is that you will want to improve and keep yourself in check and, therefore, will be less likely to have those traits you despise. Even then, you can’t please everyone. Just be yourself, life’s too short.
In the business of the arts, you need a drive or inner motivation to succeed, whatever that success will turn out to be, because as much as there is a lot of fun in collaborating with others and working on a filmset, it is still a competitive scene. And one key thing the course leaders wanted to instil in us is to be aware of these practices/drawbacks of the industry and to make sure we don’t get exploited. That need to prove myself and make a name for myself can be used against me not just if working in the film industry, but in my life in general. Wherever I go and whatever I do going forward, I need to be aware of that.
If you like my work then check out my website jenhugheswriter.com, or find me on my social media: Jen Hughes Writing (FB) and @jenhugheswriting. My debut chapbook, Keep On Spinning was published by Dreich Publishing. It’s available on my website jenhugheswriter.com/shop and on theirs, https://hybriddreich.co.uk/dreich-chapbooks/.
I thought I’d link the readings I did for the Labour of Love essay below. Essays don’t come naturally to me, so I probably won’t upload them. However, it’s worthwhile sharing some of the resources I found as they’re interesting and useful reads:
Abbing, H., 2002, Why Are Artists Poor: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Available through Proquest https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gla/reader.action?docID=419750&ppg=9
Blair, H., 2009. Active Networking: Action, Social Structure and the Process of Networking. In: McKinlay, A., and Smith, C eds. Creative Labour: Working in the Creative Industries. 2009. London: Macmillan Education UK. Chapter 6. [E-book] Available at ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gla/detail.action?docID=6418908.
Borzaga, C. and Tortia, E., 2006. Worker Motivations, Job Satisfaction and Loyalty in Public and Nonprofit Social Services. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Volume 35 (2) pp225-248. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249677130_Worker_Motivations_Job_Satisfaction_and_Loyalty_in_Public_and_Nonprofit_Social_Services
Creative Scotland, 2014. Unlocking Potential, Embracing Ambition: A shared plan for the arts, screen and creative industries 2014-2024. Glasgow: Creative Scotland. Available at https://www.creativescotland.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/25500/Creative-Scotland-10-Year-Plan-2014-2024-v1-2.pdf
Eikhof, D.R. and York, C., 2016 ‘It’s a tough drug to kick’: a woman’s career in broadcasting. Employment and Society [Online], Vol. 30(1) 152–161. Available through: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0950017015601859
Kim J.Y, Campbell T.H, Shepherd S, Kay A.C., 2019. Understanding contemporary forms of exploitation: Attributions of passion serve to legitimize the poor treatment of workers. J Pers Soc Psychol. [Online] 118(1):pp121-148. Available through: PubMed (National Library of Medicine): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30998042/.
Mehta, R., 2017. “Hustling” in film school as socialization for early career work in media industries. Poetics. [Online] Volume 63 (August 2017) pp 22-32. Available through: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304422X16300894?via%3Dihub
Morducha, J. and Szafarz, 2019. Altruism and Occupational Choice. [PDF] New York: Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Available at: https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/Morduch%20and%20Szafarz%20-%20Altruism%20and%20Occupational%20Choice%20-%20November%202019.pdf
Paul Evans and Jonathan Green, 2020. Eyes Wide Shut: A report on long hours and productivity in the UK film and TV industry. London: BECTU