For freelancers working either in film and TV, or in Live Events, there is often no option to use public transport to get to work. For a typical filming day, Bectu members tell us that they tend to arrive at their place of work well before 8am in preparation for a day that formally starts at 8am.
They will often be at that workplace for 12+ hours
The journey below – a typical one based on a Bectu member spoken to recently – is from Tottenham to Pinewood arriving at 7.45am. To do this journey by public transport would involve being at a bus-stop well before 5am and spending more 2 hours and 30 minutes on a journey consisting of a trip on the tube, an overground rail journey and two buses at either end. Both ways. And Google maps shows the first viable public transport option for the return journey starting after 8pm involves starting the journey at 5:45am the following morning.
Given the length of the working day, it would be fair to say that public transport isn’t really an option here, even with the best will in the world.
Even the car journey is well over an hour each way though. If this journey were tax-deductible (and a commute generally isn’t, unless the worker is driving a Production Vehicle transporting kit to-and-from – in which case it can also be paid time!) HMRC would allow the driver to claim 45p per mile (so £20 – £30 a day in this case). To calculate the real car running costs, we can look at this AA website.
And we can put this all in the context of some TUC research from 2019 showing that the average daily commute (both ways combined) lasts 59 minutes.
One could argue that this freelancer has made a choice to live a long way from Pinewood and they could move to somewhere like Slough. Aside from John Betjeman’s views on that one, the next job could be at Leavesden (near Watford), Longcross (between Egham and Woking), Shinfield (in Reading), Bray (20 minutes past the M25 on the M4) or Three Mills (which would be fairly handy for Tottenham). The bottom line is there is no way of optimising your place of residence when working in the film industry.
When talking about the long-hours working culture, the daily commute is the elephant in the room. Long drives, while exhausted – often at the end of a 12+ hour working day, often started 7-8 hours after arriving home the previous night – and as far as HMRC is concerned, it is a commute that should be done at the worker’s expense. The income that pays for this expensive trip is fully taxable.
Following the pandemic, many more people are now working from home, teleworking, and doing so in more flexible ways. At a time of a skills shortage, the gap between the living standards of film and TV workers and their friends and families is getting wider when it needs to be moving in the other direction.
Update: Thanks to CP of the Camera Branch for a private comment. I believe that workers can claim for a journey to a “location” – particularly if a production is using more than one of them with a Production Base at a studio. You can read more on this here.