Faculty of Law, School of Government and Victoria Business School, 2018
The new creative workers suffer. They suffer because their work isn’t considered as work. They, and society at large, have been conditioned to think of it as so intrinsically gratifying, they’re often unable to perceive the deep-seated inequalities that shape their everyday working environments, and pitch politics and policy against them.
The new creative worker was born out of a global wave that put ‘creative industries’ and ‘creative workers’ in the spotlight, combined with a ‘perfect New Zealand frenzy’ of the huge success that was the Lord of the Rings trilogy: Oscars, Orlando Bloom having coffee at your local, Kiwi emigrants waxing lyrical about homegrown achievements and former Prime Minister Helen Clarke’s new Growth and Innovation cultural policy. Together, they culminated in Wellington’s exotically glamorous premiere for the first of Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Up until then, arts and industry were still seen to be mutually exclusive concepts. New Zealanders weren’t used to the dazzling and entrepreneurial reputation they’d amassed thanks to Jackson deciding to shoot the films in New Zealand and the brilliance of Weta Workshop’s modelling and special effects.
Dr Deborah Jones in the School of Management said this was the moment when the wand was waved and a spell was cast over New Zealand. Aotearoa was encompassed in glamour and some of our ‘rational thinking’ was definitely lost. While she didn’t suspect foul play, she wanted to understand this national shift in thinking that now saw the creative industries as a viable career path, and its new breed of worker—the kind who seemed to be able to have it all—be creative, entrepreneurial and able to make a living.
Deborah and her colleagues were awarded a grant from the prestigious national Marsden Fund to investigate this change using film as a case in point. The Marsden Fund panel saw considerable value in understanding the ‘gig economy’ style of work the film industry preferred. Researchers predicted that this style would become the future norm for work in general; the type that requires you to bunnyhop from contract to contract with no security and no say. This work style is often seen as ‘glamorous’ because it fits our fetishisation of the successful creative, but the reality is that it’s a grind, with a large proportion of workers desperately seeking the next under-paid gig. Hence the project’s name: Glamour and Grind.
In New Zealand, film workers are not considered legally to be employees; they are contractors which gives them no status under the Human Rights Framework and therefore, no rights in the workplace. Lack of access to formalised processes of complaint is especially dangerous for women and minority groups in film who are, as Glamour and Grind and the #MeToo movement have revealed, discriminated against. Yet their exclusion from telling their stories affects us all: our cultural frame of reference contracts, and its content becomes a mirror image of the limited perspectives of white male film-makers that caused it to shrink in the first place.
Cultural phenomena like the #MeToo movement reveal a long history of workplace gender inequality and exclusion in the film industry. What Glamour and Grind also highlights are those beliefs that span across a hierarchy of creativity: the ‘creative core’ of writers, stars, directors and producers and crew. Deborah thinks they “tend to have this belief about themselves which makes it very hard for them to see what’s going on”—a “cloak of creativity” that shrouds the exploitation they are experiencing that’s lining the pockets of those at the top. Their creative identity, love for the work and the thrill of affiliation to this hotly glamorised world limit their abilities to identify that what they’re doing—while special—is also actually work. They are less likely to see themselves as workers like others, with rights and the potential power to claim them. Yet, Deborah says, that change is coming to work and workers in the New Zealand film industry. Following #MeToo, women here have formed SWAG: The Screen Women’s Action Group, with the aim of getting a policy around sexual harassment put in place in the screen industry, and the new Labour-led government has set up a Film Industry Working Group to “find a fit-for purpose way to restore workers’ rights in the screen industry”.