Article: Dial F For Freelancer: Taking freelance support into our own hands

With the launch of the Dial F For Freelancer scheme, Toki Allison, FAN Access Officer and Freelance Access & Audiences Consultant writes about why film exhibition and distribution freelancers are so crucial to the sector.

Independent film exhibition, for a long time, has relied on the work of freelancers who jump from job to job, working in a doggedly committed way on a myriad of projects, to deliver cinema to our audiences, to get folks along to films, to drive a passion for cultural cinema – titles we feel passionate about, or that show a slice of life we don’t get to see very often, or that create culture change in a ‘moment’ or by creeping into the collective psyche.

At the film exhibition conference, This Way Up, at the tail-end of 2019, I facilitated a discussion with around 20 freelancers. We talked about what freelancing in film exhibition looks and feels like, what the needs were, and what we’d like done to make things better. 

There was a lot of passion and emotion in that session, in a time before we were focused so much on experiences of isolation, distancing and before collective anxiety and fear were so fore-fronted in our ‘hellos’ and ‘how are you doings?’ 

We spoke about:

  • A peer-to-peer network, to bring isolated freelancers together to share experiences and lend support to each other
  • A set of working practices, code of conduct or ratified principles by which freelancers could state our expectations to contractors, which would protect us and support us through tricky partnerships
  • Longer-term funded projects to provide stability and better outcomes for audiences and participants
  • Better wellbeing provision to tackle the stress of balancing personal finances, multiple projects, being a jack-of-all-trades flexibly crossing fields of practice
  • How being given power through feeding into strategies like BFI plans, or being afforded roles as agents for change, could combat feelings of inertia and disenfranchisement 
  • Connecting the exhibition and distribution sectors more effectively and how this could result in great returns for indie cinema, and healthier pipelines for projects
  • How to bring things out of London and into the nations and regions so there could be a fairer spread of work and impacts
  • Which unions were more or less useful and how none of them seemed to focus on much outside of production, and that this needed to change
  • Fair opportunities and how we could move away from the ‘who you know’ way of getting work to something more inclusive and embracing of new/under-used talent
  • How published industry rates of pay for freelancers would support transparency and mitigate against inconsistent or unfair payment
  • And spotlighting and recognition – how freelancers and our work could easily be undervalued, both in terms of significance and financially, which lead to being under-supported by the organisations we work with

We didn’t realise at the time how all of these challenges would be thrown into such stark relief by Covid, and how we had begun a blueprint for a project that would get brought to life by a small community of freelancers who would galvanise shortly after the advent of 23 March 2020, as lockdown was introduced.

The UK Film Exhibition and Distribution Freelancers Network Facebook group was launched swiftly, to share resources, news, funding information and insights. It gave and continues to give freelancers the chance to share a moan and grumble, to come up with new ideas, and to provide much-needed consolation and support. It quickly climbed to a membership of 250+.

We wrote letters asking for freelance support, for funding from the government and for recognition. Some of us were heard. We made an application to the Film & TV Charity for a community grant to provide something that didn’t exist – a platform to spotlight freelancers working specifically in film exhibition and distribution. It was granted. We asked some distributors to support us. Bohemia Media, Altitude and eOne did. And we asked the Film Distributors Association the same. The support came in.

Dial F for Freelancer

Dial F for Freelancer launched on Thu 8 October 2020, after many hours volunteered from its small steering group. It is a dedicated space celebrating the massive talents represented by the freelance cohort of the UK’s film exhibition and distribution sectors. The platform is led by us, film freelancers, for us and our peers, sharing past projects and reaching potential clients. 

It is the first of its kind and the only dedicated space for freelancers working in film distribution and exhibition. While the film industry relies on freelancers, there are currently no formal structures to support them collectively:

“…more than half of the industry workforce are freelancers or mix freelance work with periods of employment. Freelancers are the lifeblood of our industry, yet they don’t have access to the benefits, security or workplace support of permanent employees.”  – The Whole Picture Programme Report – Film and TV Charity, 2020

My colleague and one of our co-founders, Jo Taylor-Hitchinson shared: “My freelance career has been powered by collaboration and with the invaluable support of my peers. Creating a network such as this has been an aspiration of mine for a long time and so it’s gratifying to be working with colleagues and supporters who feel the same. It is so exciting to see Dial F for Freelancer come to fruition, giving our sector the spotlight it deserves.”

Andy Leyshon, chief executive of the Film Distributors’ Association added: “The varied nature of the films FDA members distribute are often reliant upon project-focused freelance expertise across film booking, marketing and publicity specialities. Freelancers have been hit especially hard across the film ecosystem lately and we are pleased to support this worthwhile initiative during these challenging times.”

And now Variety has covered it…

Our task over the coming months is to grow and develop the platform, promote the work of our incredible freelance community and ensure that freelancers are not forgotten in the reshaping of a through-Covid future. 

If you’d like to sign up as a freelancer working in film exhibition or distribution, you can do so here to profile your excellence:

If you’re just keen to chat or show support in another way, or have some valuable constructive criticism to share, we’re all ears:

Founders: Jo Taylor-Hitchinson, Moira McVean, Toki Allison

Big thanks to all the steering committee: Anna Kime, Annabel Grundy, Donna Bamford, Lauren Clarke

Our developer: Aaron Guthrie

And our graphic designer: Ged Fitzsimmons

Plus, our funders and supporters:

  • Film & TV Charity
  • Film Distributors Association
  • Altitude 
  • Bohemia Media
  • eOne

Impact Areas

Focus Areas