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Long hours, gaslighting and health and safety risks are documented in the first batch of #unseenonscreen testimonials published as Bectu’s Unscripted TV Union’s contribution to Anti-Bullying Week.

A fortnight ago, the union opened submissions for the second year of its #unseenonscreen campaign, having published around 50 anonymous accounts of bullying and harassment last year. 

Producer and Bectu anti-bullying and harassment officer Meriel Beale has said that the collection of testimonials is designed to “amplify voices” in an effort to force change in the way the industry treats its workers.

Ahead of today’s statements, Beale tweeted that she had experienced “a troubling Sunday evening reading your submissions”. She added: “TV industry: there is still so much work to do. I do not know who wrote these testimonies or who they’re about, but the universal themes ring out loud and clear.”

Unsripted TV Union chair James Taylor said he had “mixed feelings” about running the campaign again. “It’s a great way to raise awareness of the endemic bullying in thee TV industry but my goodness, it’s a reminder of how bad things are,” he said. 

The responses come in the week that Deadline reported that Spark Films chief executive Marc Hayward has been under investigation following a string of accusations of bullying, physical and verbal violence, enforcing long working hours and delaying payments.

Insight TV paused commissions from the London-based indie while it looked into claims submitted by Bectu that related to an Italian shoot for its show G2 Making the Squad: Fornite Edition.

The union plans to publish further stories and is inviting people to keep sharing their experiences anonymously. 

Long hours: “I started having panic attacks on the way into work”

“I was working on a big entertainment show last year, the job started off normal but after just a week the ridiculous hours kicked in. Everyone was told that we had to do at least two “lates” a week, ‘lates’ meant staying at the office until 10pm for no extra pay. Two lates quickly turned into three, then four until eventually we worked until 10pm every day of the week.

We were once all scolded for making cups of tea in the morning and were told to drink our tea before we started work. I was also stopped in the corridor abruptly and asked “where do you think you’re going?”- I was going to the toilet.

This regime started to affect mine and everyone else’s mental health, it became a daily occurrence to find someone crying in the toilet or kitchen. I myself started having panic attacks on the way to work , and would get home in the evening at 11pm having seen no sunlight all day where I would then crawl straight into bed without speaking or seeing any loved ones.

There was also a strange culture of promotion and demotion. Researchers who did the most hours with a smile on their face would suddenly become APs regardless of their knowledge or experience, and in the same instance I saw APs who requested finishing on time because they had plans have responsibilities taken away from them.

I eventually went home for Christmas and my parents were shocked when they saw how thin, pale and withdrawn I’d become- I’d barely had a conversation with someone who didn’t work on that show in weeks and it was as though I’d forgotten how to. I left after my contract finished turning down an extension by lying saying I’d been offered something else. I had to go to therapy because the panic attacks didn’t stop after the production did and they still haven’t.” 

Micro-management and gaslighting: “She undermined us at every opportunity”

“My bullying was verbal and psychological at work by a senior, celebrated female exec. It was six months’ worth. I bore the brunt of it, tried to protect the rest of the team but I couldn’t always do so. I had to take three months off afterwards for my mental health and thought seriously about leaving tv.

 She really got to me and I am incredibly experienced. She lied to me to get me to agree to do the project, about the budget, the schedule and many other things, and was charming until I signed up. Then it quickly escalated. She pushed too hard all the time, we were a tiny team, the project was during COVID and high risk. She didn’t care and often pushed us into risky situations with no thought for H&S. As an exec she never once read or fed into a risk assessment and even asked if we do them (!)

She emailed and messaged at all hours. Nothing was good enough, she always used negative language and her feedback was undermining, aggressive, often meaningless – spending ages unpicking what doesn’t work about something without offering any solutions – the exact opposite of what an exec should be doing. She undermined us at any opportunity. Raised her voice often.

She would present our work as her ideas to the channel. I once drafted a detailed email to her which she copied and pasted to the comm ed as her own and copied me in. She would barely let us talk in meetings as wanted to dominate as if all we’ve told her is her idea. Often she’d completely misrepresent things so they were wrong as she simply didn’t understand it. We had to work so hard to keep the company and the team safe, when this should have been her first thought. I challenged her when she was aggressive with my colleagues and she would respond sarcastically and also told me I was “too nice”.

She forced us to film and edit twice as much material than we needed during COVID so the edit overran by an embarrassing amount. I’ve never had an edit overrun more than one week.

She led everyone up the garden path in terms of editorial and, while I knew it was all wrong and voiced this, she just shut me down. I raised it with the company when I was leaving and they ignored it. The project was a success, in spite of her, and she gladly took all the credit, not mentioning the team at all.

I’ve been bullied a lot in TV - who hasn’t? It’s full of sociopaths - but this was by far the worst. And she’s still out there, chipping away at people, raising her voice, pushing far too hard, making stuff up that fits her (lack of) understanding, putting people at risk, undermining them constantly, managing up and taking all the credit for her teams’ hard work. It’s galling. Things need to change.”

Blurred lines between work and home: "The exec made me feel guilty for trying to create boundaries"

“My executive producer would often remind me that working from home meant I and my editor could switch on at anytime because the avids were just there!

Once I pushed back and said it’s 8.30pm and my editor can make the changes in the morning. I was reminded of how “easy” we’ve had it working from home and that our work was so good they wanted the channel to see that night. This is one example of the exec making me feel guilty for trying to create boundaries.

The exec also told me that I take too long to reply to WhatsApp messages and I said I wasn’t working (it was an agreed day off) & they replied with “I forgot but it’s only one question that you can answer now” – I didn’t respond until the next day when I returned to work. Their tone on phone calls that day was short and rude.”

Bullying and belittling: "I'd be told all my ideas were 's***'"

“I was bullied and gaslighted by my boss repeatedly until I thought I was going mad. I’d be asked to look into – say – available comedians, then when I talked through the list of names I’d get an angry stare and be told aggressively  ‘why are you talking about all those f****** comedians’. I’d be told all my ideas were ‘s***’ and that if I ever had a good idea they’d let me know. Hardly conducive to the creative atmosphere we’re all supposed to work in in the industry.

Some of the team were new to TV and extremely distressed by the way they were themselves treated but they were also upset over how I was treated. I was constantly reassuring tearful team members that TV ‘isn’t always like this.’  One junior person didn’t get paid for their last week as it was simply decided they had not done a good enough job and didn’t deserve it.

It’s difficult to describe just how bad things were, but if I received praise-  eg from a commissioner in front of this person – then immediately my heart would sink as I would know I was in big trouble. The rages would start and I’d be pulled apart for perceived slights, despite having just been told I’d done a great job by someone more senior. I remember standing in the middle of the office and saying out loud to myself ‘I feel like I’m losing my mind’.

As soon as I started working for this company I was sent many messages from former employees telling me they’d cried every day working there. This person is a renowned problem but is – in classic TV language – described as a ‘character’ or a ‘maverick’. Always on best behaviour with anyone senior, so never out in the open with their behaviour, but everyone knows about it.

I’ve had counselling and I’ve come a long way. But some of the newer team members left TV for good. I tried everything to stop this person – stood up to them, tried to laugh it off, spoke to more senior people – and ultimately the only thing that worked was me leaving.”

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