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How to financially support yourself as a Runner

I was recently asked by a prospective Runner about ‘how to manage working as a runner and being employed somewhere else too?’ This is presumably because of the understanding that Runners are freelance and therefore, work is inconsistent. This is true, but it is also not that simple.

Firstly, what financial commitments do you have?

One person might have a child, for example. They would have obligations to get them fed and watered. Someone else might have just finished at university and be moving back in with their parents, so might not have to pay for rent or food. Or you could be somewhere in between the two. You might be house sharing with some mates and not necessarily have too many things to pay for, apart from rent, bills, and food.

I would say I am probably closest to the last of those examples, along with having a cat (food and vet bills) and a raging clothes-buying addiction (which of course I should buck but I just can’t resist that 40 per cent discount lots of my friends share with me from working at Urban Outfitters…)

Everyone in telly is freelance

Most of us in telly are freelance, at least until you’re making the big bucks. Even then, there are a lot of big Producers that are freelance too, although of course some work in-house. At entry-level, you will almost definitely be freelance. That is unless you manage to bag an Office Runner staff role at a post-production house or a Kit Room Assistant job at a rental company. So, be prepared to begin in telly without a steady income.

Going freelance is hard

Becoming a freelancer can be incredibly difficult at first and I know a lot of people that have been put off working in TV solely for that reason, but it is definitely manageable.

I have been through periods when I have worked as a Runner in the week and worked behind bars on the weekend. This work balance is also achievable, but it’s important that you find a secondary job that is understanding of your commitments to working in telly.

Getting a second job

I would recommend working at an independent shop, pub, or restaurant. In my experience, chain companies are usually less understanding about what hours you can and cannot work. There will often be a rota that you are expected to abide by, and you can only take days off if you have requested them in advance. However, whenever I have worked for smaller businesses, I have been able to build a better rapport with my colleagues and they have had more power to adjust the timetable to help suit me.

This, of course, does not apply to all workplaces and I am writing from personal experience. I know some people that work at large supermarkets and are also Runners. They have built good relationships with their managers and been able to come to an understanding about taking time off work last minute. The big issue with having a secondary job alongside Running is the fact that TV work is often ad-hoc and you might be needed at a moment’s notice. However, if you are honest with your secondary employer and upfront about your situation from the beginning, there will be less room for things to go wrong.

Saving money is like making money

I’ve tried to get into the mindset that every time I don’t spend money, I am basically paying myself. This goes for those 3-for-2 yogurts on offer at ASDA to that 70% off jumper on ASOS. Ask yourself: do I need this? Can I live without this? If you manage to walk to the next aisle and not pop it into your basket, or close down that Chrome tab, then you have made the first step in the right direction of saving.

In terms of food, it is very easy to click on UberEATS or Deliveroo for your dinner. Consider cooking your own food and maybe even meal prepping for the week. This is far more cost effective, often healthier, and can even teach you some new culinary skills along the way. I live in a shared house with my friends. We cook for each other every night and we have a shared Google Sheet where we share what money we have spent on what meals. This has drastically reduced the amount of money we spend at the supermarket and we also have very enjoyable dinner times every evening.

Be organised at home, not just at work

We all write on our CVs that we are ‘organised’ and ‘proficient at Excel’. Well, if this is the case for you, use this to your advantage at home too. Make spreadsheets that lay out what you are spending. There are also many apps that can help with this, such as PocketGuard, that might be a better option for those of you that want to add in your expenditures whilst on the go. Categorise your outputs so you can track how much of what you are spending is essential and what is not so ‘essential’. This way, you can get a better understanding of where you are overspending and, therefore, where you can save for a rainy day.

Saving for a rainy day

It is important to be aware that you will encounter some dry spells whilst freelancing in TV. From personal experience, and what others have also confirmed with me, January and February can be the toughest months for telly work. If you know this in advance, you can plan. You may also want to account for expensive seasons like December, if you celebrate Christmas. Make sure to save up as these months approach so you are not left out of pocket.

Money saving & making tips

Sell items on online marketplaces. Do you have lots of old clothes that you no longer wear? Have you got a hobby that you could actually be making money from? Have a look at websites like eBay, Depop, and Etsy – and remember, you are looking to SELL not to BUY. I have friends that have started their own little businesses from home. Some people paint quirky cartoons and others make jewellery or knit scarves. All these things can make you money and you can set up an account on any of the marketplaces mentioned above or even start your own website to sell your creations! Find your 'side hustle'.

Wages as a Runner

Once you do start getting work as a Runner, make sure no one is taking advantage of you. ScreenSkills has a very helpful breakdown of how much you should be earning and how to look after that money that you do earn, here. BECTU also have a page devoted to rate cards for different jobs within the television industry, which can be found here. For example, the Runner’s rate card is this.

Bursaries and Universal Credit

There is a stigma surrounding Universal Credit and asking for help, which can often be in the form of bursaries. But there shouldn’t be. If you’re seeking work but haven’t managed to get any or enough work to pay your bills, then it is your right to apply for help from the government. Especially during these difficult times, there is no shame in requiring a little extra help. I received Universal Credit last year, during the first lockdown, when many productions shut down and I was out of work. If you are now in this position, or if you can’t work for any other reason (whether that be due to your health or other commitments), please don’t suffer in silence. Ask for the help that you need and deserve.

There are a number of different funds being set up to support freelancers during the pandemic.

If you live up north, there is the Cultural Hardship Fund for Freelancers in Manchester that can be found here.

BECTU has also made a list of support funds available, which can be found here.

Dealing with financial stress

Financial stress can also impact our mental health. My Anxiety and Depression has been severely affected by the monetary demands of my rent and bills whilst being out of work. I have felt like a burden on my friends and family when I have had to ask to borrow money. I have put huge amounts of pressure on myself for not getting jobs and I have always blamed myself for not working hard enough. Sometimes, even if you apply for all of the jobs and put in as much effort as possible to be heard within the TV industry, you still don’t get hired for the job.

There will be times when someone else is picked over you. That is a fact of the industry and it is something we all learn to deal with in one way or another. However, if you are finding it difficult to cope at the moment, please try to open up to someone you can trust. Whether that be a friend, family member, or medical professional. If you voice your concerns, there might be solutions out there that you hadn’t thought about before. If your mental health is being affected too, please make use of some of the resources I provided in my previous blog about mental health.

Stay safe, everyone, and look after yourselves x

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