It is no exageration to say this has been perhaps the toughest year I can remember. I lost my sister to cancer in April and a dear friend to depression a few weeks ago. In some ways it seems peverse to continue a normal my life of writing, social media updates and so on - indeed galivanting off to New York for conferences next week - but in some ways my only way to keep going personally is to focus on my work and my long area of passion, media reform.
Sitting with my sister in front of the TV which was normally on 24 hours a day, I was reminded how the majority of the content that people consume each day involves one of two messages: that you are inadequate, and that by buying certain products you can become less inadequate. Come Dine With Me is a great example (and a fun programme to watch) - the presenter laughs at the clumsy pretensions of someone trying to throw a good dinner party, while the ad breaks tell you all the things you can buy - good wine, butter, magazines, etc - so you can be better than them.
Worse still, the depiction of people with mental health problems is typically wrapped with fear. Despite a third of our population being affected in some way, the mentally unwell are at best ignored and at worst demonised as dangerous and violent, despite there being no greater percentage of violence amongst the mentally ill than the rest of the population. The five hours a day of TV watched on average (or whatever the number) could provide comfort and advice for the pursuit of happiness and support for those unwell or in need. Instead it seems to best serve the advertisers who fund most of it, by creating fairy tale fantasies that encourage the buying of more stuff. If you could only have this car, razer, lip gloss, shampoo or gadget you too could be as happy as the hero of your TV show, with the beautiful partner and (typically) wealthy lifestyle.
This was why when @DanneeRoy told me last night about a radically simple proposal to cut carbon emissions that my jaw hit my lap and I started exclaiming wildly.
About eight years ago I sat in a cosy Islington pub with BECTU acting general secretary Martin Spence to discus his problems with Shooting People's posting of non-union (and non-NMW) jobs.
It was the first time I'd found myself conflicted with the pro-uinion leanings I'd been brought up with. My parents met in the Salford communist branch and as a teen I cut my teeth in graphic design making the monthly newsletter for my mum's college union, NATFHE. I can't dispute the wonders of unions in protecting workers the world-over from unscrupulous employers, saving lots of lives in the process.
But sometimes passions cloud judgement and indie film is a strange fish*. No-one would suggest a musician who gets out her guitar at a house party should earn Musician's Union rates, yet because a film require a group of workers working with an employment-like relationship, there is room for confusion.
I'm not talking about broadcast TV on cost cutting cable networks, or commercials and pop promos shot on the cheap. But the shorts, micro-budget features and documentaries made by crews often with little experience, frequently helmed by a director shooting their first or second, that may never make it to any screen beyond the local pub or Vimeo. There's very rarely funding and a huge number of people keen to help out on them. Many are terrible but a few are masterpieces. And it's so rare that any of these films recoup their costs, let alone make a profit, that no-one worries about cash other than getting their expenses covered.
Martin Spence's point when we met was, as it is now, that people working for free should be collaborators, and therefore co-investors. He saw the co-op model as a suitable structure, and having explored the co-op principles myself in recent years I agree that they are great structures. But there is still an admin overhead - a co-op requires a legal framework, eg. a limited company - to be formed. So for one short film there would need to be a company created, annual accounts and returns made, as well as a co-op members agreement drawn up, which all parties should sign up to. Annual accounts would then need to be distributed before the company was eventually wound up.