The Beginners Guide to HR in TV and Film

The Beginners Guide to HR in TV and Film

Written by TSHRC

HR in TV and Film production is a fairly new concept that can be challenging to navigate, particularly in an age where Production companies want to get it right the first time. However, the reward for working in this space, and upskilling people that manage people is paying dividends. 

Much of the industry is built around the use of freelancers and independent contractors rather than the traditional employer-employee relationship found in more traditional industries. Changing the contractual relationship has legal and tax ramifications. So, production companies, regardless of size, must find the balance around creating healthy workplaces without changing the contractual relationship into one of employer and employee. 

Besides contract issues, cases of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and other complex employment relations issues including the speedy rise in grievances are extremely common in the television and film industry. Production companies need to create a safe space for these cases to come to light as soon as possible, and when they do, the cases must be handled promptly and with due care.  

Because it’s made up of predominantly freelance crews, the TV and Film industry hasn’t always prioritised the HR function, and so beyond legal protections, support and best practice in this space have been hard to find. And while treating self-employed contractors as employees can create contractual complexities, the lack of guidance, support and training for people that manage and lead others in the industry shows up daily in the workplace adding to environments described as toxic or unprofessional. 

A large part of fixing these issues, adding a focus on workplace interactions and team relations is supported by having HR, People and Culture professionals in the production office, on set, on location, and even in writing rooms. Let’s have a look at how Production HR can assist production companies in making the right decisions in an industry where it’s not only critical to prioritise productivity, engagement, well-being, diversity and equality, but where a variety of employment relationships across one production are common. 

The Role of HR in TV and Film 

HR has traditionally been either distant or non-existent in the production industry. It was only seen when something went horribly wrong, so much so that the connotations of “going to HR” are deeply ingrained in that. However, HR in TV and Film should provide more holistic support that integrates well-being and productivity. 


Creating positive worker experiences 

Production is responsible for creating positive experiences, but HR can play a pivotal role in supporting this. For example, HR can help Production to keep an open communication channel where people can voice their challenges and provide feedback. This can include assisting with creating a clear code of conduct, a transparent escalation process, a space for peer-to-peer support, and a way to formally communicate how and why things are happening in the company. 

In addition, HR can ensure that leaders, including Executive Producers and Showrunners through to Heads of Department and Line Producers, are accountable, transparent and equipped to support the crew. 

Finally, the TV and Film industry can be fast-paced, and highly competitive, and such an atmosphere can lead to the development of toxic team cultures. To combat this (and the industry’s reputation for it), HR can be a key function to help build trust with crew members. For instance, HR can work with productions to support their efforts to increase focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Attracting and retaining top talent 

Attracting top talent is a priority for companies in all industries, but this is especially true in the uber-competitive Film and TV space. When an all-star comes along in the industry, other productions notice too. 

HR is a specialist in people and behaviours, so will advise Production on what they need to focus their efforts on to retain the best talent. Instead of focusing solely on basic recruitment tactics such as providing the right benefits and competitive pay, HR folks can assist Production in emphasising the entire package, which includes prioritising good company culture, being intentional about crew well-being, and offering development opportunities. 

Of course, it’s Production’s responsibility to follow through, but the foundation that HR sets can go a long way in ensuring that production companies attract and retain top talent. 

Empowering crew members 

Production has to empower and train crew so that they are safe in the workplace. For example, when it comes to bullying and harassment, they have to: 

  • Educate the crew on how to identify, respond to, and report bullying and harassment. 
  • Make it clear that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and that any reports will be thoroughly investigated. 
  • Make certain that everyone involved in a production understands the production’s anti-bullying and harassment policy. This should be included in the deal memo terms and conditions between the production company and everyone involved in a project. 

HR can help provide the mechanisms to set this up. For instance, by providing leadership training, HR will help people that manage others on how to develop and empower their crews to create better working environments. 

Assisting with psychological safety provision 

Work in TV and Film often necessitates irregular working hours and physically demanding tasks in a high-pressure environment, sometimes sustained over a number of months. Production companies need to ensure worker well-being. That said, Production also needs support in creating healthy working cultures, which includes a focus on psychological safety, better communication, and early intervention when problems arise. 

Consider, the fast-paced nature of productions, for example. With lots of people on one week’s notice, crew members can sometimes fear the consequences of speaking out about poor work practices. 

The presence of HR can provide crew members with another route beyond speaking to the production directly, going to a union, or reaching out to a confidential production hotline. This way, matters can be resolved at an earlier stage, in a personal and constructive way. 

Helping with compliance

Productions are responsible for ensuring compliance on the people side, including local employment regulations. HR can assist Production in remaining compliant. 

Because they are more informed on the best practices from a legal* standpoint, HR professionals can assist production companies in creating and streamlining effective strategies to educate crew on rules and regulations. Take the TSHRC Microlearning App, for example. It offers simple, adaptable, and efficient compliance training to help workers comply with HR policies, acceptable workplace behaviour, and company culture.  

*Production HR won’t be a replacement for getting legal advice on people-related issues but will help manage what is escalated to legal counsel. 

All of this will better equip Production companies to avoid costly compliance errors that could result in employment tribunal claims. 

Handling disputes 

HR assists Production with workplace conflict resolution. 

TV and Film production crew members are a unique team of creative individuals who frequently have to work together for extended periods. If these creatives disagree and the disagreement escalates into unhealthy conflict—where crew members feel exposed and want to protect their reputation and job—the working environment can become unpleasant for everyone involved. These conflicts can also serve as an energy-zapping distraction that prevents the team from focusing on and excelling at what they do best.  

HR professionals can help with dispute resolution. They can, for example, help to enforce an environment that prevents retaliation by reasserting the expectation for professional conduct at work (where crew members work through their differences and are able to move forward).  

Best Practices for HR in Television and Film 

HR plays a crucial role in TV and Film. However, HR professionals should understand some best practices if they are going to be successful in this rather complex industry that continues to evolve at a breakneck pace.  

It’s essential to be timely 

Disputes and issues must be handled on time to ensure accountability and clear consequences. Being slow to act can result in extremely limited or difficult-to-implement consequences. For example, given how short contracts can be in TV and Film, it’s common for contracts to end before an issue is resolved. 

Awareness of working conditions is vital 

Unlike most industries, TV and Film frequently require late-night, middle-of-the-night, and early-morning shifts—HR should have an awareness and appreciation of what the working conditions are. This is not only limited to the times crew members work but should also extend to the environments they work in, and the hierarchical nature of productions. 

You can’t afford to ignore training & development 

With productions being relatively short and lots of talent moving around, it’s hard for any one production to take responsibility for growing future talent within the industry. 

But if EVERYONE, including HR, takes responsibility for intentionally developing their crews then the industry will grow as a whole. This can include leadership development for anyone with people responsibility, as well as practical opportunities for crew members to build on the people element of their craft. 

Building training and development support into the budget can put a production company in a better position to retain top talent, which will ultimately lead to long-term gains. 

Bringing A Modern Approach to Production HR 

Production may be responsible for ensuring a positive work environment and crew experience, but collaborating with HR can have a massive impact. The work of production HR can dramatically affect productivity, crew members’ well-being, and the overall success of a production company. 

At The Small HR Company, we are on a mission to help companies in the entertainment industry to build amazing workplaces. 

We believe that traditional HR solutions lack a well-rounded approach to managing, protecting, and empowering people in the TV and Film industry. Our modern approach to HR means we can support companies in the industry with everything from culture design and employee relations to support with compliance and operations, plus worker learning and development. 

We have worked with some of the world’s leading creative companies in television and film, so we have hands-on experience and expert understanding when it comes to the HR solutions that work for this industry.   

Whatever your HR needs and goals, we can help you figure out a solution. Contact us today to learn how we can create customised HR solutions for your business. 

Interested in one of our services?