For too long, securing a sustainable career in the world of filmmaking, storytelling and production services was all about who you knew or who could help you bag a lucky break. It was a narrow recruitment method that systematically ruled out opportunities for a vast number of diverse storytellers who just happened to be from less affluent backgrounds. Thankfully, a new world is emerging. Gone are the gate-keepers who once held the keys to employment and in their place are the very individuals who once found themselves at the back of the line. It’s here where Parity Pictures, a new start-up aimed at helping under-represented voices reach mainstream audiences, aims to make its mark.
“20 years ago, it was virtually impossible for anyone who didn’t already have a connection to the film and TV industries to get a job in film and TV. It was very difficult to understand a career pathway or how to access a commissioner,” explains Dominique Unsworth, Managing Director at Parity and member of Creative England’s 2021 Creative Enterprise: Evolve cohort. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen that open up. Cultural pressure on publicly funded companies, and also commercial pressure on private entities like Netflix and Amazon, has led to an open door policy. The real opportunity now is to push on that open door and really make it sustainable.”
With a career spent promoting inclusion within the creative sector, Unsworth couldn’t be better suited to shepherd this cultural shift into the mainstream. In 1999, she founded Resource Productions, a social enterprise designed to diversify the creative industries with a focus on film, art and technology. By helping the people who would ordinarily struggle getting their voice heard bring their untapped stories to life, the company quickly established a bank of emerging, under-represented talent that was brimming with ideas that spoke to a variety of audiences. When pivotal cultural moments like ‘Oscars So White’ and the Black Lives Matter movement finally lead the entertainment world to prioritise diverse artists and their stories, Unsworth suddenly found that she had exactly what the industry needed at just the right time.
What followed was the creation of Parity Pictures, a new organisation established with help from Creative England’s Evolve programme for high-end screen sector businesses, which takes established and diverse storytellers and helps them to level-up by facilitating connections with big-league commissioners like Netflix, Disney and Amazon. “Broadcasters and commissioners are desperate to get content from Black, Asian and ethnic writers, directors and talent; or LGBTQ+, queer, gay, transgender, women or disability-focused projects – and they don’t have access to these storytellers,” explains Unsworth. “They desperately need them because their audiences in those minority groups are now becoming the majority.”
She continues: “These are loyal audiences who will pay disproportionately to see themselves reflected both in the on-screen stories and also to know that a project has been made by people who reflect their own lived experience – and we help to bridge that gap,” Unsworth tells us. “We look for people who have spent the last five, ten or fifteen years struggling to access a process that lets them reach commissioners and we offer them the opportunity to get their projects in front of commissioners and produce them with us.”
However perhaps the most impactful change spearheaded by Parity is its new take on sustainable employment which – in a highly-unpredictable sector – offers some much-needed stability. “For probably the last 30 to 50 years, the industry has been focused on a freelance model, which means that people have high-intensity work and then nothing for maybe many months – and that in itself creates a really difficult playing field for anyone from a slightly disadvantaged background,” suggests Unsworth. “If you don’t already have money, savings, family or connections in the industry, you’re less likely to be able to tell your story, work on a production or create a film because you can’t take that level of risk.
“The big difference with our model is that it breaks the cycle of focus on highly-paid, short-term contracts and enables people who might have children, families or carer responsibilities to actually have a part-time PAYE job that’s part of a company and an opportunity to be paid on a regular basis but at a much lower cost than if you were hired to do the same job on a freelance basis,” she adds. “What we’re seeking to do is make it a more level playing field and more accessible to the amazing talent that just can’t afford to take the risk because they don’t have the support network in place that many other filmmakers and artists have had for the past 30 or 40 years.”
Thanks to their time spent nurturing and developing new talent through Resource Productions, Parity Pictures is already bursting at the seams with creative individuals, each with diverse stories to tell. From a commissioner’s point of view, it’s an undeniably alluring prospect: “We already have over 200 members of crew, writers, directors and storytellers already in a backlog – the talent is there,” smiles Unsworth. “The big thing now is for commissioners to realise that the talent is ready and waiting with the stories – they just need to commission them on a sustainable basis. We’re not struggling to find Asian, gay, deaf or disabled talent – it’s always been there,” she attests. “Our job is to make sure those stories get to the commissioners and that the commissioners are able to see the value in commissioning by and for those audiences.”
Words and Interview By Simon Bland
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