Directors feel burnt out and fatigued, see industry pressures leading to poor mental health outcomes

Unpredictable contract and freelance work, which comes with long hours – spanning evenings, nights and weekends – is leaving many directors burnt out and fatigued.

Further, a vast majority of directors feel the overall pressures and stressors of the industry contribute to poor mental health and wellbeing outcomes for both themselves and their colleagues. This results in many leaving or considering leaving the industry.

These are some of the preliminary findings of Screen Well and the Australian Directors’ Guild’s (ADG) work/life balance survey, which had 68 respondents and will inform a webinar on the subject this coming Monday, World Mental Health Day (October 10).

Specifically, almost 90 per cent of directors surveyed defined their work as unpredictable contract/freelance, and 48 per cent said they often felt burnt out and fatigued as a result of their work.

One in two directors had considered leaving the industry entirely due to personal factors, like work/life balance, feeling replaceable/disposable or a lack of career advancement. Some 57 per cent knew a colleague who had left the industry due to work/life balance, and 49 per cent knew someone who had left due to mental health stressors.

Further results of the ADG/Screen Well survey will be presented within the Monday webinar, with topics spanning workplace conditions, impact on directors’ social lives, relationships and sleep, consistency of work, juggling caring and parental responsibilities, and mental health and emotional wellbeing more broadly.

Delivered by Screen Well founder Ben Steel, the webinar will provide resources and look at strategies to manage issues around mental health, give work/life balance tips, and examine how directors can assist the wellbeing of crew/cast.

These early results from the ADG survey largely align with that of the recent A Wider Lens report from the Australian Cinematographers Society, conducted by researchers from Deakin and Tallinn universities.

Based on a camera workforce survey of more than 600 professionals, that report found that a majority see workplace conditions, such as long hours, unpredictable schedules, competition for work, and job stress as impacting negatively on their wellbeing, and struggle for work/life balance.

With mental health coming into sharp focus for the industry through COVID, ADG executive director Alaric McAusland tells IF it wanted to baseline work/life balance for directors knowing that burn out and job insecurity not only contribute to people leaving the industry, but also act as an inhibitor for new talent joining.

Using this data, it will examine what supports and services it needs to improve mental health and wellbeing supports for its members. McAusland notes directing can often be an isolating profession with significant leadership responsibilities and pressures – the decisions the director make impact things like budget, and the work of the wider cast and crew.

However, the ADG’s hope is to also begin a dialogue with the rest of industry about workplace practices and policies that align with optimal mental health and wellbeing.

“This survey and Monday’s webinar are the first very small steps in what we feel needs to be a much larger program of mental health support for directors, but also I think, as meaningfully, the start of a broader conversation with the rest of industry,” McAusland says.

“One of the unsurprising results [in the survey] was around job insecurity. This isn’t isolated to directors; working in the gig economy, from contract to contract, there’s inevitable job stress that comes with that – that’s not an easy thing to solve.

“I’m not sure there is an immediate solution to that. But certainly I think we’ve got to provide better support for screen practitioners that are experiencing mental health [issues] on set, behind the scenes and look towards measures that provide the optimal response.”

The webinar is open to any director working in Australia, not just ADG members. Members who attended the ADG’s recent Director’s Cut conference will be able to attend the webinar for free with discounts for members. Sign up here.