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Article by Alan Duhig – Managing Director of Hole in the Sky Productions
I have been lucky enough that my work has taken me to lots of foreign countries over the last 20 years, from Thailand and Dubai to Russia and Iceland, with many European locations in between. Many people already considered me fortunate since I worked within the arts and entertainment field. This purportedly allows me to live a life of luxury doing something I love.
They are right on one count as I do love what I do. The luxury part, however, is simply the ‘heads’ of a flipped coin, a coin that has just as often landed on ‘tails’. Like most of us on social media, I mostly choose to post only the glamorous photos! This generally leads to a misconception that ALL my contracts are fun & glamorous. For those of you who predate social media (like me), the concept was the same except we shared physical stories, generally whilst sat in a pub!
I am a Scriptwriter, Performer and Director and I’m also known for being a Technician and Set Builder. In addition to this, I have 15 years of experience in Event Management. These combined skills have accidently offered me a unique insight into the contracting process. I have sat on both sides of the desk, signing contracts as an Artist and drawing up contracts as a Manager/Show Director.
I am currently in the Dubai, United Arab Emirates, working a contract as a Street Theatre Performer. As you’d expect, I had to sign a contract to do so. As such I thought I’d write a little something about the importance of working in another country since I’ve seen many a performer and technician find themselves in trouble when heading abroad.
1. It’s not all about the Money
Most of us in this industry do it for the love, however, as this title infers; it’s not ALL about the money, ergo a portion of it must be. Here are my rules for being pleased with the pennies:
Make peace with your fee. If you are unhappy with your offer, challenge it politely and in writing to build a written history. Negotiations done professionally should not be something you are afraid to do, take a look at my thoughts on ‘Contractual Obligations’ (below) for more insight here.
Once you agree a fee, make peace with it! All too often I’ve seen jealousy arise when a member of staff finds out someone else is being paid more, often as they see it, for doing less. Don’t be that person. Remember that you agreed to work for a given price in exchange for a given a set of deliverables. At that point of ‘handshake’, you were happy. That should always be your go to feeling on anything money related.
Josh, the workshy bugger who does half the hours you do for twice the pay is an irrelevant additional factor. Try to see it that he will get his comeuppance for being workshy. You are playing a long game… You’ll work for 40+ years in this industry, but he’ll be gone by Christmas. Trust me, workshy folk don’t last long in Entertainments.
Don’t discuss your fee. Ever. The entire situation with Josh (above) would have never occurred if everyone simply got on with the job and left its price tag in the bank where it belongs.
Check the Exchange rates and understand the cost of living. If you are being paid by a UK company in pounds but working and living in Singapore, realise there will be a disparity and your pound will perhaps not go as far. Do some homework before flying.
Death and Taxes – Whilst away from home the majority of us will still need to be paying bills, even if it’s simply a mobile phone bill. Make sure you have set up all your payments prior to leaving and have all the tools you need to contact your bank, should you need to while away. It’s worth knowing your IBAN number (This is your international banking number which can generally be found on your bank statements) for any transactions you might need to make while abroad.
2. Contractual Obligations
It’s amazing how many times over the years I have had a conversation similar to this:
THEM: “Really? I didn’t know that; that’s not fair!”
ME: “Yes I’m afraid so, it’s written into the contract.”
THEM: “Oh… well, I didn’t read the whole contract.”
ME: “But you signed it?”
THEM: “Yeah, of course I signed it, I wouldn’t have got the job otherwise!”
ME (thinking) …You’re a Moron!
Contracts are an agreement between you and your employer. The very least you can do is read it. Fully! From there, you have many options.
Don’t be afraid of a contract. If you do not understand something written within your contract; ask questions. I have only ever had respect for someone who has come back to me with a sensible question about their contract. It shows they care and that they have read it.
If you are worried it is ‘something’ you should already know, and asking will make you look like an idiot, do a little research first! Ask friends and family to help you decipher it before you approach your potential employer. There is often legal jargon in contracts that can be confusing, but a little time and effort can really pay off. Remember if all else fails, Uncle Google is a very good source of info!
If there is something in your contract you disagree with and you feel you have a reason to dispute it, raise it with them. I recommend doing so in writing (email is best) as this will mean there is a documented history built of the exchange between you both. As long as you remain polite, reasonable, organised and professional I believe there is no shame in asking for anything, this includes pay rises. If you feel you are worth more, lay out why and suggest a sum you are happy with, the worst you’ll get is a no.
I have never had a problem here and often it has been beneficial as it gives you 1 on 1 correspondence with your future employer. This can build a stronger relationship with them for the road ahead. Just stick to those rules. E.G. If you jump straight in with an extortionate fee it will, of course, put their nose out of joint.
An important piece of advice having sat on both sides would be to remember how busy they are in the lead up to an event. Don’t think you can use this medium to gain an advantage over your fellow cast and crew members without due cause. For me personally, there is nothing that will send you to the bottom of the pile quicker than unimportant emails and conversations as an attempt to suck up to the boss! When I am managing a show or event, my time is the single most precious thing I have.
3. Local Customs & Laws
Do some research into the country you are visiting. What is its political leaning? What is the overriding religion in the area? How stable is its currency? What problems does the country face? How is the country viewed by the rest of the world? Is there a British embassy? If yes, where is it? Do they have any hard line attitudes you need be aware of?
So many things can trip you up while you’re away, so it’s totally worth swotting up on some of the differing laws and cultures just to get an overall feel of a place before you get on a plane.
I have fallen foul of these things a fair few times myself which is why I feel I can offer this advice.
For your amusement, but also to highlight the point, here is a truly bonkers list of a few things I have witnessed in my years of stumbling around the planet:
i/ I have been pressured into smuggling currency out of a country since the allowed cash limit had been exceeded!
ii/ I have witnessed someone being placed in jail for simply bouncing a cheque!
iii/ I have seen someone have a camera confiscated for taking pictures of a policeman!
iv/ I have had a local contract refused as my passport had a stamp in it from another country that was deemed an unacceptable place to have visited!
v/ I have faced a full half days interrogation upon arrival in a country as it was deemed I had controversial stamps in my passport.
vi/ A colleague was deported from a country for drinking alcohol in the open. The chap thought he would get away with putting vodka and orange into a water bottle and walk around a park drinking it!
vii/ I have been mugged in broad daylight by 4 men and had my passport, money and jewellery stolen.
Viii/ I have seen a colleague end up in trouble as he took part in an extreme sport. He was contracted not to do such things and a resulting injury to his hand severely affected his ability to be a flyman! He was forced to sit out for a number of weeks unpaid.
4. Online & Social Media
Social Media – Social Media is a difficult entity to blend with the arts. There are often plot points within your show or ‘Wow’ moments, often visual, that can be easily spoilt by your online posts and photos. Coupled with this, our obsession to sharing every moment of our lives through photos & video, including the recent addition of LIVE broadcasting and it’s easy to understand how posts of back-stage areas, costumes, cast and props can really ruin the magic.
This is a show/event producer’s nightmare which has resulted in it becoming the norm to have a blanket ban on all social media posts while working on a show or event.
Now add in the complication of working a contract abroad where the customs and laws differ and you can find yourself in hot water. In some instances, there might be internet censorship & often a language barrier so be mindful about your social posts and do your research first before you travel.
VPNs – Virtual Private Networks are becoming very popular these days, as such, some governments are picking up on this censorship work around and are clamping down on it.
Check whether it is legal to have a VPN app downloaded on your device, know what the punishment is in the country you are visiting and check how well enforced the law is. This way you can make your own judgement on whether it’s worth the risk, just to see the latest episode of “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here!”
Be very mindful of your browsing whilst in any country that actively promotes internet censorship laws. A top website I recommend is this world map chart: https://www.ivpn.net/internet-censorship It will help give you an idea of where has restrictions.
Check your downloaded APPs are appropriate for the country you are visiting. Not everywhere endorses TINDER and GRINDER!
Your Privacy – Think about where and how you go online. Public and Hotel Wifi, it is not the same as your home internet. If you type your credentials into a website whilst on either of these mediums your sensitive data could be intercepted. This not only puts you at risk of identity theft, but it could put you on the wrong side of the law too.
If you buy a local SIM card be aware that the local company who sold you the card may also be required to monitor your internet activity. If you think that sounds a little over the top, check out the mass monitoring law that has recently been passed in the UK (https://goo.gl/Lr0RUk). If they can do this in your home country, imagine what they might be doing elsewhere?
5. Enjoy it!
To finish, it would be wrong of me not to advise you to go and enjoy yourself. If you’re like me and love travel, it’s a fabulous thing to do and what better way to see the world than to be paid to do so. For some, it also might be a once in a lifetime experience so remember to soak up every moment you can. Go exploring, meet people and immerse yourself in the local culture.
Ultimately, it will do nothing more than enrich you as a human. It will give you humility, understanding and tolerance of others plus a great set of memories that will last a lifetime.
Just don’t lose sight of why you’re there… The work must come first. Happy travels everyone.
Alan Duhig, Managing Director of Hole in the Sky Productions.
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