Some stressed film crews get psychological support

As producer Joanna Laurie planned summer 2021 production of The Son, an upcoming drama from Oscar-winning writer-director Florian Zeller, she knew the stress levels for the cast and crew would be exponential. They had to contend with strict COVID-19 safety protocols and the film’s difficult subject: suicide.

So the London-based producer did something unconventional: she arranged to hire a company that would provide confidential virtual therapy sessions to anyone on set who needed them during filming in New York, London and France. The program was so popular that she plans to replicate it for other productions.

“We just had to make absolutely sure that when we were making a movie about mental health, we really cared about the cast and crew who are going to be dealing with this very sensitive issue,” said Laurie , a producer at See-Saw Films. “I think it’s something we’re going to see a lot more of.”

Regardless of the subject, film and television equipment can be stressful and dangerous jobs. The pandemic added a host of fears as cast and crews returned to work to face strict safety protocols including testing, masking and social distancing. The streaming boom put more pressure on film workers as production of new shows skyrocketed and crew worked longer hours to keep up with demand, leading to burnout and rising work tensions.

As a result, more and more producers are considering offering therapy services, both on set and virtually, to help film workers manage stress in the workplace.

A masked man talks to a blonde woman in red on set "The son."

Florian Zeller and Laura Dern on the set of The Son.

(Rekha Garton)

Beneficiaries include Solas Mind, the UK company hired by See-Saw Films for the Sony released feature film The Son. The company has developed a digital platform that allows crew members to schedule therapy sessions and has worked with studios such as Apple TV and NBC Universal. With a team of 30 consultants and psychotherapists, Solas Mind plans to expand in the US and Canada to meet producer demand for its services.

“That sense of isolation, where people are separated from their families, locked in hotel rooms, all the nice things about the industry, the social side, was gone,” said the company’s founder, Sarah McCaffrey. “There was a massive demand for people to be able to talk to at the end of the workday.”

While it’s typical to hear from producers catering to every whim of A-list stars, crews often receive little support.

And despite rising costs, some manufacturers are recognizing the benefit of offering therapy services as an added benefit to attract crew members.

“Productions are longer, I think the budgets are tighter, so the schedules are tighter, which has all these knock-on effects of people exhaustion and inefficient leadership,” said McCaffrey, a psychotherapist and former actor.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents technical workers on film and television sets, supports the push to add more therapists to productions.

“It’s a good thing to provide even more mental health resources and support to crews and all who need them,” said Jonas Loeb, spokesman for IATSE. He noted that the union had worked with the Motion Picture & Television Fund and other groups to offer mental health resources to crew members.

The use of therapists on film sets is relatively uncommon, but there have been some high-profile examples.

Georgia-based therapist Kim Whyte was hired to assist in the 2020 production of Amazon’s acclaimed limited series The Underground Railroad to help the cast and crew deal with the difficult subject matter on set.

“Studios and producers are becoming more aware of the pressures and stressors that exist in our society in general, and they want to help their people involved in their project,” Whyte said, adding that common issues clients address , Stress is gig work, financial insecurities and separation anxiety.

After The Underground Railroad, Whyte also helped Amazon produce The Lord of the Rings: The Power Rings, Core said. Amazon’s “The Boys” offshoot “Gen V” was also there.

Last year, Amazon offered therapy services on six shows and plans to expand that number in 2023, said Jerome Core, head of US and global content diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility at Amazon Studios.

“If we can get people to leave our sets feeling the most respected, the most heard and the most seen, we know that when we get back there they will choose us as their number one priority for their jobs,” says Core said.

The use of psychiatric services on film sets is more widespread in the UK

Since 2021, the British Film Institute has funded a program that funds “feel good brokers” who advise productions on stress and mental health issues and help implement industry policies to prevent bullying, harassment and racism. ERI funding was expanded last year.

Wellbeing Facilitators are not therapists, but they can refer crew members to qualified psychotherapists, mediate disputes, and coach newly promoted crew members or those mentoring a team for the first time.

So far there has been little in the US for freelance crews, said McCaffrey, whose company is also being funded by the UK government under the new mental health initiative. Some companies offer employee assistance programs, but these are often unavailable to freelance crew members.

She started her company in 2020 and is now working on more than 80 productions. McCaffrey declined to disclose her company’s fees, but said pricing depends on the level of support each production requires.

Many clients struggle to balance personal life with very long production days spanning months with no breaks, she said.

“It’s very difficult to find a work-life balance when you work long hours,” McCaffrey said.

Experienced crews have been in high demand since production resumed in 2020, and offering services like free mental health care to freelancers makes producers more attractive employers.

When Karl Liegis began producing Apple TV’s The Essex Serpent at the height of the pandemic in 2020, he knew he wanted to support his British crew with mental health.

Liegis has been hired as executive producer at 60Forty Films, which has an exclusive production deal with Apple TV and has pledged to have Solas Mind available for any of its future productions, such as upcoming Idris Elba thriller Hijack, he said.

“There’s competition now between the production companies trying to get experienced and good crews,” Liegis said. “I think the reason my employers hired me now is because they want to be attractive to an employee.”

For non-fiction filmmakers, the non-profit organization American Documentary has funded an initiative called DocuMentality, a research project that examines the key mental health challenges in the sector, according to the project’s UK co-founder, Rebecca Day.

Day, a documentary film producer trained as a psychotherapist, founded her own UK-based therapy company in 2018 called Film in Mind. Her work includes psychological counseling as well as workshops and lecture events.

She helps filmmakers solve communication problems – often between directors and producers – or difficult issues and financial pressures in the industry.

“It doesn’t feel very sustainable,” Day said of the current crisis documentary makers are facing. “There’s a lot of money out there, but it’s not trickling down to freelancers who feel underfunded and overworked.” Some stressed film crews get psychological support

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