If you’re a crew member who works with vulnerable contributors, it’s important you take clear steps to care for yourself and the contributors.
What is a contributor?
Contributors take part in productions to discuss or share their experiences and stories.
While this is usually in a non-scripted context, they can be involved in any production type – from development through to transmission – such as when sharing a lived experience in the development of a scripted storyline.
What is a vulnerable contributor?
A vulnerable contributor is someone taking part in a production to discuss or share their experience of a challenging or sensitive topic, which could include themes such as:
- Mental health
A vulnerable contributor could also have specific individual needs at the time that they’re involved with the production, such as:
- Age (young or older people)
- A mental health condition
It’s important to understand that any contributor could become vulnerable during their involvement with the production, due to a life event, such as:
- An accident
- Being the victim of a crime
Even if a production isn’t working with traumatic themes, such as on a game or reality show, other aspects of a genre and content – including conflict and rejection – can also impact contributors.
What to be aware of when working with contributors
If you’re working with contributors, be aware that this work could feel emotionally overwhelming – particularly if the production and its contributors are exploring challenging topics.
You may find yourself feeling:
- Uncertain of what boundaries you should put in place
- Unclear about your responsibilities
- Unsure how best to support a contributor
- Unsure how best to support yourself
Supporting without healthy boundaries – the signs
It’s important to build healthy, professional and ethical relationships with your contributors throughout a production – for their and your wellbeing.
Signs that healthy boundaries are missing include:
- Feeling over-invested in helping someone
- If a contributor keeps contacting you outside of work to talk
- Feeling a person is becoming dependent on you
- Feeling overwhelmed, triggered or distressed by a relationship
Putting healthy boundaries in place
There are various steps that you – and production leads – can take to ensure that you’re able to maintain healthy and professional relationships with contributors.
If you’re unsure about the production’s approach to things, speak with your line manager:
- Consider the use of production work phones so your personal number doesn’t need to be shared.
- Be cautious of accepting friend requests/connections with contributors on social media.
- When establishing a relationship with a contributor, consider a mentoring approach over a friend’s approach.
These tips can help with a mentoring approach:
- Be mindful of sharing too much personal information about yourself.
- Keep messaging/contact within the working day.
- Ensure good physical boundaries are in place to keep both yourself and contributors safe.
- Take a professional but warm and encouraging approach to contributors.
Your responsibilities when working with a contributor
The production you’re working on has a legal duty of care towards all contributors.
This means that the production must put reasonable measures in place to keep all contributors physically and psychologically safe.
Productions should have a casting protocol, or similar policy, which outlines how to raise welfare concerns.
The protocol should be shared with, and read by, relevant crew members before they approach and work with contributors.
If it’s unclear what has been put in place to protect contributors, ask your head of department (HoD) or manager to talk you through this.
Whilst it’s important to deliver on your duty of care for contributors you’re working with, it’s the production/executive producer who is ultimately responsible.
Production responsibilities towards crew working with contributors
The production also has a duty of care towards crew and wider staff.
This means leaders must support you to ensure that you also remain healthy and are protected from potential psychological or emotional harm.
If you feel you need more support, or are unsure what steps have been put in place to protect you, share this with your HoD or manager.
If they don’t know what kind of measures to put in place, direct them to our guide: Support those working with vulnerable contributors.
An important part of work involves creating friendly, encouraging and trusting relationships with contributors.
They may share vulnerable stories or experiences with you, which you should keep in confidence – unless they explicitly give you permission to share with others.
If you’re concerned that they may harm themselves or someone else, you can breach confidentiality to protect their safety.
Supporting a contributor or a vulnerable contributor
It can be hard to work out how best to support a contributor, particularly if they’re vulnerable.
Steps you can take to safeguard contributors – whilst staying within the scope of your job – include:
- Empowerment: Actively collaborate with, and empower, an individual contributor. Enable them to tell you what support they most need. Never coerce or encourage someone to do anything they express discomfort with.
- Prevention: If you have serious concerns about a contributor, address them transparently – such as asking ‘is this topic distressing you?’. If your concerns persist, ask the contributor if they’re happy for you to reach out to your manager for more support options.
- Proportionality: Take proportionate actions suited to the level of need that’s being demonstrated:
- Low need: Have a compassionate and confidential conversation with them.
- Medium need: Following your conversation, signpost them to expert support – and request permission to share any details with your manager or HoD.
- High need: Stop exposure to distressing topics immediately, request permission to share details with production leaders and discuss collectively what support is needed.
- Protection: Discern early on if someone is particularly vulnerable, or at risk, and what specific support options could be in place. For example, a sexual assault survivor might need access to a specialised therapist.
- Partnership: Productions should be working in partnership with local experts to support contributors – the responsibility shouldn’t be yours alone.
- Accountability: Provide consistent and responsible follow-up with any contributors, such as regularly checking in with them. If you feel concerned for a contributor, let your manager and/or HoD know.
Contributors may share vulnerable experiences and feelings throughout filming, and this can impact on those listening and supporting their welfare.
If you begin to feel emotionally overwhelmed, upset or triggered, steps you could take include the following:
- Share that you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed with your manager as soon as possible.
- Think about, and make known, what would make you feel more supported.
- Ask your manager and/or HoD what measures could be put in place to support you.
- Reflect on your boundaries and ascertain if they need adjusting.
- Take regular breaks whilst at work.
- Connect with family and friends regularly.
- Engage with non-production related hobbies and interests.
- If you feel distressed, reach out for external support via the free 24/7 Film and TV Support Line: 0800 054 0000.
- If distress persists, think about whether you can continue with support or need to consider a different project.
It’s important to note that your feelings are valid.
If you’re struggling, the most important step you can take is to share this with a trusted colleague or individual as soon as possible.
As we regularly review Toolkit content, if you have any suggestions to improve this guide, or any part of the site, we would love to hear from you.