A real-life drama is brewing at the television soap Brookside. Far from the everyday diet of murder and lesbian affairs, this plot is decidedly down-to-earth: the directors are up in arms about "miserly" rates of pay.
The freelance directors employed by Phil Redmond's Mersey Television Company have long been unhappy about the pay of pounds 650 to pounds 700 a week, particularly as they must fund board and lodging - in houses on the set - and travel to Liverpool from their own pockets.
Rifts appeared on set two weeks ago, however, when the six directors discovered that Brookside technicians were being paid almost double their rates. Freelance lighting cameramen admitted that they were paid pounds 1,075 a week plus pounds 150 for accommodation, while lowly boom swingers were on pounds 875 plus pounds 150. Both also received travel costs.
Worse, the directors have found they are also paid much less than their counterparts on Hollyoaks, the new teen soap from the same company, and And the Beat Goes On, which have driven up technicians' fees by poaching Brookside staff.
The insult is compounded by comparison to other soaps. Freelance directors on Coronation Street earn pounds 1,100 a week, plus expenses of about pounds 150 a week. EastEnders directors get pounds 700 to pounds 900 a week plus repeat fees and residuals which can be more than pounds 200 a week.
The Brookside directors have turned to their union, the Directors Guild of Great Britain, after extensive complaints resulted in a "derisory" offer of pounds 75 extra per six-week cycle.
Last week the DGGB contacted Phil Redmond, the creator and executive producer of Brookside, warning the fees amounted to "exploitation".Piers Haggard, co-chair of the recorded media committee, wrote that their pounds 650 to pounds 700 a week equated to pounds 500 to pounds 550 taking into account the cost of travel and board. "Only a director with a home in Merseyside (and how many of these are there?) comes away with a living wage from this arrangement," he said.
The union is now taking the matter to top management at Channel 4 after failing to gain any concessions. An insider on the set said the directors had been horrified to discover how much less they were paid than their crew. "It is very insulting."
An MTC spokesman said:"The current position reflects the changing employment market in television and also the difference between short term and long term contracts."