An Actress's Thoughts

Cinema, Career, Children?

Cinema, Career, Children: Can the Film Industry be called a family-friendly Workplace?

This text is much longer than usual, reason being that I have not written on the (in-)compatibility of family life and working in the film industry up to now, so I had to assemble some basic data.

The other day I was reading the title story “HIM AGAIN” of the German trains magazine mobil (of Deutsche Bahn, the March issue). “Wotan Wilke Möhring is one of the busiest actors in Germany and everybody is watching him. Someone working as much as him certainly needs a little break. mobil is using it for a relaxed talk on children and career, German film and on what it feels like being on a roll.”
46-year-old Wotan Wilke Möhring has three little children and is indeed very much present on German TV and in the cinema, in 2013 we saw him in the criminal detective series TATORT, as lead in two films in the cinema, and in 6 televisions movies of the week on ZDF / German channel 2.
Möhring belongs to a minority, because he is very busy filming and because he has three children. 6 out of 10 acting people in Germany are childless, and of those with children only 14 % have 3 or more, and only 2 % have 4 or more children (Bührmann et al., 2010).
Interestingly quite a few well-known German actors have large families: Devid Striesow (4 children), Til Schweiger (4 children), Axel Prahl (4 children), Jan-Josef Liefers (4 children) and Jürgen Vogel (5 children) for example, and, a little older, Uwe Ochsenknecht (4 children) and Helge Schneider (6 children). For the top actresses in Germany it’s a different story, most have considerably fewer children or none at all, with Maria Simon and Corinna Harfouch with 4 children each as the exceptions.

Why is this? Because when dads are standing in front of the camera their partners are looking after the children, but it doesn’t happen the other way around? That fathers not neccessarily are living together with their children but mothers will most of the time, and so the careers are affected differently? That actresses have to be afraid of disappearing from the screen too long in case of a baby break, thus shortening their possible career even more? (the age disharmony on German TV results in female roles diminishing rapidly after 40, whereas male roles have their peak at 50 or 55).

There is a lot of talk about families in the German TV business whenever the programme or the audience is in focus, and in TV commercials families are a regular phenomenon. But what’s it like within the industry, how family-friendly is television as a workplace?
The Federal Organization of Filmmakers Associations held a large-scale survey last year, the results of which have been published recently as “status report 2013 – survey on the current work situation within the different branches of the film industry”. 1.543 people took part, giving a total of 22.532 answers. The report asserted that

  • for about fifteen years the wages of filmmakers have declined
  • there are less shooting days available per project
  • about 70 % of the eligible filmmakers have not or only seldomly had their overtime paid
  • many filmmakers go directly from a job to unemployment benefits II (social benefits).

This development affects everybody, but if men and women, parents and non-parents are affected differently has not been examined unfortunately. There were no questions on family status and possible children, and they did not even determined the gender of the participants in the survey.

Another survey was a bit more informative: a “nationwide survey among free-lancers and employees for the duration of the film production” (Satzer 2007) Here 871 film people talked about their working conditions, of these one third were female. This is not a representative study but at least it’s a starting point. As can be seen from Figure 1, a third of the interviewees live in families.


In this survey 56 % stated their average working day lasting between 12 and 14 hours or more. 43,7 % said that reconciling work and private life was heavily strained, 24,4 % called it very heavily strained – together it’s more than two thirds. Unfortunately these figures are not broken down to gender or parent/non-parent. These informations would be important though, because “The compatibility of family and occupation is a special challenge for many women and men. It is strongly connected with achieving equal opporunities within our society.” (Keller / Haustein, Statistisches Bundesamt / Federal Statistical Office, 2013).

Do we find equal opportunities for women and men in the film industry? Are family and film jobs compatible?

It will maybe be a little easier for an actress than a camerawoman, because as a rule she does not have to be on the set every day of production, exceptions being telenovelas for example. Also she encounters waiting periods during the course of the day. So she would hire a child care helper for the whole day and maybe take the baby along to the film set and nurse it during standby times, as actress Anneke Kim Sarnau did on the set of the POLIZEIRUF ROSTOCK (a cop tv series). Even when her second pregnancy was very advanced she could still work in front of the camera, with concealing wardrobe and subtle camera angles. How she will be able to continue in the near future with two small children is another matter. Then there is the example of actress Natalia Wörner, for whom the storyline and title of a new series was changed to include the pregnancy of the leading character (UNTER ANDEREN UMSTÄNDEN / UNDER DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES).

There is a flipside to this of course, since the day/s on the set are not the only work of an actress, and there are a number film and TV projects that are not compatible with a young family, among those shooting in other towns or countries, and when children start going to school they cannot be taken along so easily, and long absences from home of the parent would be problematic. Also production companies will probably make lesser efforts for smaller parts as the actresses would be more easily exchangeable, so there the figure going with an advanced pregnancy can be a criterion for not hiring, and of course for an actress who only has a couple of days shooting in a production a quiet spot on the set for nursing and flexible pauses will probably not be provided so easily – even less so for a breast-feeding camerawoman, make-up artist or production assistant, also considering that crew members are normally hired for the whole length of a production. On top of this there may be regulations / standard operation procedures that limit the hiring of pregnant film makers depending on the amount of strong physical work.

In Germany there are a number of television programmes that have never seen a female director and others that hired only very very few (In 2013 the share of female directors in the TATORTE was only 5,6 % and in the TV movies of the week of ZDF it was only 9 %) – – so there will probably be productions where nobody in a position of power has ever thought about the working conditions for film makers with small children. But that is a story for another day.

The already mentioned long working hours are regulated in the labour agreements:

Maximum working hours are 13 hours unless exceptional situations justify exceeding them on single days with the consent of the film makers
(Tarifvertrag für auf Produktionsdauer beschäftigte Film- und Fernsehschaffende / Labour Agreement for film makers employed for the time of production § 6.2, valid until Dec 31 2013).

This month, on April 7, the 5th round of negociations on the new labour agreements, for which the unions demanded a maximum of 12 working hours, was successful, among other things a raise in all wages of 4,7 % and a new regulation of the working hours was agreed upon.
The negotiations for the Basic Agreement led to resutls such as 12 hours maximum working hours. These can still be extended to 13 hours, but considerably less than before: only on up 40 % of a for a television production’s and on up to 80 % of a film productions principal photography days. On top of this breaks are extended, the main break from 30 to 45 minutes and the second pause for long days to another half hour. Breaks don’t count as part of the working hours.”

Will this agreement make a difference to parents of small children? Since there is no data from the industry available let’s have a look at the general situation in Germany (based on the sample census of 2012).


A note on the definitions: employable denotes all people in the working age of 15 to 64, these are 23,1 mio. women and 22,1 mio. men. economically active denotes all that worked in the last week before the census for at least one paid hour.

What do we see? Number one, overall there are more women than men (23,1 mio. / 22,1 mio.), but for the economically active there is a male majority (16,4 mio. / 14,4 mio.).

Number two: far more women than men are not employed (5,9 mio. / 2,7 mio.). Not employed in this context constitutes of all that are not economically active, nor unemployed / registered job-seekers, nor temporarily on leave, based on sickness, cure leave, strike, partial retirement, parental leave or maternity leave. (here I tried to translate the German terms, I don’t know how they exist like this in other countries, but it would be too much to go into this more deeply. Just two expressions: Elternzeit / parental leave in Germany describes an unpaid leave of mothers or fathers from their jobs – now there is something called Elterngeld / parents’ money to compensate this. To be on maternity leave / Mutterschutz in Germany indicates the time 6 weeks before an assumed childbirth and 8 weeks after that. During this time mothers are not allowed to work but receive their normal wages, though from two different sources).

And number three: far more women than men work part-time (6,9 mio. / 1,3 mio.). This is coherent to motherhood, two thirds of all women working ful-time don’t have children, and two thirds of all women working part-time have children. The working hours of fathers are not affected by children. 90 % of men without children work full-time, 95 % of fathers work full-time. Figure 3 shows this in greater detail:


The first two columns show 60 % of all mothers working and of these the majority (70 %) in part-time employments, and nearly all of the 84 % employed fathers working full-time (94 %). Then there are the rates of of employment depending on the age of the youngest child. Not surprisingly mothers with children younger than 3 years show the lowest rate of employment (31,5 %), which begins to rise again in the following years. The rates for the fathers are relatively stabile, no matter how young the youngest child.

I already mentioned the Elterngeld / parents’ money, so here some statistics on that: 95 % of all mothers of children born in 2011 claimed parents’ money, as opposed to 27,3 % of all fathers. The fathers on average claimed parents’ money – i.e. went on leave from their jobs – for 3,3 months (75 % of the fathers only took the minimal 2 months), and the mothers claimed parents’ money for 11,7 months on average (source: Federal Statistical Office 2013). Parents’ money can be claimed up to two years, this time would be shared between the mothers and the fathers.

Interim conclusion: women restrict their professional careers much more strongly than fathers do, for whatever reasons, wishes or constraints. The individual life form seems to make a difference: “unmarried mothers with a life partner have the highest rate for full-time work (46 %), followed by single mothers (44 %). But only 26 % of married mothers worked full-time.” (Keller / Haustein 2013). The last figure may have to do with the so called “Ehegattensplitting” (tax splitting for spouses), where wives in most cases get the disadvantageous tax class V, but this is only guessing.

So what can we learn from this Excursion? Well, that in Germany at least it is still mostly the mothers that are responsible for bringing up the children. And furthermore, that under the current circumstances mothers need part-time jobs.

Back to the film industry.

If children are not to be the automatic end to a career in films, what needs to be changed? Are part-time jobs even possible outside of administrations, on a film set? Can a 12-hour-day be cut in half, are part-time location managers thinkable, could two make-up artits share one job, or even directors or camera assistants? How about full-time childcare on the set, not for the children in front of the camera, but for the children of cast and crew members? How about company creches / day nurseries / after school care? And would that be sufficient, considering the working hours on a set, or are we talking of temporary children’s homes for preschool children in close vicinity? Should the production companies finance a scheme of funding single parents, so they would not only work, but actually earn money?

Yes, let’s talk about money. Not about the money these measures would cost, but about the wages in the film business. Satzer (2007) determined an average annual pre-tax income of 38.878 € for male and 30.119 € for female film makers. So according to this – non representative – survey men earn 29 % than women. This gender pay gap is also confirmed by the findings of Buhrmann and Diersche in 2012. But why is the gap so big? Are typically female film jobs paid less? Do women negotiate worse contracts individually? Is it because women – maybe because of family committments – participate in less productions per year? Knowing about the pay gap, would part-time wages for mothers in film and television even be higher than the social benefits level?

And what about women in film and television in front of the camera? According to the survey of Bührmann et al. (2010) 72 % of the women and 64,7 % of the men had an annual income of less than 30.240 € (from film, theatre and voice work). The survey also gives a more detailed classification of wages, in 5000 € steps, but that unfortunately does not differenciate between women and men. But the survey leaves another clue to the inferior situation for women: 18,5 % of the actors as opposed to 25,7 % of the actresses cannot support themselves from acting jobs.

In Germany 20 % of the women between 40 and 44 don’t have any children. What is the percentage among women in fim and television? Could that even be differenciated for the different branches of a film production? Would the rate be similar, or significantly higher? How many film people deliberately decide against children of their own and is this connected to their film jobs? We certainly need more detailed investigations on that. Who will commission them?

Another issue is the way (working) mothers are depicted on screen. In an with the Süddeutsche Zeitung Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg talked about how men always tend to be characterized in more way than one, they are fathers AND experts, or politicians AND authors, whereas women can either be good mothers OR respected experts, but not both at the same time. Broken down to every day situation on television this would mean that the working mother is will always be the source of problems, stress and hysteria.” (Heide Aichinger: „Sheryl Sandberg kämpft gegen Stereotype. / Sheryl Sandberg is fighting against stereotypingder standard 2.4.2014)
But that is a topic for another day.

SOURCES (sorry, they are all in German, basically it’s investigations and studies commissioned by unions and statistical data and evaluations prompted by ministeries):

  • Rolf Satzer: „Ausgeleuchtet – Vom Arbeiten und Leben in der Filmindustrie“. 2007. Auf Initiative des ver.di-Projekts connexx-av und des BundesFilmVerbands. 871 Teilnehmerinnen (33,6 % Frauen, 66,4 % Männer) .
  • Andrea D. Bührmann, Nina Wild, Marko Heyse, Thomas Dierschke: „Viel Ehre, aber kaum Verdienst – Erhebung zur Arbeits- und Lebenssituation von Schauspielerinnen und Schauspielern in Deutschland.“ 2010. Auf Initiative des BFFS. 751 Teilnehmer/innen (47,7 % Frauen, 52,3 % Männer)
  • Andrea D. Bührmann / Thomas Dierschke: „Abgedreht und abgelehnt – Studienergebnisse zum ALG I-Bezug von Film – und Fernsehschaffenden. 2012. Auf Initiative des BundesFilmVerbands in ver.di. 375 Teilnehmer/innen (43,5 % Frauen, 56,6 % Männer).
  • Statistisches Bundesamt: Geburtentrends und Familiensituation in Deutschland. 2012
  • Matthias Keller / Thomas Haustein: „Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf. Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus 2012.“ Statistisches Bundesamt, Wirtschaft und Statistik. 2013
  • Bundesvereinigung der Filmschaffenden-Verbände e.V.: „Status Bericht 2013 – Umfrage zur aktuellen Arbeitssituation der einzelnen Gewerke im Filmgeschäft“. Überarbeitete Fassung vom 13.02.2014. 1.543 Teilnehmer/innen (das Geschlecht wurde nicht erfasst)
  • Statistisches Bundesamt: Öffentliche Sozialleistungen. Statistik zum Elterngeld