A film and TV extra and handyman earning £2,500 a month | #insurance | #seniors | #elderly
This week we speak to James Cork, 36, based in London, who works as a supporting artist in film and TV, and also as a ‘handyman’ through DIY service platform Taskrabbit.
Regular monthly income:
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Regular monthly outgoings:
Rent/mortgage: £0 (I care for my elderly aunt), Council tax: £182, Utilities: £210, Broadband/landline: £63, Mobile phone: £30, Home Insurance: £62, Car insurance: £128 for two cars, Life insurance: £61, Water: £50, Groceries: £500, Petrol and transport: £160, Gifts: £20, Streaming services: £24, Other subscriptions: £96.06
I’ve been working as a general handyman through Taskrabbit since 2018, doing work such as minor home repairs, flat-pack furniture assembly and mounting televisions.
Alongside this, I also work as an “extra” in film and television. Supporting artists are the people you see in the background to help bring a production to life. I’ve worked on Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and I opened the curtain on Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek) at Wembley for the Bohemian Rhapsody film, which came out in 2018.
I grew up in Switzerland, but my father is British and I moved to the UK permanently in 2009. I live in south London with my wife and three children, and we have a fourth on the way. We also live with my elderly aunt, who has dementia. The house is mortgage-free, as my aunt and I pooled resources to buy a house big enough to accommodate us all, which means we are able to care for her full-time.
I used to have a full-time job in animation for TV commercials, but I left a few years ago when my aunt’s care requirements increased. Being self-employed means I can work around the family and it gives me more flexibility. I became an extra after speaking to a friend who needed people to fill a background scene for a production he was working on.
Despite the coronavirus, I have been fairly busy with film work and am currently scheduled for five days’ worth of filming in April. The crew pays strict adherence to social distancing rules. We can’t socialise on set, we have to wear visors between scenes, and we have to get Covid tests three times a week (we are paid for our time doing this). In London, the supporting artist industry is well organised and the union has established set pay rates. A typical day rate is around £120, which takes into account holiday pay and travel costs. We also get paid overtime if the day runs longer than planned. I am signed up to a couple of agencies, and this is how I’m approached for jobs. They typically take a cut of around 15-20 per cent of my earnings, plus VAT.
For people wanting to get into the industry, the first step is to sign up to an agency (I’m signed up to We Got Pop). You’ll have to fill in an online profile that includes a recent photo and information such as your height and chest and waist dimensions (weight isn’t important). Sometimes casting directors are looking for specific features such as beards or moustaches. I have a beard and was recently approached for the Netflix hit Bridgerton, but the requirement was to be clean shaven and I didn’t want to shave my beard.
To be successful as a supporting artist, show up on time and be ready to hang about and do nothing for a day. The work is also short-notice so it would be difficult to do with a full-time job. There is plenty of work out there and directors are always looking for new faces. The UK’s film industry is thriving, with Netflix and Disney investing lots in the UK to shoot productions here.
Due to the irregularity of the entertainment industry, I don’t rely on this work for income. Instead, any money I earn from filming goes into savings. The bulk of my income comes through Taskrabbit, and I aim to earn at least £2,000 a month. I’ve built up a five star rating since starting three years ago, which means I’m often in demand. I heard about the platform through a friend. I don’t have any qualifications for the work I do – I just have plenty of experience and confidence at assembling furniture. Taskrabbit is owned by Ikea, so I assemble lots of Ikea furniture. I also build children’s garden frames, sheds and fit blinds. Basically, anything that can be assembled. I don’t do plastering, plumbing or tiling, which involves more skill.
I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of jobs I’ve taken on and income I’ve earned. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic initially knocked my income last year, but it quickly recovered. In April I earned £1,000, in May £800 but in June it rose to £1,600 and later in October I had my best month ever on the platform, earning £3,280. Throughout the pandemic, home maintenance workers have been allowed into people’s properties but we must wear masks and keep windows open. I typically get around 30 jobs a month.
I would describe myself as good with money. I’m very aware that my work is precarious and am considering getting a full-time job so I can receive a steady income. I recently took out life insurance so my children, who are 16, 6 and 2, will be secure financially if anything were to happen to me within the next 25 years. I’m currently not paying into a pension, but I used to and this will be my next financial priority.
I calculate my expenses for the year, including insurance, subscriptions to trade magazines and animation software that I still pay for. I then break this down into 12 and set up a standing order from my current account to a savings account so I’m not faced with one big bill each year. I also have another regular savings account which covers the cost of unexpected bills and costs. I don’t have a credit card and don’t take out loans. Our biggest monthly expense is food, although this has gone down in the past year due to the coronavirus social restrictions.
My current priorities are making sure my children and family are well looked after. I’m also looking for a job in the film industry, and am doing some unpaid work as an associate producer for a film project. If this works out, it could be lucrative and would allow me to move into producing projects. I’m waiting to see what impact Covid will have on the industry over the next year, and whether everything will settle down again.
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