There is no shortage of creativity in the time of coronavirus. On Instagram Stories, Facebook, and even TikTok — our windows to the quarantined world — are hours upon hours of receipts. Imagination functions better when we’re stripped of enough distractions and left with a lot of time. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, it’s the only weapon in the war against reality. Still, the grim reality for freelancers insists on rearing its ugly head as the Philippines faces an extension of Enhanced Community Quarantine: What happens to independent creative professionals if the quarantine goes on to two or three months? And the more important question: What happens after it ends? Certainly, there must be a teaching moment here somewhere. Something has to change.
It was only a few months ago, as we were entering the New Year, when life seemed full of possibilities. You can be anything, they said. It’ll be great, they said. The publishing industry in particular, having gone through a tough time over the past couple of years with closures and layoffs, has yielded a substantial number of now-freelancers looking to rebuild in 2020. This was difficult enough under “normal” circumstances, (i.e., being an editor or journalist in an influencer-obsessed market). Throw in a global pandemic and the task just starts to feel overwhelming and near impossible.
Independent creatives — writers, editors, authors, photographers, videographers, artists, illustrators, stylists, dancers, filmmakers, etc. — aren’t exactly the first people one would think of helping in the threat of an economic crisis for a number of reasons:
1) Twenty-percent of Filipinos are living below the poverty line; so by way of the “check your privilege” school of thought, we can’t really complain; 2) Creative freelancers were actually thriving before the pandemic, so one might argue that we just need to suck it up for a little while; and 3) Creatives just don’t look like they’re struggling, as ridiculous as that may sound. A stylist’s IG feed will continue to look chic through unemployment, naturally, and when someone’s just posted a fancy looking cup of coffee sitting on a coffee table that looks straight out of The Wing, certain assumptions could be drawn.
Creatives just don’t look like they’re struggling. A stylist’s IG feed will continue to look chic through unemployment, naturally, and when someone’s just posted a fancy looking cup of coffee sitting on a coffee table that looks straight out of The Wing, certain assumptions could be drawn.
What many freelancers are realizing is that this is exactly the nature of the independent creative’s life, the price of freedom and luxury of doing what you love. Truth be told, most, including myself, are resigned to this fact. We intend to ride this out, like everyone else, hopefully without burning a hole in our pockets. The problem isn’t that there are no jobs for creatives — there are no jobs for anyone. The problem is, and has always been, the fact that we’ve been sitting pretty knowing that we could one day feel the full weight of a flawed system, and that day has come.
We’re not getting paid on time. We’ve been polite about it, and while every industry runs on its own calendar, a limit must be set to the delays we’re almost certainly bound to endure. In a report by #CreativeAidPH and Nayong Pilipino Foundation, which accompanies a petition to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to reallocate its budget to include assistance for arts and cultural workers, a respondent proposed the regulation of talent fees. “The biggest form of assistance after this pandemic has ended would be the regulation of the proper and timely release of talent fees for all freelancers and talents so clients can provide universal just compensation for work rendered. Legal defense fund for freelancers would be very helpful as well,” the survey responded said.
Independent filmmaker Bianka Bernabe says another option is for freelancers to get insurance. “I don’t know what kind or if it’s even possible. Our working situation has always been difficult and, as it is, there’s little to no protection with regard to freelancers getting paid and getting paid on time, what more if events, gigs and projects are postponed/cancelled due to force majeure,” she says.
It’s one of the better safeguards we can put in place for times like these, and this will only be possible if freelancers come together and finally act like the community that it is. If this pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s how dependent we are on each other. Even in isolation, even in quarantine, we’re only as strong as our weakest link. As freelancers, we’re so used to the “quarantined lifestyle.” Alone time? That’s just time. Being efficient in our pajamas? Been there, done that. Not knowing Monday from Wednesday, weekend from weekday? Welcome to the club. We’re so used to working in isolation, we thrive in it and relish it (especially after consecutive days of being sociable at events), that we forget how there are so many of us — enough of us to actually affect change.
For now, we have no choice but to sit things out. We’re not expecting handouts just because we’re not currently receiving a daily wage. We’ve accepted that in the next couple of months, we’ll be at home doing our thing in mostly non-profitable ways; practicing creative cross-training and broadcasting on social media hoping that, somehow, somewhere, someone would see it and think it’s worth something. As it tends to anyway, the industry will eventually adapt. Freelancers, especially those who are able to work on online platforms, are seeing themselves adjusting to this new norm and being able to identify workarounds to being a creative on lockdown.
If this pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s how dependent we are on each other. Even in isolation, even in quarantine, we’re only as strong as our weakest link.
“As a photographer who mainly shoots events, concerts and content for brands, I know that as long as we cannot have mass gatherings, and as long as we need social distancing, I will not be able to work. But, as digital times are here, I can look for other means to get commissioned. I’m still looking into it, honestly. Lahat naghahanap ng way to maximize the platforms,” says photographer Magic Liwanag.
Freelance journalist and entertainment writer Maan Pamaran sees a silverlining: “I think organizations will start understanding the value of having freelancers who can take on work at a moment’s notice and who are used to working around conditions such as the one we are in now. I also hope that, with agencies like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) offering financial assistance to freelance showbiz writers, the government will finally start crafting safety nets for those who are not employed full-time.”
Pioneer travel blogger behind Out of Town Blog, Melo Villareal, is optimistic for travel bloggers post-pandemic: “This pandemic affected me a lot as an online publisher and a travel blogger. It particularly affects my ad earnings since advertising is based on traffic. It also affected my online commissions from OTA’s due to travel restrictions for inbound and outbound bookings. But, I am positive that everyone in the travel industry is resilient enough to recover from this pandemic since travel products such as land, air transportation, and hotels are an essential part of our business operations and it is a rewarding part of our lifestyle.”
Photographer Denise Viña hopes that this ordeal will finally prompt freelancers to focus on planning. “Many freelancers tend to focus on gathering clients and obtaining projects from them without really paying attention to their ‘business health.’ I think we are now realizing the importance of proper planning and building a proper structure for their profession. Since everyone is affected by this pandemic, even brands will need to rebuild and recover losses. This should not stop freelancers from getting work. I think it’s a great opportunity to be part of the solution to our clients’ rebuilding,” he says.
Coronavirus has fast-tracked a scenario that would have taken us a few more years to get to, where companies are able to operate remotely and accomplish everyday tasks digitally. If there’s any part of the workforce that’s bound to figure out how to navigate this new norm, it’s freelancers in creative fields. As long as there are platforms on which to showcase creative work, opportunities to monetize those will inevitably arise. But for now, our message is this: We are still here and we’re extremely for hire.
Illustration by CARISSA BAUTISTA