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Raymond McArthur: Living through lockdown and the light at the end of the tunnel

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March 2020 was a time I will never forget. At the time I was working with a brilliant team of people on a new sky original sci-fi series due for release 30th April 2021. We were in our final week of a 6 month shoot and filming some exterior forest scenes in south wales as the news of the global pandemic started reaching us. At the time there was some speculation around if we would complete the shoot or not. The situation was monitored closely by production on a day-by-day basis and unfortunately before we could finish our final block of filming, we had to shut down the shoot, travel back to Manchester, pack down our kits and head home. Being forced into the most uncertain time in my career without the opportunity to have the usual wrap party experience and celebration with the fantastic team and cast I had spent almost half a year with was a very strange and demoralizing experience. With my kit packed I headed home and accepted that I could be out of work for the next 12 months. Luckily, I have a room in my house designated solely to my work where I can set, dress, make wigs, sculpt, make moulids, cast whatever creations I have in my head, so I was looking forward to a balanced life of working on improving my skills and family time.

On set

By April 2020 it was clear that a lot of people in the television and film industry were facing some really tough times as well as some struggles with adapting to the new normal and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Being an existing member of BECTU I got myself a lot more involved with the union trying to make a positive difference to those already in the industry as well as those soon to be entering or new to the industry. I joined the training sub group and with a small group of other voluntary members started producing a “college pack” for students that was intended to address things previous trainees and new entrants had identified as something they were not taught about whilst training at college. We aimed to put together a sample call sheet, movement order and unit list along with documents on hair and make-up roles withing the tv, film, theatre and fashion sectors.

August 2020 arrived and after 5 months without work I needed a boost of inspiration and for the sake of my own mental health had to throw myself into the challenge of developing new skills. Afro and textured hair work was never part of my formal training and was something I had for a long time wanted to get some training in. With no time like the present, I set about organizing a three-day online training course for myself and another 7 colleagues with the brilliantly skilled Kamanza Amihyia. The course was incredible for all of us and a real boost to our confidence after such a prolonged time out of work. Kamanza is a brilliant educator who instilled us all with a real sense of empowerment and confidence from her teaching.

Afro and textured hair work - Kamanza Amihyia

September 2020, after 6 months with no work the phone started ringing, I agreed to a three-month contract in London starting mid November with some dailies in a few crowd rooms to get me used to working in the new covid world. November 2020 arrived and with it came my eagerly awaited three month job in London.

Living through lockdown - Raymond McArthur

The production was a well established period drama in its 10th season set in the 1960s, It had been 5 years since I had worked on a 1960s job and this was exactly the challenge I needed to boost my dwindling confidence. I turned up to the job to join a team that had already been together for 3 months and I was terribly nervous. The team where amazingly talented, welcoming and a joy to be around and I learned so much from their collective knowledge.

February 2021 As the job was coming to its end, I was very kindly asked if I would return to do the next season, which was six months with a 6-week hiatus in between season 10 and 11. I sadly had to say no. With my wife and daughter back home in Glasgow and no way of me commuting back and forth safely at weekends to see them because of the pandemic and the restrictions in place at the time, it was too impractical. So, I bid my new friends goodbye and once more headed home to be with my family and work on improving my own skills in my little work room. I suspect this choice not to return to the production for another season will haunt me as the second biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my career, time will tell. By this point the college pack myself and my fellow BECTU members had started the previous April was ready to be distributed and go live on our website as a resource for all students and new entrants as well as theatre practitioners who may have been heading into tv and film sectors due to the pandemic impacting theatre more dramatically.

March 2021 as vaccines are being administered, once again life as we know it is changing again. After a year of acclimatizing to the new normal we are slowly emerging from this pandemic and readjusting to life slowly changing back to the old normal. I count myself very lucky to have weathered the worst of this storm with work opportunities being a lot more abundant than I initially expected. With our return to a more sociable existence, I have secured a small artist’s studio where I plan to relocate my little hair and make-up sanctuary. Balance is everything in life and I’m looking forward to moving into a space shared by other artists of different disciplines away from the family home where I can continue to develop for no reason other than because I want to. Right now I’m keeping myself busy with some dailies close to home whilst I finish moving into my new little studio and I have also taken on a temporary teaching post with a brilliant team of lecturers at a local college one day per week to help students who’s training has been impacted by the pandemic get the skills and qualifications they need to get there careers of the ground.

Living through lockdown - Raymond McArthur

In my 8 years in the industry, I’ve learned the most important thing for me in my work life is to be surrounded by supportive, creative and collaborative people as it often creates a very positive team atmosphere which is crucial when your working week is normally a 60 hour minimum. The melting pot of high pressure, long hours and team work in the tv and film sector often brings people together and forms friendships that last a lifetime and a team that works together effectively will grow and learn together effectively.

Living through lockdown - Raymond McArthur

I am very lucky for so many years to have had a space within my home dedicated to my work where I can lock myself away and create in my own little sanctuary. Working in the television and film industry is a strange environment it can be stressful, fast paced, and littered with think on your feet problem solving moments. It’s also fair to say that it’s not always plain sailing and you most definitely will come across situations and personalities in your career that will have lasting effects on you both positively and negatively. My little workroom has been a lifeline to me throughout my career as I’ve used it as a place to silence the negativity of those internal voices attributed to a phenomenon I like to call “imposter syndrome”. I am happy to say that much like everything in life there’s a balance to be found and even in the negative times there’s a lesson to be learned. My little sanctuary has also been a place of growth to experiment and try out new ideas and positively remind myself why I love what I do. It has also served as a place of learning and sharing for my close friends and colleagues who are always welcome to pop in a talk shop, try out any makeup ideas they have or just see what I am creating in my spare time. My little workplace has also been a great weapon against the negative voices of others I have crossed paths within my career, who have tried to make their own light seem brighter by dimming that of all those around them. It has allowed me a space to revisit refresh and remind myself just how far I’ve come in my journey and just how much further I want to go with learning and honing my craft thoroughly. To anyone reading this who can relate to the feeling of self-doubt in your capabilities caused by the people around you, the best advice I could give you is to change the people around you. Prioritize being surrounded by the right type of people for you and not only will your work skills and confidence improve but you will undoubtably become the best version of yourself you could possibly be. I’m a firm believer that the best teacher you will ever have in life is yourself, because nobody understands your learning process better than you do. You will meet many wonderfully skilled artist throughout your career and if you are as fortunate as I have been you will learn something from each and every one of them but it’s up to you to seek out those lessons and drive yourself forward to become the best artist you can be, all the while sharing what you’ve learned with all those around you and those who follow in your footsteps.

 

Raymond McArthur

 

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