EXCLUSIVE: A UK indie boss has been accused of bullying, enforcing excessive working hours and failing to pay people on time.
Commissioning broadcaster Insight TV carried out an investigation into Marc Hayward, the CEO of London-based Spark Content, after receiving multiple complaints off the back of an Italian shoot which took place over the summer.
Hayward was probed in August by an independent investigator after the challenging shoot on G2 Making The Squad: Fortnite Edition, which took place near Rome and was co-produced for eSports organization G2 Esports. The gamer competition show is set to air next month.
In evidence submitted to the network’s investigation, Hayward was accused of regularly screaming at and verbally abusing colleagues, “aggressively picking up a glass to a member of staff” and “putting a fist up” to another, along with failing to pay numerous people thousands of pounds on time, with some still owed money.
The findings of the investigation, obtained by Deadline, concluded Hayward had “conducted himself in a manner that cannot be accepted” and made six recommendations, including that Insight consider pausing all Spark commissions “for a significant period of time, so as to allow Spark the opportunity to reorganize internally and unquestionably demonstrate it has strengthened its own corporate and professional abilities/teams.”
In a statement to Deadline, Hayward refuted the majority of the allegations and said his mental health has been impacted by the situation.
Deadline understands Insight TV has no current or future plans to commission further projects from Spark, which has made several shows for the network including The Flying Kestrel and Supercar Blondie. Spark’s website says it has also produced programming for Nat Geo, Discovery, ITV and Channel 4.
“Not physically or mentally safe”
Having worked on the show for several months in the UK, an approximately 25-strong Making the Squad production team flew to Italy for the shoot in July but after just one week, four people, who are known to Deadline but chose to remain anonymous for this article, left and returned to the UK.
They immediately raised numerous complaints in a cache of formal evidence submitted to UK broadcasting union Bectu – also obtained by Deadline – alleging that Hayward was verbally and mentally abusive to numerous production staff.
Bectu submitted this evidence to Insight TV along with statements from three other anonymous individuals who had worked with Hayward in the past and described similar experiences and two people who worked on last year’s Making the Squad: Fifa 21 Edition in Berlin. Hayward has now apologized to the four main complainants.
A Bectu spokesman said: “We are aware of the acute difficulties on set and after wrap for this production and have been supporting members through this process over several months.”
One of the four main complainants said she had a seizure due to “abnormal and extreme emotional stress” caused by working on the production and another told of experiencing an anxiety attack after being “screamed at” by Hayward.
When concerns were raised around health issues, this complainant said herself and others were accused of lying by Hayward and verbally abused, an allegation that Hayward denied.
“I have heard him scream and verbally abuse colleagues and I have seen him disregard due diligence for health and safety,” said a different person’s evidence submission.
“His [Marc Hayward’s] working environments are not physically or mentally safe and I do not want any other person to experience what I had to endure whilst working for him.”
This person said Hayward became “indirectly aggressive” towards him for taking the day off to attend his grandfather’s funeral, another allegation that Hayward denied. Hayward said: “As many people know, if people need time off or away for personal matters, then that’s understandable.”
Another individual recalled Hayward “aggressively picking up a glass to a member of staff” and said he was seen “putting a fist up” to a different individual. This person said Hayward would threaten people with potential loss of work if they did not respond to his demands.
Hayward denied these allegations, stating he “raised my voice at times” but didn’t scream and never became physical, while pointing to the impact the allegations have had on his mental health.
On the seizures and panic attack accusations, Hayward said: “It saddens me deeply that anyone on location has had a panic attack or seizure. I personally never witnessed that nor was it reported but this is horrible to hear, and my thoughts go out to anyone that had to experience that.”
Hayward was also reported to have made “sexist jokes,” which he denied but was addressed in Insight’s investigation.
The majority of those who submitted evidence to Bectu also flagged excessive working hours, with 16-22 hour days seven days per week cited as the norm and one individual describing them as “astronomical and completely unsafe.”
Another said working hours “became increasingly impossible,” adding: “We were expected and demanded to work every waking minute of each day, including weekends and late at night.”
The production likely contravened the European Working Time Directive, according to a Bectu official.
Hayward acknowledged these excessive working hours and said “sometimes in the industry this is required.”
“I try my best to talk to crew and the team about whether we feel we can put the extra few hours in and never presume it’s ok,” he added. “I don’t take the hard work for granted. Sometimes budgets or schedules change and when they do, we talk and sometimes we need to put the extra time in.”
Furthermore, financial issues were raised frequently and some who worked on the production reported that they were not paid on time.
While the four main complainants have all now been paid, Deadline understands two Bectu members, including a sub-contractor, are still owed around £36,000 ($48,400). More is potentially owed to non-Bectu members who worked on the show, it is understood.
Hayward believes he is still owed money by Insight TV but an Insight spokesman said: “Spark has been fully paid, in some instances early, for all milestone payments in accordance with our contracts.”
Barely any people on the production were given contracts, according to some in the evidence, and three said they had to spend their own money on expenses such as travel, food and equipment, which would normally be covered by a production’s budget.
“I never saw or received a contract,” said one of the complainants. “When asked to see a contract, the response was ‘We don’t sign contracts here’.”
Hayward acknowledged the financial difficulties and said the lack of contracts was “technically my fault”. He stressed that freelancers had been emailed outlining their rate and how many days they would work.
He also acknowledged people had to use their own money to pay for some expenses and said “everyone who did has been or is in the process of being reimbursed.”
One individual summarised: “Reading [the evidence] back myself I’m still staggered that someone can behave and manage a company in such a manner and be allowed to proceed.”
Insight investigation: “A manner that cannot be accepted”
Conducted by independent consultancy Rights Stuff BV, the Insight investigation considered evidence from Hayward as well as the four main complainants, three Spark staff members and another senior production individual.
It concluded that Hayward had “conducted himself in a manner that cannot be accepted” while stressing there was “no allegation of physical or sexual harassment in a strict legal sense.”
The document described Hayward’s behaviour as a “pattern, not a one-time event,” pointing to examples of “shouting/raised voices and belittling staff members during production meetings” and “suggestive comments about female staff members.”
On the latter, investigator Wendy Bernfeld acknowledged that these comments were “in [Hayward’s] view meant jokingly, were not malicious and often stemmed from different cultural/generational/humour styles” but described them as “totally unacceptable in 2021, as they cause others to feel offended/uncomfortable.”
“Conduct/manner”, “Contracting” and “Staffing issues resulting in a higher workload and higher-stress environment” were concluded to be the main areas in which the production went wrong.
Insight was encouraged to “pause new Spark commissions for a significant period of time” as one of six recommendations, which also included Spark hiring an HR person to assist in agreements with staff members, putting proper financial processes in place and Hayward apologizing to the four complainants in writing.
Although he insisted that many of the allegations were false, Hayward said he has “adhered to all the things which Insight TV recommended,” including the apology.
An Insight TV spokesman said: “Insight TV stands against and will not tolerate any and all bullying and inappropriate behaviour.
“We were shocked to receive allegations of such behaviour on one of our recent shows, being produced by a third party. Once alerted to this we swiftly appointed a respected independent consultant to investigate the claims and we are currently in the process of implementing the resulting report’s recommendations across all future productions. Insight TV expects suppliers to adhere to industry best practice working conditions for their teams.”
In the spotlight
The news comes with bullying and sexual harassment issues in TV and film firmly in the spotlight.
Deadline’s story today breaks just a few months after the allegations by 20 women levelled at Kidulthood creator Noel Clarke, which he denies, along with accusations of bullying made by 10 people against Ross McCarthy, the CEO of Just Tattoo Of Us producer Gobstopper Television. McCarthy strongly refutes the majority of these allegations but has apologized for “unintentional hurt caused.”
Bectu is this week publishing numerous anonymous accounts of bullying in the UK non-scripted sector as part of its Unseen on Screen campaign, with the union stating it still receives weekly calls flagging bullying behavior.
Meanwhile, an app has recently launched entitled Call It! allowing people working on TV and film sets to to record incidents anonymously.
Last month, Deadline revealed that the BBC has overhauled its guidelines for dealing with bullying and sexual harassment on set.
Note: Spark Content is completely distinct from UK indie Spark Media and former UK indie Spark TV.