The US magazine Deadline recently ran a story about working conditions on major film sets. According to the report, some of Hollywood’s most renowned cinematographers denounce “the hazards of unsafe working hours“. So working long hours with no rest in between is something that needs to stop.
Working as a freelancer on a film set or for television can be pretty tough. I know that from my own experience. Work from nine to five? Forget it.
A typical workday is more in the 10 to 12 hour range. Sometimes even more. Is that a good thing? Well, it depends. On the one hand, getting things done within a day is obviously an appealing aspect for any producer. On the other hand, anyone working on set is still a human being, not a machine. People get tired, concentration wanes, productivity decreases. Is that still appealing in the long run? I don’t think so.
Fourteen of the leading Hollywood DoPs who signed a letter of intent feel the same way. That letter by the IATSE Local 600 Cinematographers Guild urges the member companies of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to finally address “the hazards of unsafe working hours” that have been common in the film and TV industry for way too long.
Changing work on set for the better
When we talk about long working hours, we must not forget that crew members also have to get to work and back home. Most of the time, they use their cars to get there and back, which in turn can be quite dangerous after working 12 hours straight.
In their letter, the signing DoPs state, that “We are Local 600 Directors of Photography who are writing to express our ongoing concern about the hazards of unsafe working hours, a practice that continues despite all the medical and indisputable evidence of the harm caused by fatigue“.
The list of signatories is a “who’s who” of Hollywood’s A-List DoPs, including:
- John Toll, two-time Oscar winner for Braveheart and Legends of the Fall
- Roger Deakins, two-time Oscar winner for 1917 and Blade Runner 2049
- Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, three-time Oscar winner for Birdman, Gravity and The Revenant
- Erik Messerschmidt, Oscar winner for Mank
- John Lindley, president of the Cinematographers Guild (Your Honor, Manhunt)
- Paul Cameron (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Total Recall)
- Jim Denault (Yellowstone, Law & Order: Organized Crime)
- Ellen Kuras (Pretend It’s a City, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
- Donald A. Morgan (The Connors, Last Man Standing)
- Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman, Brokeback Mountain)
- Eric Steelberg (Juno, Dolemite Is My Name)
- Amy Vincent (Eve’s Bayou, Hustle & Flow)
- Mandy Walker (Mulan, Hidden Figures)
- Robert Yeoman (Bridesmaids, The Grand Budapest Hotel)
What they are demanding is what I would consider reasonable: guaranteed rest periods between shifts and weekend periods plus, of course, enforcement of those rules:
- A real and meaningful rest period between leaving and returning from work regardless of the craft or production.
- A weekend rest period that allows for actual rest and time to spend with family and friends.
- Effective penalties that truly discourage the systematic elimination of meal breaks and working straight into the weekends.
Long hours on set
What is missing is a strict limit on daily working hours. At the moment, IATSE Local 600 advocates rest periods between shifts, not the working hours themselves. To be honest, film and television production is very different from “normal” office work, so enforcing an 8-hour cap is likely to be next to impossible.
Perhaps the DoP’s mentioned above should use their power and simply refuse to work that long while logically dragging their crew along. Of course, the “political” way in the form of the said letter is preferable, but in terms of safety, the DoP’s in their role as head of their department should consider using their power to increase the pressure for good.
What are your experiences with dangerously long hours without a proper rest period on set? Share your experiences in the comments below!