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Who Needs Sleep? Haskell Wexler Reveals Dangerous Conditions in Film Industry in His Documentary

Haskell Wexler Who Needs SleepWorking in the film industry is often viewed as a glamorous way to make a living, and for some, it very well could be. However, for the below-the-line crew in the film industry, the never-ending trend of making films quicker and for less money has led to some troubling working conditions. One of the most troubling of these conditions is the fact that the length of workdays is completely unregulated outside of mandatory overtime pay after a certain amount of hours worked. This leads many productions to regularly operate with 14+ hour work days, which, as legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler reveals in his 2006 documentary, Who Needs Sleep, is not only dangerous, but it could have some potentially deadly consequences.

Here is the full length documentary, courtesy of IMAGO, the European Federation of Cinematographers, who uploaded the film to Vimeo with Wexler’s permission. It clocks in at an hour and twenty minutes, so grab a snack, and do your best not to fall asleep.

There are certainly multiple sides to this debate. One one side, this is a purely a labor-rights issue that needs to be sorted out by the various film workers unions. Just as factory workers fought for a minimum wage and a regulated workday in the early 19th century, film workers in the United States are fighting for regulation of workday length due to the fact that hours on film sets are longer than they’ve ever been and turnaround times are getting shorter. The negative effects of this trend are plentiful.

If you look past the fact that these types of working conditions prohibit film workers from spending time with their families (which is borderline inhumane in and of itself), there is also some troubling science behind the effects of sleep deprivation, the very least of which is that it greatly inhibits creativity and ability to focus. In the documentary, the case for shorter work days is built around the tragic passing of an assistant cameraman who, after an 18 hour day on set, tried to drive home to his family and fell asleep at the wheel. Many workers in the industry echoed the sentiment that this tragedy could have befallen any one of them, because working conditions of that nature are ubiquitous.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are a fair amount of film industry workers who are content with the current situation. Their argument is that they are thrilled with the extra hours and the overtime pay (and who wouldn’t be in this troubled economy), despite the fact that it wears on them mentally and physically and that it keeps them away from their families. They say that if some people can’t handle the additional work and stress, that they should find work in a different industry.

In spite of the harsh criticisms against these industry conditions, the trends of longer hours and shorter turnaround periods are still very much present. So what do you guys think? Are the working conditions in the film industry, more specifically working hours, such that they should be more heavily regulated for the safety of its workers? Or are 14+ hour days a reality of the modern film industry that shouldn’t (or couldn’t) change? Which side of the argument do you fall on? Let us know in the comments!

Link: IMAGO — Vimeo


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  • This is a hard one, the reality of shooting a film, especially scheduling makes it hard to really shorten days meaningfully without affecting quality, and like the article says, some people thrive on it, everyone has their own stories of pulling insane stretches for a project. I think some positions can be more physically exhausting than others so maybe there should be some sort of reworking of schedules to maintain safety but there won’t be anything regulations can solve without tackling the economics of the industry. Also, from my (admiitidly) limited experience a lot of reality productions I have worked for that are run well avoid this kind of trap, but some of the bigger ones do still demand long hours, but there’s no one answer to this. In any insanely competetive industry I’m sure long hours are the norm, it’s probably just par for the course.

    • that is a cop out of an argument.
      I suggest you watch the making of doc for Alien. Ridley Scott complains about how the studio staff stuck to bankers hours for the duration of the film. Taking breaks and meals on the hour regardless of what was transpiring. While that may have been maddening from a managerial perspective, and it may have impacted the production budget. I can not find fault with the quality of the finished product in that case. And those guys worked a strict 40 hour week (or is 35 in the UK?).

      • Daniel Mimura on 01.18.14 @ 5:15PM

        Woah…yeah, I love Alien too…but that was 1979 in the UK and this doc deals with US standards today. (I haven’t seen it yet, but plan too soon…)

        …I mean…as soon as I can, given I’m getting 4 hrs of sleep for the next few days because of the film I’m working on.

  • I adamantly disagree with this clearly one sided article. Saying that a job “prohibits film workers from spending time with their families (which is borderline inhumane in and of itself)” is absolutely ludicrous. What about the money they earn from the job that provides food, shelter, and education for their families? Is that inhumane? In this logic, every job is inhumane because it separates families. I’ve never heard such nonsense. This one sided argument is exactly why America has progressively become more and more dependent on Unions and government to take care, or regulate their lives.

    Also, these “below-the-line crew” members you refer to often work their way up, and end up making a lot of money. The 14 hour work days often become 6 hour work days as you move up. Regulating business is nothing more than stripping individuals of the right to choose. It is a sacrifice of liberty for the potential of security.

    • If you watch the documentary, most of the argument for shorter (and by shorter, I mean 12 hour) days is for safety reasons after a 2nd AC died falling asleep driving home after a long shooting day. This started a movement called 12on12off which, among other things, says “we believe that while occasional long days can be an acceptable part of our work, repeated excessive shifts and frequent insufficient turnarounds are not.”

      12 hours is a very reasonable number of hours to be limited to. While the article may take the angle of family time, the most pressing issue is safety.

      • Jorge Cayon on 01.10.14 @ 3:15PM

        I tend to disagree with this. I deployed to Iraq 3 times and once to Afghanistan, not once do I remember getting a day off or working less than 18 hours. This does not include the days spent awake that amounted to close to 96 hours for the initial push into Baghdad or certain Operations that required it. Now granted life in combat and on a film set couldn’t be more different, but I’d venture to say that my time on sets is equally exhausting. Our roles on a film crew can be similar in structure to a military organization, with rank and file.

        The only thing inhumane, and I’d even go so far as saying criminal is the fact that most productions push you over 12 hours and don’t include overtime. Think of the PA’s just starting that sign on for a flat rate and are there before crew call and stay well after. I’ve been on those shoots, it sucks. But that is the way of life in this industry. Start at the bottom and if you’re good enough eventually you’ll rise to the top. With money and time sometimes being limited for a production, getting the job done or the mission accomplished is extremely important. Why leave for tomorrow what you can do today? In some instances such as live events there are no tomorrows. Maybe a location is lost or an actor has a conflict of schedule. These things happen. I don’t mind the long hours so long as pay is commensurate. The fact that I’m away from my family is more than made up for on the days with no work or gigs. Yard work anyone?

        • But in one case you were in war while in the other we’re making movies. I don’t think you can compare the working environments fairly. Plus, the argument isn’t whether you can work for such long hours – it’s possible certainly – it’s whether you should. As the documentary astutely proves, it is a safety risk to work such long hours day after day.

          It’s about the consistency of the long days, not the existence of them in the first place.

          And, to your point about how sometimes time is limited, I agree. Again I quote 12on12off which acknowledges that “while occasional long days can be an acceptable part of our work, repeated excessive shifts and frequent insufficient turnarounds are not.”

          (You can see this and their whole pledge on their website here:

          Asking for reasonable hours shouldn’t be conflated with complaining about the work itself. To me they are separate issues — why should doing what I live for and love have to also compromise my safety and health?

          • claude riban on 01.11.14 @ 11:45AM

            OT: Hey Evan, thanks for your blog. Learned many better, more efficient practices from it.

          • Jorge Cayon on 01.12.14 @ 11:18PM

            Seems people here can’t really make out the words I wrote. I compared the two fields as professions that require a certain work ethic. I did not compare being a line troop and a below the line crew member for the jobs they do. The analogy could just as easily stand for Oil Rig workers or ER Staff at a metropolitan hospital.

            Long hours and physical labor come standard to a crew member. Serious filmmakers will do whatever it takes, in similarity to a Warfighter. My comparison was simply to point out that the hours can be done, and sure safety should always be a priority, and just as well as pay. But, in the real world things come up and decisions are made. Say no on staying late and coming back early next call time and we’ll see how soon that production company calls you back. It won’t happen unless you have a deal memo or union.

            Not every project is afforded big budgets, deal memos or Union regulations. Heck sometimes good crafties can make the difference. This is an independent filmmaking blog. Last time I checked most if not all indies are made by however means necessary. Long hours in this industry will always be that.

            Anyone here going to complain when you get a full day rate and only work half? Doubt it. Will you give the money back since you didn’t work it? Doubt that too. This scenario happens also.

            Best bet is suck it up, drive on and don’t book another long term project back to back it you can’t take it. No worries, someone else will say yes.

          • Stan Solsky on 01.16.14 @ 4:25PM

            Evan, I agree with you 100%. I did a few all nighters when different film crews were filming where I worked. 14 hours or more were normal, and while standing around waiting isn’t really taxing on your system, it also isn’t good for your system either. AND the real problem is when you DON’T have people around you to keep you alert. Who is there while you are driving home halfway dozing, because you DO want to provide for your family.
            Anyone who wants to equate a normal drab drive home after being up 20+ hours per day, day in and day out, with a highly energized war scenario, needs to go back there and enjoy it.

        • thadon calico on 01.10.14 @ 4:28PM

          I don’t know if you were expecting some sort of “heroic” response on this issue with that senseless analogy of war and film. War is a matter of life and death! senses are heightened, adrenaline keeps pumping, the mind overhauls the body . Film on the other hand, its just like any other 9-5 job, and if u are tired without being alert to pending harm you could easily drive the film set vans sleepily and kill innocent people on your way back home. At war if you kill people on your way back to base, they r generally considered “war casualties”.
          Its not like the overall quality of films improve with long hours! this is an important issue! a humanist one, to say the least. if not for you egotistical film makers, how about the safety of pedestrians and other car drivers when that sleepy crew member is driving the van back out of set! Ive seen it happen before where people temporarily fall asleep on the wheels of these 15 passenger vans for 3 seconds, ALL COS OF LITTLE HOURS BEFORE THE NEXT SHOOT DAY. GOD I WISH ALL SHOOTS WERE MANDATORY UNION SHOOTS!
          Crash into your film-sets but spare lives outside. THERE IS SO MUCH TO THE WORLD THAN FILMMAKER

        • If you have to compare working conditions LITERALLY to the battlefield, it does not bode well.

        • Cool story … bro.

        • soldiers shouldn’t be allowed to work longer than 14 hours, the same for doctors, dentists, bus drivers, pilots…

        • Richie Cunningham on 01.11.14 @ 10:05AM

          Why are you relating filmmaking to war? I am a Soldier/ below the line crewman, with 2 deployments and lots of schools under my belt and I am calling bulls*&t on you for writing this. My guess is that you’re an producer of some kind. Have you ever been the only AC/DIT on a feature film? I believe that you also forgot to mention that while you were deployed you more than likely (maybe?) had full benefits, were paid for every day that you were awake and sleep, and that if you died while you were at work your family would have been well compensated? when was the last time anyone had that on an Indie set??? In the civilian world you call that a luxury! I know I shouldn’t say this stuff because the Entertainment world is too small, but shame on you for wanting everyone else to feel our pain. We fought so others don’t have to.

          • Having served in the army myself, I understand why someone would find similarities between working with a professional crew and being in the army. That being said, all points are valid and the sad reality is that the filmmaking industry will still suffer from many casualties when cautious measures aren’t taken seriously.

          • Jorge Cayon on 01.12.14 @ 11:25PM

            I make more as a filmmaker than I did as a soldier. It isn’t about the money because if it were I would’ve staid a contractor. Filmmaking is a discipline and a profession with many facets and levels of professional ethic and quality level. The comparison was not for the two job profession, but to the amount of dedication that each require. No need to get all bent. If so please collect you’re tears, as they’d make a good cleaner and lube for my rifles and pistols.

    • This is a pretty common opinion for someone early on in their career. When you have family and have been doing it for a while opinions often change. I’m sympathetic to both arguments, but keep in mind 14-18hr days is akin to slave labor in most other industries. Sure if it’s a passion project or your trying to get your foot in the door it makes sense, but if you are doing it often and professionally without good compensation you are just being fleeced. That is not liberty.

    • You do know that “Atlas Shrugged” was a second rate novel, written by a second rate author and not a textbook for structuring a civil society?

  • it would be nice if they shortened it to maybe 12 hours. 14 is a little long and seems like it would mean less sleep which means less creativity. however, it takes a while for a crew to set up and an actor to really get going so id say that if you cut it too short it would result in the production taking way more time to complete.

    • sorry but a lot of actors look like shit after the first ten hours and have a hard time remembering their lines.

  • I feel there should be a clear cut distinction between pulling long hours simply because of technical or logistical constraints, and working overtime simply because the people in charge are not doing their job efficiently. I never mind working long hours/overtime as I’m always grateful of landing a gig. I’ve had extremely enriching experiences working long hours on set while learning from the best. However, it is frustrating and quite aggravating when I must work 18+ hours/day because the director has no clue what (s)he is doing or is in the middle of a nervous/psychotic breakdown (saw that one happen twice), or when the AD is a pushover and has no clear concept of time, or when inept producers are unable to fully coordinate stuff prior call time.

  • Long hours are a necessity of the industry unfortunately. That doesn’t make it right and no amount of money is worth the prolonged affect on ones health. It’s not necessarily the hours that are harmful but the manner in which they screw with the body’s internal clock. Say you start on a Monday with a 6am call-time, work a super long day then production is forced to push the call time for Tuesday in order to meet the 10-12hr. turnaround time. This happens every day of the week and so by the time you reach Friday your call time is as late as 4pm meaning you go home for the weekend on Saturday morning as the sun is coming up. You sleep Saturday, do laundry etc. then go to bed early on Sunday evening to do it all again Monday…

    This is quite common on TV series. Imagine living like that for 6 months straight? It takes a toll on the body and mind. When you’re starting out you soon get used to it but after doing it for years, especially once you have a family, it gets extremely tough.

    I agree with the comment above about the film industry being similar to the military in its structure and organisation. Like the military there are many facets of the industry in terms of job standards (like sexism, bullying and even hazing rituals) that are still completely accepted as part of the industry. That said, a soldier is fighting for something, lives are on the line, in the film biz we’re hardly saving lives…

  • Matthias Giese on 01.10.14 @ 3:52PM

    The point is needs or exploitation. I did a shoot in difficult conditions and everybody put in more than the rack rate. And everybody was paid fairly. But if it turns into a situation where the grips have to pay for the happy table… forget it. It´s not just that the set will stink – the product will.

  • I remember when I was working being thrilled every time we passed an overtime mark, time and a half, double time and a half, triple time, etc. More money was awesome, but I was also in my twenties and my body could handle it. Today I’m not so sure I could, I’m not as energetic as I used to be, but on top of that I just have a lot more self-respect. I love making movies and I’ve definitely pulled my fair share of all nighters at locations that included three hours of commute, but if I had to do it on the regular I’d probably quit.

    If there’s a solution it would be to ramp up the overtime structure. Start time and a half at eight hours and increase it from there. Salaries are a big part of any production budget and once the bean counters start seeing those Benjamins add up they’ll start to look at whether overtime is really necessary on any particular shooting day. Workers will get more money for less time making the whole family argument much less of an issue.

    I know that in Europe shooting days tend to be much shorter than they are in America, and they still make great movies and TV.

    • “I know that in Europe shooting days tend to be much shorter than they are in America, and they still make great movies and TV.”

      Not if you count Dr. Who ;)


      • That’s not true unfortunately, and unpaid work hours are common.

      • you could say that about teh original Doctor Who. It had very low budgets and the production value suffered.
        I woudl say that the current Doctor Who (and it’s sibling Torchwood) are pretty impressive productions. Especially when you compare them to similar productions of the same genre.
        Breaking Bad it aint. But DW wipes it’s behind with Stargate and Star Trek.

        PS. I’d also add that the old Doctor Who is more properly viewed as a stage production which is televised. A friend hipped me to this distinction and a lot of things came into focus for me. Especially concerning the set chewing acting and the shoddy props.

  • Donald Denis on 01.10.14 @ 5:08PM

    “Creativity and ability to focus” can only be good for the show. If for no other reason, productions should let their people rest so that they can turn out a better product. Making crap faster is not a worthwhile goal, and ultimately *reduces* return-on-investment.

  • Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been trying to find this doc everywhere without luck.

    Long hours are NOT a necessity if you schedule more days. Of course you’re going to run over every once in a while to make your day, but when you’re working 15 hours consecutively during the week, that’s uncalled for.

    I worked on an indie B-movie that was trying to cram 9 pages of shooting into a day and we were constantly going over 14. Why not try to shoot a film in 20 days instead of 15? Even THAT is crazy. At least they were cool enough to give us a 12-hour turnaround even if we went over.

  • You old people who need your sleep should quit or retire and let people like myself take your positions. You young people who complain about lack of sleep shouldn’t be in this business.

  • I left the VFX industry (post) because of the damage it caused to my relationships and mental health. Working 14hr days might be ok once in a while but not for extended periods when coupled with 6-7 day weeks. That’s no way to live.
    Almost all the time pressure comes from the studios who set unreasonable time frames and play one vendor off against the other. It comes down to money I.e. Profit. Films could get made based on 8hr days and 5 day weeks but it would take longer and therefore cost more. Which would actually give the director more opportunity to be across everything where generally they can’t keep up.
    I know work in TV in a job where I work 5 days a week and 8hrs a day.
    Unfortunately I can’t see the situation changing in film whilst Fox, Warner, Disney etc are in charge

  • Wexler, who’s been a life-long supporter of the radical left, has made a number of pro-communist documentaries, including the ones on Castro’s Cuba and Weather Underground. I personally find his political stance quite odious.
    PS. The problem with the long days is not the number of hours per se but the lack of preparation for them. If you know you’re likely to have a super-long day, rent a camper or a hotel room nearby and avoid driving long distances to and fro. And, as the last resort, don’t take the gig.
    PPS. It’s a fairly well known fact that staff writers on a lot of sitcoms are often asked to work into the wee hours. If you have to finish the script for a next day shoot or rewrite pages that flopped in front of the live audience, you do what your show-runner tells you. I was told that one female creator/show-runner stayed up until 4 AM regularly. She was actually married, albeit without kids, but had her husband on the set and her staff writers had to keep the same hours. But the show was a huge hit and made careers of a lot of folks involved with it. And so they stayed, at least, for a year or two.

    • Babylon Slim on 01.16.14 @ 6:46PM

      Pindejo! Rise Up! Power to The People’s Film Department!
      Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
      B. Mussolini

    • so you attack his politics, suggest PA’s who make a few bucks more than minimum wage just “rent a hotel room” then regale us with a trite anecdote to prove that the upper echelons of the production are suffering right along with the common production staff at the bottom.
      None of which justifies the insane hours that are expected of us these days.

  • It’s one thing to be above-the-line working 14-16hrs/day and another thing to be below-the-line working 14-16hrs/day because the financial incentives are different.

    another point not considered here is that in addition to the 14/16 hr workday, there’s your commute time to and from set which could be another 45min to an hour each way.

    so, make that a 16 to 18hr workday, 6 days/week – and this doesn’t include the time it takes for you to sh*t, shower, shave, eat and spend minimal time with family. on episodic and feature work i don’t ever recall getting more than 5-6hrs sleep on work nights (even though you’re still within your 8 hrs)

    it’s really hurtful when your significant other, kid(s), family and friends no longer include you in their plans and daily lives because you’re working 80+ hrs/wk.

    true, no one forces film crews to work these horrible hours, but then again there’s reason wage earners should be forced to work excessive hours per day even with overtime. there always comes a point when the human body needs rest before it starts breaking down.

    sure, making $4k+ a week is fine and dandy, but what good is it if you’re not around to spend it?

  • Britt Cyrus on 01.10.14 @ 9:19PM

    12 hrs should be the absolute max. Period. 12 hr turn around for everyone. Period.
    Haskel Wexler needs to replace Steven Poster.

    • You said it. The question of excessively long days as the norm comes down to greed and 19th century style factory conditions. it’s a contest between two opposing vectors: the desire to maximize profits (the Suits) vs. the desire to live a decent life, I.E. basic bodily needs (“who needs sleep,” indeed?) and basic human emotional attachments such as family time ( the crew and/ or writers). In my view, there is a moral difference between the desire for tons of money and the desire to see one’s children ( and for them to see their parent).

      The macho braggarts and the wannabe Ayn Randians on here may never come to a point in their lives when they think they should be able to apply their skills sand experience to someone’s project (improving it more than what a young “hungry” but inexperienced crew member could) while still being treated like a human being.

      The point here should be not “this is the way it is, suck it up, wimp!” But rather a discussion of whether there is a way that creative film people can both have a career and have a life. I’d also expect that movies and TV would benefit, would be better, if the lifestyle didn’t drive out people who don’t have the stamina for 18 hour days. How many smart people, from below the liners to writers, stopped because the conditions just suck too badly? That’s a loss to the industry and to audiences.

  • The video games industry has been dealing with this problem for many years. Do a good search for the “EA Spouse” fiasco. I used to work in the video games industry, games on my credits include Counter Strike: Condition Zero, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Tony Hawk: RIDE. Every company I worked for had “crunch time”, where we’d work more than 12 hrs per day 6 or 7 days a week for weeks at a time. Sometimes I worked 24hrs straight. Without any overtime pay. Let me say that again… the video games industry does not have any standard to pay employees overtime pay, so none of us get any.

    I left the games industry because despite people working hard to change those conditions, they were not changing enough. I know others who have left the industry because of the work conditions.

    Mark Webb’s comment above is a perfect example of someone having to leave the VFX industry to protect their health and relationships.

    At the end of the day, the debate isn’t about whether a person can tolerate the work conditions. It’s about whether the industry can tolerate having passionate, talented veterans quit their careers early because the industry became unsafe to their health and relationships.

    It’s about whether the industry is willing to lose that expertise and skill, and become a machine that chews up immature promising talent year after year, without ever really evolving because so much knowledge is lost when people die or leave to save themselves.

  • shaun wilson on 01.10.14 @ 10:16PM

    We have a rule in our company that no one spends more than 10 hours a day on production and caped at 5 days straight per week simply because more sleep equals better decisions the next morning. We don’t pay over time because we don’t allow anyone to work over time. It makes better productivity in the long term to allow crew and cast time to recuperate which in turn for us, produces better results. If we pushed our crews to shoot 16 hours per day 6 days a week for 18 weeks straight, our product would suffer, and so would our people. Our approach makes better economics.

  • David Baldwin on 01.10.14 @ 11:54PM

    While filmmakers do work very long hours, hours not considered ‘normal’ to the public, I think we have to bear in mind that there are other professions that work the same or more hours. I am not trying to ‘normalize’ the notion of a 14 hour workday buth something that should be taken into consideration in this debate is that most of those with careers in film are not working everyday of the year. In fact it is more like every 3rd or 4th day of the year, which means that the hours balance when compared to a ‘normal’ 9-5 job.

    I think some professions like medicine, developers (especially those in startups), firefighters, paramedics, nurses and even some chefs have very long hours, (12-20 or more). From my experience with my family (who are all doctors) residents are ‘limited’ to 72 hour long shifts with no break. Considering the potential for danger in medicine and other emergency services, I think it is very important to acknowledge the incredible danger of sleep ER doctors diganosing patients. Although I do not want to belittle the film industry (especially since that would mean belittling myself), I would have liked to see the documentary focus more on these jobs, as well as in the film industry.

    Just my (very long) 2 cents.

    • I think you’re right David. We can get tunnel vision and not know what is going on in the rest of the world. I have a friend that worked at Google for a short time. He left because he couldn’t deal with what he was seeing. There were quite a few people that worked all waking hours and slept on the floor on mats at Google, and, ate out of vending machines. And it was year round. I’m not saying I approve of that at all. But these things happen.

      And about doctors on long shifts, some of them use stimulants to make it through those times. They have very easy access to drugs, too easy. Some of them make mistakes on patients while on drugs, things they would not have done if they were rested. I don’t really have a problem with people working long hours while making movies. It’s no where near year round. Taking a look at what doctors do, and that people sometimes die from it, does put working long hours to make movies in perspective.

  • Many NFL coaches work 17 hour days. And that’s for 7 to 8 months straight. There’s a 4 month off-season. Some sleep at the office so to save time driving home to sleep. When they get up they can go right back to work. One coach named Joe Gibbs thought he should put some priority on his family. So he decided he would go home to sleep on 4 nights of the week and sleep 3 nights at the office. He thought giving one more day a week of sleep at home than to the office was giving something to his family. Things don’t always work out neat and tidy like on old time, happy ending tv shows. If you can get a break to work in a good paying production count your blessings—or go into a different line of work.

    • I would work 17hrs a day too if the average salary for my profession was $4,602,275. This isn’t a valid comparison in the least.

      • Pay in professional sports has ballooned out of control in the past 10 years. There was a time when football players and coaches made the same as the average person made. And they still worked as long. It is a valid comparison.

        • “Pay in professional sports has ballooned out of control in the past 10 years.”

          Hence, it is not a valid comparison.

  • the last production death march I did was 10 back to back 18hr days. never again. at one point on day 7 or 8 I simply couldn’t stay awake during the afternoon. I setup an interview type shot, and let the director roll the camera. I went back to my room and crashed out for a couple hours. I know other crew people where stealing naps when they could. thankfully I wasn’t driving on that job, we stayed on location…. which is part of what fed the long hours never being more than a 1/2hr away from base while shooting. thankfully we had an RV on that shoot too.

    when long days come up now I say no. while I’ll still do a single long day, it comes with a day off after it.

    mostly what it comes down to is trying to do too much in one day. you can do things like pre-light locations and stage stuff so you can manage shorter days. that just requires good planning that seems to be lacking out there at some level. I’m finding now most clients don’t want to do the long days either. they are done at 8hrs. my last several shoots have in fact run those hours and its far more civilized and your work is better,

    as DP I can say I’m on set from start to end of day. cameras get built, you need to direct where lighting is going. nothing worse than running a couple hundred feet of cable to the wrong spots. fixing these mistakes saves time in the end. so most of the above the line people are there for hrs about as long as the rest.

  • A poorly run set that allows consistent 18 hours days for no reason other than poor planning should not be justified as “part of the industry”. If there is an urgent need for it on occasion, its understandable, but people should learn how to work within their means. I’d rather have an alert, well-rested crew than an impaired one.

    There’s already such much stupid content being produced every moment that people should concentrate harder on the content they are producing and the means they have to produce it before subjecting a crew to work beyond exhaustion for your stupid production. I see it happen all the time where half-thought out ideas are streamlined straight into production without the necessary means nor inspired crew and the product suffers.

    • There’s poorly thought out businesses everywhere, all lines of work. Mainly because of the human propensity to be lazy. Lazy bosses make for crap working conditions.

  • I’ve fallen asleep driving home after long shoots a couple times, both time I woke up just before disaster. I love what I do for a living but I would like to see some reasonable regulation set on turn over time. Working 18+ hour days is dangerous for everyone when I’m putting a 50lb or heavier light up 20 feet and my brain is mush.

  • I think only noobs and idiots do these insane hours and still paint it as something normal, even pretending it is something positive. A well known German grip once told me, when asked if he bid on a Bollywood movie that was shoot here (Don 2) – that he waved off because he won’t take 12 hour days at 6 day weeks, it’s just not worth it. And to show another perspective, I work on set and in post. The poor set people work insane hours for peanuts, in my opinion. I get three times than they get, plus overtime and can charge the company for the taxi back home when I leave the studio after 10 p.m. – people, you have to stand up, some fucks make up straw man arguments (comparison with war, calling things socialism or over regulation) in order to exploit you.

    • GREAT!
      a human with care for humans and a sane point of view. humans should come first, “industry” second. If we pay attention, ideologies apart, lots of our problems, they exist because we keep hypnotically putting corporations “rights” (in capitalism) and the State “rights” (in communism) over human rights. Why can´t we fight for ourselves first? :)

  • Tim Dalvang on 01.13.14 @ 2:26PM

    If someone wanted to make me work so long hours that it would be dangerous for me to go home, they’d better either provide a taxi service, or pay me for being away from home on top of my work hours…

    Of course, i’m making my own movies, so i’m the one who decides the format of work. And as i’m very safety oriented, i would never let anything like that happen.

  • The more blood, sweat, and tears that go into any artwork the better. The end result is the only thing that matters. If the work is too taxing for you to justify then quit.

    • Stan Solsky on 01.16.14 @ 4:30PM

      You sound like the Airlines when the pilots complained about doing back to back flights.
      Or, just maybe we will strike again. See how much you sweat then.

    • The problem with that attitude is that on a lot of productions not everybody cares so much about the artwork or the end result, especially the below-the-line crew who are most likely to be suffering from the long hours. The grip who’s on fire watch sitting in the back of the grip truck would probably rather have a decent turnaround than nail the performance of whatever scene is being shot.

      Plus, it’s not that the work is too taxing, it’s that the hours are unreasonable. I could work on a set for 18 hours or I could sit on my couch for 18 hours, but in both cases I’m going to want to go to sleep at the end of the time period.

    • that kind of faux macho attitude is precisely the problem.

      Lets be frank. well over 90% of production work is not ‘art’. It is artifice at best, and really it is just mere work. I’m talking about television production, commercials, promos, industrials, tutorials, live events etc.
      Yes you can get stylish and even deliver a production value that is better than what the client requested. But this is not the kind of ART that demands sacrifice. It is just work.
      This “can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” attitude is the mentality that excludes women from production work. And justifies abusing PAs and other staff.

      • He sounds like someone who creates art and doesn’t actually work. For a CAREER in this stuff, imagine working insane schedules every day for twenty years. I agree, a commercial isn’t art., it’s something designed to sell a product. It can be artistic, there’s a difference.

  • Back in the doldrums of the 2008-2009 economic downturn I did a lot of IT contracting work because it was the only work I could find, and it pays better than being a day laborer.
    They have a very similar situation among entry-level, lower skill IT contracting. Stuff like Point of Sale installations, bank conversions (I worked on the Chase take over of Wamu) and server installs.
    In many of these gigs we are expected to work until the job is done. This equates to 12 hour days as the baseline and 16 hours or more are not exceptional.
    During the downturn the IT firms that do these projects saw an opportunity.
    Same as with film and television production there is a limitless supply of eager young people ready and willing to work their behinds off in the belief that they will distinguish themselves.
    Of course this means that anyone who fails to do whatever the project manager demands is cut right away and replaced.
    This is a threat held over everyone’s head, spoken or not.
    I’ve worked on shifts that lasted for over 18 hours. Many times we simply took 1 or 2 hour naps to clear out the crazy from our heads then get back to work.
    It is readily apparent to any IT veteran when a sleep deprived team has done an install. Wires are badly dressed. Steps are skipped. And it is not uncommon to see things installed upside down, backwards or just plain broken.
    Working past 12 hours just plain yields poor results. It should not be the norm. Your brain is not as sharp, your judgement suffers and the quality drops.

    More than once I have had to work for 24 or even 48 hours in a row. I am capable of doing such shifts. I’d even say that since I cut my teeth in production I am more accustomed to this kind of environment than most. The real shame is that as a “contractor” I got no benefits, no overtime, no taxes withheld and was not eligible for unemployment.

    People in the upper echelons justify this abuse of production (and IT) staff saying that they worked some long hours coming up. Why should todays PAs be different? In fact they love to laugh it off and one up each other with stories of how long they worked under what conditions ( I do this myself).
    The difference of course is one of degree. . What was once an exception, has since become the expectation.


    Everyone who thinks they have an argument supporting long hours are just beginners. And should grow up in the industry.

    Its the responsibility of who writes this website not to instigate and promote amateur and unsupported arguments. Please, you are forming the opinion and the mindset of the next generation of filmmakers, do it responsibly.

  • celeste luna on 02.18.14 @ 6:34AM

    I have worked at a successful, syndicated talk for show for 12 years. It’s a union job. Thank god for pension and health care. However, I have worked MANY 30 hour work days. I had to stop working these hours when I had brain surgery for a non-malignant growth.
    Management started getting concerned when there were so many car accidents with the long shifts…for a few minutes Now this is being encouraged. And this is a DGA shop


  • Vanessa Curtis on 02.25.14 @ 8:42PM

    You can provide food on the table and pay your bills for a twelve hour day. Do not be silly. When you mentality is in a unreasonable state of thinking , you make irresponsible decisions. You can not compare work schefule from 1979 to 2014 that just won’t work. If any we have become fadter in technology in every aspect. So why don’t we learn to work smarter than harder. The point is the individual is not at their best or 100 productive with a 14 plus days. If something does not feel right in terms of safety I will voice my opinion. This is not monkey see monkey do. SAFETY BEGINS WITH Clarity and getting reasonable amount of sleep. Its called common sense and reason which equals good judgement calls..

  • Working hours in Europe is longer than 14 h, when not filming with kids. Its quite exhausting. Sometimes fun. But doing it for 5 years, getting shit as payed and no overtime payment it tends to get pretty bad for you.

    I love working on movies. But I can feel it tearing up my body and mind. Right now I am a directors assistant. Doing alot of shitty jobs for the director. I was a scenographer, trying to work with my own movies besides doing professional jobs. But to get to be a director professionally I had to climb the latter again. How many years should it take me?

  • I work as an assistant to a composer in LA and I’ve worked 7 days in a row 12-14 hour days (sometimes more) for months on end, for less than minimum wage, no benefits and no taxes taken out. It is near impossible for me to even afford to pay rent let alone have a life (I’m 26, I like to have a little fun).

    Aside from never having any free time to actually compose music for indie projects or other things that come my way, all my peers walked around like zombies with all the creative vigor seemingly beaten out of them from years of slaving to further their bosses career.

    I feel pretty burnt out already and don’t know how much I’ll be able to handle much longer but it’s good to read other stories and to know that there are other people out there who give a shit about people’s well beings in this industry.