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