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Who Needs Sleep? Long Hours in Film Production

Laura Beth Dec 07

I originally shared this post almost two years ago, but recently this article showed up on Deadline.com and it’s worth sharing again.

Haskell Wexler Local 600 Cinematographer

 *Update: After the writing of this post, Haskell Wexler died on Dec 27th 2015, at the age of 93.

12 On, 12 Off

The 12 on 12 off campaign is not new.  Haskell Wexler and his colleagues have long been working against long hours in the film industry.  His documentary, “Who Needs Sleep?” (below) is from 2006, but it has resurfaced again on social media.  This time it was shared by the “Safety for Sarah” facebook page.  I’m grateful both for the reminder of this doc, as well as the demonstration of how much energy and momentum a tragedy can generate in the short term, only to be forgotten.

In past years, I have said this sentence more times that I can possibly remember: 

The Work Never Gets Better After 12.

I choose to create and support efficient work, within reasonable hours.  As a DP, I might not always win, but I fight the fight every time.  It’s the only option that my ethics will allow.  This is an “old” quote now, but its words and history remain potent:

“As members of the ASC and Directors of Photography, our responsibility is to the image of the film as well as the well-being of our crew.  The continuing and expanding practice of working extreme hours can compromise both the quality of our work and the health and safety of others.”

–Conrad Hall, ASC

As a DP, I push back hard against unnecessary, or careless, overtime.
The work is hard.  Whether the work is physical, intellectual, or creative, after 12 hours (or with less than 12 hours of turn around) our productivity level only goes down.

I am foremost an artist and I am passionate about this job, which means I absolutely have days when 12 hours fly by without me noticing… but, after 12 years, I also have the experience to know that if I try to ride that adrenalin all the way through a feature, it will run me in to the ground.  I’m in this for the long haul, and I know my favorite crew members are as well.  We have to take care of ourselves, or we just won’t last!

As a Producer and Director, I know that my money is best spent in organizing an efficient production with skilled workers, achieved within reasonable hours.  Yes, our line of work is a traveling circus, and sometimes we need to work unusual, or long, hours.  But to plan from the start to have days or weeks in a row of 14+ hours of work is callous and unethical.

If You Can’t Hang, Get Out.

To someone who says, “if you can’t hang, get out” … I absolutely agree with you.

I also think we have a moral obligation to use common sense and not abuse people, and there is no defensible position from which to argue that obligation is mutually exclusive with filmmaking.

Make no mistake, “there is no crying in baseball.”

However, as DP, I’m in a position to pretty directly impact how quickly the production moves.  I’m also often privy to whether the decision to go into overtime is a well-considered last resort, or simply an abuse by the producer or director.   

I also know that the “thing” deciding between you getting 12 hours turn around and you getting 8 hours turn around isn’t dark magic, it’s just PEOPLE.  The ones who shrug their shoulders and “pass the buck” are the ones to stay away from.  Choose your employers  and bosses wisely.

A Point of Pride

I also know plenty of Directors and Producers who can get it done in 10 hours, and well.  THAT should be the point of pride: the well-oiled machine; the director who knows what he wants, and the actors and crew who achieve it with efficiency.  And, for those who are happy to accept the OT pay (everyone),  I’d wager that on a three month gig they might be happy to accept a few more days of work, if they were guaranteed that same money, but got a chance to drive home safely each night, work on a full night’s rest, and got to see their family a little bit.  A happier, well-rested, efficient, focused crew is the one I want to hire… don’t you?

The industry is changing.  We (Producers, Directors, DPs) can make this change, too.




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