Last Tuesday’s post gave hell to the industry’s endorsement of abusive working hours. Now I’ll try to answer why the situation exists as it does.
In the United States the majority of film crews put in draconian amounts of time on the job. This’s not only approved of by the producing entities, it’s anticipated. Certainly poor planning and incompetent scheduling have a great deal to answer for. Unchecked greed is also at play. But what’s happening to us is much more insidious, similar in many ways to the frog who’s unaware that he’s being slowly boiled to death in a pot of water. Bit by bit over the last decade, our work load has increased to the point where we’re putting out a great deal more material in much less time than ever before. It’s easy for a screenwriter to type out the words, an eighth of a page in total: “Scene 1: The Allies invade Normandy.” But think about what it takes to turn that sentence into reality!
One episodic series I was part of used to spend seven days shooting material that aired at forty two minutes. To achieve that goal, the crew commonly spent up to eighty hours per week on the job – not including travel to and from set. In terms of page count, we were completing the equivalent of a full-length feature film every nine days, which is absurd given the running time of a completed episode. No individual is to blame for this; the failure is in the infrastructure as a whole. The system is firmly in place and resistant to change, a terrible combination if there ever was one.
Crew members also bear some culpability. We’ve become so good at our jobs that we make the delivery of a first-class production look easy under any circumstances. Producers are aware that we’re Type-A problem solvers. They know that we’ll rise to the challenge and go to any length to complete the task. They also know that we’re freelancers and are happy to be employed, almost without reservation. This puts them at a tremendous advantage, especially when they realize how easy it is to use our passion against us. Putting in long overtime hours has also become desirable to many crew people; for those used to a feast or famine existence this’s an understandable trade-off. But the extra payment that comes in exchange for the excessive effort is indeed blood money…and one day it will have a cost of its own.
It’s interesting how the Covid virus outbreak drew such a quick response from the entire industry. If only the issue of excessive hours was approached with that mindset. There’s no doubt that solving the problem in a way that serves all parties is doable. It only needs to be done.