The long toiling hours of film set work

Film set work hours.jpg

This is a post looking at the hardest part of filmmaking particularly if you have laboured on a lengthy production like TV or Film. Being over worked is a major issue in the film industry, it was the main reason why I decided to stop working on film sets.

When I worked on feature films 70-90 hour work weeks was typical. Even with so many work hours in the week I have had to skip meals before due to ‘lack of time’ and cut back hours from my sleep. A usual film industry work day in the UK would consist of 12 hours with a one hour break in the middle. However this work day might not have counted in rigging and de-rigging at the start and end of each day and In my jobs case (continuity) I had an hour of paper work after wrap. This left many film crew members working 14+ hours every work day for 6 days a week.

‘One of the problems with the movie industry is that it does seem glamorous a lot of people will say I’ll do anything at least at the beginning of their careers so it is a business where there is a lot of opportunity to rip people off’

Some of you reading this might have the perception if you cant handle the film hours then this industry is not for you. Although this may be partly true (it will never be a normal day job) I feel that the film industry has a way of burning out young workers with the knowledge there are plenty more queuing to take their place if they leave. From the handful people in my university class who tackled film crew work after graduation this is the major reason none of us are working directly in professional film production anymore. We where simple over worked and we where not prepared for it.

You will have to trust me, you can have all the enthusiasm in the world for film but a year of these long work hours will take it toil. Perhaps it was exhaustion itself that put out that spark I had in me at the start of my career. And of course there are those who accept the grind and do make a living working on film sets, some people come to enjoy putting all of their life into their career. You can get used to long work hours but you risk your health and damage relationships. On a film set over time happens daily – you just keep working until they call wrap. 

This wasn’t always the case throughout the 1950s and 60s film work played out the same as any other 8 hour work day. As the decades went by the hours increased. Now it is typical for a 12 hour work day to be planned and over time is expected. Indie film sets are especially prone to long work days as they pay by the day and not by the hour - so they squeeze as much work out of you every day to save money.

How could this be fixed? I have been on sets where it was required to get there early only to for it to be many hours before any work is carried out. There is a definite lack of organisation, there is also an individual attitude of - if your not tired you haven’t been working hard enough. Hard work should not be valued by how exhausted crew are. It seems that if you stick to the call sheet and don’t accept over time then a normal work week can be established. Over time should be rare and not part of the daily expectation.

Just because we have been doing something for a long time doesn’t not mean it is the only way of doing things – we can improve upon film employment just as other industries do. When you are organising your next production keep in mind that film crew need sleep and rest like any other worker. 

Resources - Great documentary on film crew work hours -Watch Here. Interesting article looking at work days on film sets and having a family whilst being a filmmaker - Read Here

You can find me via Twitter here - @amyclarkefilms