OPINION: Film workers are tired physically and emotionally

“That’s a wrap!” The three words any film industry worker hopes to hear. This phrase is the indication that the work day has finally ended… or has it?

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work as a production assistant for a new TV series. I was excited to have been given this opportunity. I won’t lie, I expected a Carrie Bradshaw from “The Carrie Diaries” type of experience. I would run around the set helping and learning from creatives, who I’d try to impress with my “awesome talents.”  Little did I know, my experience would look more like Arya Stark from “Game of Thrones.”

 I had to calculate my every move. Observe, analyze and react to my environment. Work harder than ever before. Learn the hidden language and survival secrets of this industry. I did get to learn from awesome people, but it came with a price. People in the film industry don’t help just anyone. They want to know that the person they are sharing their knowledge with is actually working their ass off. People don’t want to waste their time or energy on someone who doesn’t care. 

 Movies and TV series are normally budgeted for a 12-hour day, but often shot for even longer hours. During the summer, I heard rare stories of overtime nightmares where people worked for more than 20 hours straight. Ironically, the worst part of working more than 12 hours could be the drive back home.  

When the day is wrapped, not everyone gets to go home immediately. Some crew members have to pack the equipment. Others have to drive actors, while some have to prepare for the next day. During this process, a production assistant has to be present in order to keep track of everyone’s out time.  All in all, you work the same overtime as everybody, plus around two more hours of waiting for the crew to leave, and then a 30-minute drive home. 

Companies are contractually obligated to give certain cast and crew members an 11 to 12 hour rest period. This means that if the cast or crew shoot late one day, they are guaranteed to start later the next morning. When the week begins, filming usually starts at 7 a.m., mid-week the call time is around 9 to 10 a.m., and by the end of the week, it could be around noon or later. Unfortunately, this means that your weekend is cut extremely short. On Friday, you wrapped around 3 a.m. and then have to be back on set Monday morning at around 4:45 a.m. 

 When do you actually sleep? 

There was a particular day when all of us production assistants were extremely exhausted. We had worked over 12 hours every day that week at a location that was more than 30 minutes away from our homes. The production assistant in charge of tracking people’s out times was talking about how tired he felt. We didn’t give it much thought because everyone felt the same way. Eventually, we wrapped and went home. 

The next day, the tired production assistant was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, the producers were asking all the production assistants how we felt and if we were well enough to drive home. The tired production assistant had fallen asleep while driving and drove off a cliff. Thankfully, he was okay, but this is all too often not the case.

In the six weeks I worked in the film industry, I got to learn about the complex process of creating a series or film. I fell in love with the passion the crew has for their craft, learned so much about myself, and grew as a person.

However, I was also exposed to the injustices that lie behind the scenes. I worked overtime almost every day, one day over 17 hours. I walked 20,000 steps daily and saw people’s personalities change due to exhaustion. 

The industry has changed, but there’s still a lot to be done. The Instagram account @ia_stories posts stories of the crew’s issues and experiences in the film industry. It has helped create awareness and give the crew a platform to voice their concerns. The International Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees is the labor union that is supposed to fight for and guarantee a healthy work environment for most of the crew. This past October, 98% of IATSE members voted to authorize a nationwide strike against the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers. 

However, the day before the strike was to begin, the union reached an agreement with AMPTP. Nonetheless, there’s still no limit to the hours a crew member can work in a given day.

After my experience, I now watch TV and movies asking myself, “how was that crew treated?” It makes me uncomfortable and sometimes I can’t even enjoy what I’m watching. However, I do think this is a question we must all ask ourselves. It will make us aware and conscious of the sacrifices and abuse in the TV and film industry.