10 Huge Common Workplace Challenges on Set – And How to Overcome Them
We experience some common workplace challenges again and again when working on set. Some of the most common problems can present the biggest challenges for us to deal with.
Since we spend so much time in our work environment, we need to find the best way to cope with workplace issues, or we’ll have little job satisfaction. Working on set is hard work, and we must make a concerted effort to care for our physical and mental health.
Here are some common challenges in the workplace on set and some solutions for dealing with them:
1. Lack of Communication on Set
Poor communication is one of the most common workplace challenges in almost every workplace.
We can’t feel we’re part of a team working towards the common goal of completing the day’s work if team members don’t communicate. As an a.d., poor communication greatly affects my ability to do my job, as much of my job involves communicating information about the day’s work.
If you’ve ever worked on a set where you never seemed to get the information you needed to do your job, you know how a lack of effective communication can lead to negative attitudes and employee burnout. Open communication starts from the top down, and communication challenges affect everyone’s job performance.
Take the lead in communicating what you need and be proactive about asking questions to get the necessary information. On shows lacking good communication, be ready for anything because things may be constantly changing.
If that’s too frustrating, as freelancers, the best solution may be to find a new job.
2. No Opportunity to Move Up
We usually acquire new skills as we move from one job to another, but often when we’re ready for new responsibilities, there’s no possibility of moving up where we’re currently working. I’ve been there, and I know how frustrating it can be.
But there’s a good chance there’s more opportunity than you think for professional development on the show you’re on, especially if you’ve been doing great work.
Second units of a particular show are a great way to get a chance to work at the next level. I’ve done loads of them, and they were a solid first step for moving up.
Keep open lines of communication with those above you, and don’t be shy about letting them know your desire to work at the next level.
3. Poor Work-Life Balance
There’s no way around the fact that many jobs in the film industry have poor work-life balance. The potential impact of that is that family life suffers because we spend too much time at work, especially if we work on set.
Employee morale suffers when all we do is work. Even the best time management skills can’t add more hours to each day.
It’s difficult to give our best performance when we’re often overworked and have no fixed schedule.
The good news is as freelancers, we’re expected to change jobs, and we can always search for a new workplace that has a good work-life balance. There are many areas of the film industry we can work in other than feature films and single-camera episodic tv shows, which are known for long workdays.
Look into working in other areas of the industry, such as sitcoms or talk shows, which allow for better work-life balance.
4. High Level of Workplace Stress
Working in our industry can be stressful, with erratic work schedules, jobs ending unexpectedly, and incredibly long workdays, among other stressful situations. High levels of workplace stress also decrease employee productivity.
Finding ways to cope with workplace stress is crucial to avoid physical deterioration and negative psychological symptoms.
Fortunately, there are various ways to help us cope with stress successfully.
In addition to daily meditation, I believe in practicing relaxation techniques on and off set. Deep breathing can be practiced anywhere, as can gentle stretching. My recent blog post on dealing with workplace stress on set has more helpful tips.
5. Poor Leadership
Good leaders are often in short supply in our industry, and the business is the worse for it.
Leaders set the tone for company culture on set, and a lack of solid leadership can lead to high employee turnover and low employee engagement. On an individual level, poor leadership can lead to frustrating workdays, despite your best efforts to do a good job.
Communication styles can differ, but if there’s no open environment and it doesn’t feel like everyone is working toward a common goal, that’s often a sign of ineffective leadership. Communication issues may be the problem, or it may be a lack of training for people in leadership positions.
Different issues can be the cause of poor leadership. Often things can improve with better communication to resolve issues. Sometimes decision makers, such as UPMs, are not on set and don’t realize what’s happening there.
They may be dealing with other production problems we know nothing about, but that are affecting us on set. Open communication can often raise awareness and help resolve problems.
6. Lax Safety Protocols on Set
Film sets can sometimes be dangerous places to work, but with the numerous safety training classes union crew members are required to take, we can’t use poor training as an excuse for lax safety standards.
One reason I avoid working on low-budget projects is that safety is often compromised in the rush to shoot more than the budget can reasonably accommodate, as was the case on Rust. However, many big-budget projects have been known to have lax safety standards on set, too.
Report unsafe conditions on set to an a.d. immediately. You should never consider putting your own safety at risk on set, whether the job is a big-budget union show or a low-budget non-union show.
The industry unions have safety hotlines, which I've listed below. Use them if needed.
If safety conditions don’t improve, move on to another show. No job is worth our safety or our lives.
7. Job Burnout
Job burnout is common in our industry, with extremely long workdays and often inadequate rest periods, including ‘Fraturdays.’ It can affect our ability to concentrate and can impact us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Causes of job burnout can include poor work-life balance and dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Sound familiar?
We’re expected to perform at maximum efficiency at work, no matter how tired and stressed we are. Physically, job burnout can weaken our immune system and decrease alertness, leading to workplace accidents.
According to health experts, we should seek support from family, friends, and co-workers to help us cope.
Practicing mindfulness through deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can also help.
8. High Level of Workplace Drama
Workplace drama isn’t unique to the film industry, but we often seem to have more than our share of it on set. We deal with difficult people and different personalities every day, and it can be challenging to find common ground at work.
The only way some people know how to cope with certain situations that arise on set is through workplace drama. Dealing with them can leave us exhausted and frustrated.
Respond rationally, not emotionally, to those causing workplace drama, no matter how they behave. Communicate and listen effectively, and don’t gossip.
Keep all digital communications professional.
See my recent blog post on dealing with dramatic people on set.
9. Unrealistic Shooting Schedules
It seems that the number of shows with shooting schedules that can’t realistically accommodate the amount of work involved is increasing.
New employees starting their industry careers may not yet realize how an unrealistic shooting schedule on a show can lengthen already long workdays, increase stress levels, and prevent everyone from doing their best work.
If you’re working on a show with a schedule that’s not long enough to reasonably shoot each day’s work without extended workdays on a daily basis, and there’s no second unit, things probably won’t improve on that show.
In my experience, schedules generally do not expand once they’re established because it’s cheaper to pay crew overtime than add another day to the shooting schedule.
Most single-camera episodic tv shows have exceptionally long workdays, so it’s worth looking into areas of the industry with shorter workdays, such as sitcoms, game shows, and talk shows. You won’t get the overtime pay you’d get on shows with longer workdays, but you’ll have more of a life.
10. Unacceptable Behavior Tolerated on Set
This once common workplace challenge isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, thanks to some high-profile lawsuits and public shaming of the perpetrators.
However, unacceptable behavior sometimes still happens on set, and it’s a red flag if those in positions of power tolerate it. If the behavior includes sexual harassment, employers should have a policy in place for dealing with it outside the chain of command.
Know the company’s policy for reporting harassment and bullying. Often that means reporting it to the human resources department, sometimes not. Either way, you have recourse if you’re subjected to abusive behavior at work.
That’s my roundup of common workplace challenges you may encounter when working on set. Some are unique to our industry, while others, such as interpersonal conflict and sexual harassment, are found in every type of business.
There are solutions to the challenges we face on set, and it’s up to use them to create the environment in which we can do our best work and thrive.
IATSE safety hotline: 844-422-9273
DGA safety hotline: 310-289-5326; after-hours: 800-342-3457