6 Inefficient Film Industry Practices That Need to Change
The film industry has always seemed to be a fly by the seat of your pants industry by the nature of the things we create. But it’s also adopted some practices that are outdated, unsafe, and ridiculous.
I thought some of these practices would evolve, as the industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades. But advances in technology haven’t changed some inefficient but deeply entrenched practices.
Here are my picks for six film industry practices that need to change:
- Rigid hierarchies on set that too often enable abuse and harassment.
Filmmaking, as we know, is a collaborative effort involving numerous people in multiple departments. Unfortunately, egos often get in the way, resulting in abusive workplace behavior.
The hierarchies we work under enable this, with harassment complaints often getting swept aside, depending on who’s involved. Our industry has progressed, but it still needs some structural changes to how things operate and what constitutes acceptable behavior.
Some old-school set practices need to disappear forever, and slowly, they are.
Those of us who’ve been abused or harassed on set are glad to see them go.
- Unsafe work conditions.
Hurry up and get it done is not a formula for safety on set. Time after time, we’ve seen the result of speed prioritized over safety.
Unnecessary accidents and even deaths have been the result.
Safety lapses aren’t restricted to the low-budget world either. The low-budget film Rust is only the most recent high-profile example of a complete safety failure, and there are many others across the low-budget through big-budget categories.
The irony is IATSE members are required to take numerous safety training courses, and I’ve taken several as an a.d., too. Yet the unrelenting pressure to work fast often sabotages safety.
And that ties in with number three below.
- Unrealistic shooting schedules and overly long workdays.
The time frames laid out in shooting schedules are not always realistic for the amount and complexity of our work.
That means everyone struggles to get the day’s work done, our workdays are overly long, and we work on challenging scenes when we’re exhausted. That’s not exactly a recipe for safe working conditions.
Cinematographers and their IATSE Local 600 have been at the forefront of fighting overly long workdays for years. It seemed like there might be some positive changes in the last round of union contract talks, but in the end, nothing changed.
So unrealistic shooting schedules remain on my list of inefficient and unsafe industry practices that need to change ASAP.
- The money over people mentality in our industry.
It’s no secret that our industry prioritizes money over people.
Years ago, a colleague worked on location on a big-budget movie with a high-profile director. The crew worked 16-18 hour days six days a week.
Everyone was exhausted, people got sick, and they even worked through a natural disaster. The director got a multi-million dollar bonus for staying on schedule, while the crew returned beat up and demoralized.
That story epitomizes the money over people mentality in our industry. People are disposable, as long as the job gets done.
The film industry often reminds me of the money over people practices of 19th-century factory owners. It’s ironic that this level of greed persists in a creative industry as heavily unionized as the film industry, but it does.
So it’s on my list of practices that need to change.
- Bloated above-the-line budgets that squeeze below-the-line budgets.
Anyone who’s ever worked on a network TV series for several seasons has witnessed this. The show barely hangs on the first season, and it’s a cliffhanger whether it’ll get picked up for a second season.
Then miraculously, it does, and by the end of the second season, it has a solid time slot, and it’s doing well in the ratings.
As a part of the crew, those first two years are probably the best you’ll have on that show. Year three, the actors and above-the-line players all get big raises.
But the show’s budget doesn’t increase, and all the below-the-line departments have their budgets cut. Every department has to do more with less.
To say above-the-line budgets have become bloated is an understatement, and you could say it’s yet another example in the ongoing discussion of income inequality in society.
COVID-19 hit our industry hard, but no one’s trimming back those ever-expanding above-the-line budgets any time soon.
And so it stays on my inefficient practices list.
- Understaffing on busy days.
All shooting days are not equal, and the amount of help each department needs changes depending on the day’s work.
Experienced producers and UPMs know that not hiring additional help when needed doesn’t save money; it costs money.
I worked on many shows with understaffing problems early in my career. Understaffing on big days was commonly a problem on movies of the week. Remember MOWs?
They were a staple of television in the 70s-90s and ranged from classy, excellently produced projects to shlocky trash best left off your resume.
I actually interviewed for a MOW early in my career, where the UPM told me there were some big days with loads of actors and extras, but there was no money in the budget for extra help for any department.
No thanks, I passed. You can find me working on the classy, excellently produced shows.
People can’t effectively or safely do the job of several people, and no amount of screaming for everyone to hurry up is going to change that fact.
And don’t even get me started on the low-budget shows that want you to do two different jobs for a fraction of one salary. Nope.
That’s my summary of a few inefficient film industry practices that need to change.
We’re fortunate to work in a creative and constantly changing industry. Lessen the hours, increase safety, and get rid of some outdated practices, and we could all genuinely thrive in our industry.
What changes would you like to see in the industry? Let me know in the comments.