10 Popular Changes That Could Make Film Crew Jobs More Humane

10 Popular Changes That Could Make Film Crew Jobs More Humane
Design by Judy Moore in Canva
Share this

Film crew jobs can be brutal.  Anyone who’s worked on set has at least one horror story to tell.  It can be a challenging business, but many of those who work on film crews aren’t keeping silent anymore about the abusive conditions they’ve experienced.

The recent IATSE strike authorization vote revealed a 99% ‘yes’ vote in favor of strike authorization.  It’s probably the first time for such a unanimous vote in the history of the union.

That’s because film crews are demanding changes to what they believe are intolerable working conditions.

Here are ten changes that could make film crew jobs more humane and change our industry for the better:

  1. Firm twelve-hour days.

It’s not safe or healthy to work more than twelve hours on set, especially since most jobs involve physical labor.  Crews are exhausted after moving equipment around in all kinds of locations and weather for twelve plus hours every day.

Other countries have laws stating how long workers can work.  The only upside to the excessively long workdays in our industry is producers make more money.  Even with crew overtime taken into account, extended workdays are still less expensive than adding another day to the schedule.

That needs to change.

  1. Increased rates for union overtime and meal penalties.

If overtime became prohibitively expensive, producers would have an incentive to make realistic shooting schedules, and directors would have to use their time on set better.  They’d have to arrive on set well-prepared, which I know from experience isn’t always the case.

I’ve seen directors do ten takes of an actor walking through a door, getting behind schedule for the rest of the day.  That means longer hours for everyone.  And when producers are directing an episode of a show, the workdays get longer still.

More expensive overtime and meal penalties would be a powerful incentive for finite workdays of no more than twelve hours.  No exceptions.

  1. Realistic shooting schedules.

Today’s episodic television is like doing a feature film a week.  Many shows have stunts, multiple locations, special effects, and large casts.  Even with second units, the amount of work involved is enormous.

The shooting schedules often don’t reflect the amount of time it takes to film these shows, which is why the filming days are so long.  The shows generate millions for the producers and streaming companies.

Yet schedules usually aren’t realistic for the workload, and the unions consider the streaming companies ‘new media,’ so they don’t have to pay IATSE residuals.

It’s not a scenario where film crews can have much of a life outside of work, and many have reached the breaking point.

  1. A requirement that crews break for lunch six hours after crew call.

I’ve worked my share of shows that used the grace period for lunch, but now there are horror stories of producers just paying meal penalties and never breaking for lunch at all.  It’s another reason to increase the cost of meal penalties to the point where it’s prohibitive to pay them and cheaper to break for lunch.

In stressful, high-pressure, physically demanding jobs, we need to take a break and sit, rest, and eat for a half-hour.  I’m not a fan of ‘French hours,’ where food is available, and crew members break when they can.  I worked on one show with French hours and no one ever seemed to get an adequate break.

Sit, rest, eat is my motto.  Anything less is abusive.

  1. Producers should offer hotel rooms to the crew after twelve hours.

While I don’t think film crews should ever work longer than twelve hours a day, they do.  And they’re often driving home half asleep, which is a danger to them and everyone else on the road.

A crew member on Rust has reported the producers denied the crew hotel rooms after excessively long days, even though they had an hour's drive home.  I don’t blame those crew members for quitting.

People have died in car accidents driving home after long workdays and falling asleep at the wheel. Film crew jobs are difficult enough.  The cost of a hotel room is a small price to pay to save someone’s life.

  1. ‘New media’ designations should be for one year only.

So-called ‘new media’ gets all kinds of breaks.  Years ago, it was the cable TV networks, like HBO.  Now it’s the streaming companies, like Netflix.

The unions give the streaming companies a break on paying residuals to the crew, among other things.  The problem is that these companies benefit from the ‘new media’ designation far longer than they should.

Even though these companies have made record profits during the pandemic, they’re getting more of a financial break than they should by being called ‘new media.’  And it’s at the expense of film crews and their pensions.

The ‘new media’ breaks should be for one year only.  After that, they’re not so new anymore.

  1. There needs to be a total commitment to safety on set.

A total commitment to safety means no rushing and compromising safety to make the day’s work.  It means safety meetings, no matter what.

It also means not waiting until the end of the day to do challenging scenes with special effects, stunts, or gunfire.

A commitment to safety means anyone on set can and should speak up about lax safety protocols and be heard.

We all deserve to work on safe, well-run sets.  And the commitment to safety begins at the top.

  1. Producers must listen to crew complaints and address problems.

Film crews are accustomed to long workdays, exhausting physical work, and changing locations.  For the most part, they’re not whiners.

So when crew members have legitimate complaints about safety, working conditions, or hotel rooms not being provided, producers would do well to listen.  It was not the case on Rust, where crew members’ concerns were mocked or ignored, with dire consequences.

Competent producers address problems as they arise.  Incompetent, inconsiderate ones don’t.

Choose your jobs wisely.

  1. Film crews need sick days.

Yes, crews get some paid sick time if they can prove they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19.  But what about everything else?

The unions need to begin working on a plan for accrued sick days that workers can accumulate on every job.

No one should have to come to work sick because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay.  Or lose their job because they’re ill and need to take some off to recuperate.

It’s past time film crews get some paid sick days.

  1. Film crews are not disposable.

The ‘everyone can be replaced’ mentality is alive and well in our industry.  If anything, the hierarchy and wealth gap has expanded over the years between the producers and the crew.

The crew had had enough of lax safety, irregular paychecks, and no hotel rooms and quit on the Rust set.  Instead of addressing the problems, producers brought in non-union workers.

Producers reportedly did nothing about the problems that the crew brought to their attention.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous producers would often rather replace workers than solve problems.

It’s a problem that’s not restricted to the low-budget film world.


These are some of the things I believe would make film crew jobs more humane.  Many crew members love their work but are overly stressed by the excessively long hours, lack of sleep, and minimal time with their families.

Our industry can be much more humane and accommodating to those who work in it and still prosper.  It needs to happen now.


Share this