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Jesse Flaitz

A first for me, I don't know if I was right

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Warning: Long post!

I would like some advice from fellow sound peoples about a situation that presented itself on an indie feature I was mixing recently.  It was definitely low budget (around $1.2m), but enough to where the people above and below the line had worked on their share of movies.  It was no ones first movie, not even close (though it was a first time director).  It was a four week shoot, and we were shooting around Yonkers for two weeks most of which were overnights.  What that means for non New Yorkers, is that production does not have to pay for travel time due to locations being "in the zone" (I can elaborate if necessary).  Working overnights in Yonkers means the courtesy vans were commuting rush hour both ways making most peoples commutes to and from set up to two hours each way (example: 7pm call, 6:30 breakfast, crew pickup vans leaves at 5pm).

This movie turned out to be more ambitious than production had planned for, not to mention plagued with equipment problems from day one. All of that, plus the numerous trick shots, practical fx shots, gags etc. made for a consistent 1-2 hours of OT almost every day. 14 hour days, plus 3-4 hours of commuting (compounded by the fact the courtesy vans couldn't leave until full so sometimes a dept. would wrap and have to wait 30 minutes to leave set) leaving many people with only 6-7 hours at home to try and get rest.  Best case you'd get another hour or two if call was pushed.

On the third to last day, there were more problems culminating in a 5am stunt that went bad and ended another incomplete day (everyone was fine, but it was a big enough issue to end the day as we'd been shooting since 4pm the day before).  On the second to last day we broke for lunch having just finished what we owed from the day before leaving a whole day to shoot after lunch.  Everyone on the crew was justifiably extremely pissed off after weeks of nonsense and at the start of that day the grips had approached me about pushing production to finish this day at 12 hours no matter what, as we knew the last day was going to be insane (and it was, 18 hours on the clock) and everyone needed a full "12", realistically 9-10 at best, hour turn around.

After lunch I approached the producers and told them we needed to be done at 7am.  They were very nice people, there was no shadiness in the way they had handled the movie, just budget and planning issues, but they were concerned by that.  I told them people needed the turn arounds to operate safely on what everyone knew was going to be a super long day, and cited the issue on the previous day as an example.  They said they were surprised as no one had approached them about the turn arounds, and wished I had talked to them before talking to the other crew. They said they would talk about it.

They came to see me about 20 minutes later and said they'd talked to the director and there would be a hard out at 7am.

How would other people have approached this situation? I've worked on several movies before with ridiculous hours, but this is the first one where I finally had enough and did something about it.

I realize that everyone works insane hours on movies, and as sound dept., I often have even less hours than most people on set, but so what? Long days are going to happen, of course, but I will not be the victim of poor planning and execution. I need this to be a sustainable career, and I just don't see how 16+ hours door to door is a sustainable situation.  I don't want to force production into hard outs, it's really really not fun, but what else can I do? If movies are going to abuse hours so regularly then I won't work on them.  However; I really want to work on movies, it's why I started in this business... I guess I'll just keep fighting ridiculous hours until the movies stop calling (maybe they won't?).

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I think you handled it fine. As a matter of fact you guys probably waited too long to say anything.

One of the best parts about our jobs? We can walk away from any situation we don't feel comfortable in. All you have to do is speak up.

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You became the de facto Shop Steward. Sounds like you handled it just fine. The leverage you had, though not mentioned directly, was that if the last turnaround wasn't reasonable, people wouldn't have much incentive to come back for one more day of filming. 

In the future, it's better if the crews your working with elect a shop steward (typically not a department head) who can act as the voice of the crew for anything that comes up that seems unreasonable. Usually those terms end up being based on typical union terms (9-10 hours of turnaround, the "zone", etc). In that particular job, it might have been a bit unreasonable to expect people to do that long of a commute every day. It would have made a lot of sense for production to put people up in hotels Monday-Friday. But since that wasn't a required term at the outset, the lack of crew organizing or having a shop steward means it wasn't addressed. 

The long hours are unfortunately a part of the industry until someone proves it to be more cost effective to shoot it with shorter days. Overtime, Meal Penalties and Turnaround Invasion Penalties are there to help deter the long days and short turnarounds. On those non-union features, it's good to get the crew together early and talk about having a shop steward and everyone's expectations (which, of course, can range from reasonable to unreasonable). 

Also, as you work on more jobs, you'll notice more cues, trends, or questions to ask to try to tell if a job will have long days or not. Shooting all nights outside in the summer? Probably not as long of days as shooting all nights in the winter. Hopefully, you'll get to know which DP's are faster than others and that sort of thing. It's not all bad. Try to budget your money so you can have time off between the movies and maybe be selective of the jobs offered. 


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As you say Jose we can walk away.

But an understanding and agreement (contract) would establish what you are getting into.

If it's worthwhile and enjoyable stay but if it's and impossible situation - goodnight and good luck!



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Josh is spot on re: electing a non-department head shop steward early on, even and especially on non-union indie projects.

The indie crew has a lot more power than they know and exercise.

Indie flashback: after a week of long days, shop steward tells me gaffer says they will pull the plug at 14 from now on. I'm in. We're all 'in'. Hour 14 plug is pulled. We go home. No more 14+ for the rest of the project.

I think I've just witnessed Jesse's getting bigger.



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As required by Federal Law, the Employer must
“assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.”


Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Department of Labor

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970


Worker Protection is the Law of the Land

You have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work. The law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The OSH Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training and assistance to employers and workers.

    Workers’ Rights under the OSH Act

    The OSH Act gives workers the right to safe and healthful working conditions. It is the duty of employers to provide workplaces that are free of known dangers that could harm their employees. This law also gives workers important rights to participate in activities to ensure their protection from job hazards. This booklet explains workers’ rights to:

    • Right to notify your employer or OSHA about workplace hazards.  You may ask OSHA to keep your name confidential.
    • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be done in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
    • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
    • Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in the workplace.
    • Get copies of their workplace medical records.
    • Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
    • File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated or discriminated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
    • File a complaint if punished or discriminated against for acting as a “whistleblower” under the additional 20 federal statutes for which OSHA has jurisdiction.
    • The OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees for using their rights under the OSH Act. These rights include filing an OSHA complaint, participating in an inspection or talking to the inspector, seeking access to employer exposure and injury records, raising a safety or health issue with the employer

    Employer Responsibilities

    • Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace.
    • Employers MUST provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards.
    • Employers must find and correct safety and health problems.
    • OSHA further requires that employers must try to eliminate or reduce hazards first by making feasible changes in working conditions – switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to get rid of or minimize risks – rather than just relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs.

    What to Do

    • To report a violation to OSHA or to ask questions:
      call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or www.osha.gov
    • Regional Office of OSHA:
      U.S. Department of Labor – OSHA
      550 West C Street, Suite 970
      San Diego, CA 92101
      Phone: (619) 557-5030
      Fax: (619) 557-6001
    • CalOSHA www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/
    • Report safety issues to the:
      IATSE Safety Hotline - toll free: 844-IA AWARE, 844-422-9273
         - Motion picture studio hotlines

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    I don't understand why turnaround is ever an issue that producers don't consider. And I can't see why they would be in any state of surprise when the issue is brought up.

    It's always been my observation that the department heads need to be active in advocating for crew conditions if things get bad.

    I was once on a shoot where th e producer posted a Mandy ad because he thought the crew would walk the next day! It doesn't hurt for department heads to speak up, but production should really be more attentative to these things if they know we're hitting OT and doing long travel/turnaround. And lets be real, their PA's are often getting the brunt of it too so there's no excuse for them "not to know"

    Sent from my SM-G900V using Tapatalk

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    I have to say that the greatest thing about working in the UK is that the hours are what they are. If a day is scheduled for 12 hours (including lunch) then that's what they do. If something goes wrong in the day, the producers come around and ASK the crew for an hour of OT. Sometimes people say 'no' and then it simply doesn't get done (rare). There is no 2nd hour. The crews here wouldn't stand for it. There is also 11 hours from wrap to call. Sometimes there is a squeeze for people on pre-calls, but usually not, as the day is typically 8-8.

    My show is 11 hours a day (including lunch) and five days a week. We sometimes plan an hour of OT if the day looks big. The other day, the producer came around and apologised that because of the rain and having missed a scene, that we would need an hour of OT on a Friday. They were AKSING the crew if it was ok, as they knew it would mean finishing work at 8:30pm on a Friday, when we're usually done at 7 or 7:30.

    Here's what this discipline forces... it forces directors to not dick around if they want to make their day... it forces DPs not to dick around, as the director will not get their day, and the DP will be blamed... it forces the 1st AD to move the day forward or they'll get the blame for added days or dropped scenes.

    Today, for example, we took 5 hours to shoot a scene that should have taken 2. Did it add 3 hours to our day? No, it just meant they needed to delete a scene and sort out a way to shoot the remaining scenes in the time allowed.

    The difference is that in the US producers have done the math, and have found long hours and short turnaround and short schedules to be more cost effective than renting gear and trucks and stages and locations for more days. The human element is not considered.

    I really hope that more people stand up for their own safety and well-being, like the OP, and like the crews here in the UK.

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    Haskell Wexler made a wonderful documentary in 2006 called "Who Needs Sleep."  It should be required viewing for everyone in the film business.  You can find the trailer on You Tube.  

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