Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Enough is Enough


Haskell Wexler's Institute for Cinema Studies is promoting a “no Fraturday” for all crews who will wind up their work week toiling late next Friday, August 29, urging producers to make sure their shows wrap by midnight, and not work on into Saturday the 30th.

For those who don’t know what it is (in which case you haven't yet suffered the ravages of a “Fraterday”), the term describes starting work sometime on Friday, then working deep into Saturday morning before wrapping for the week.  You stumble home as the sun rises in the east, then wake up late Saturday afternoon feeling like shit.  But by Sunday night, you're feeling almost human... just in time to get one decent night's sleep before starting the whole miserable grind all over again the next morning. 

This does not make for a wonderful life.

Fraturdays can happen on movies, but they're standard operating procedure on episodic television dramas that have to grind out a 44 minute show in seven or eight days -- typically half on location, the other half on stage.  These shows often work 13 to 15 hour days, and since the  actors have a 12 hour turnaround, the call times get progressively later as the week grinds on.  Monday’s 7:00 a.m. call begets Tuesdays 9:00 a.m. call, which begets Wednesdays 11 a.m. call, which begets Thursdays 1:00 p.m. call, which means Fridays call might not start until 3:00 p.m.   Given that Fridays are often the longest shooting day of the week, it's not unusual for the crew to be wrapping the set in the cool gray light of dawn on Saturday morning.

I’ve done this more times than I can remember, and it sucks.  But such is the nature of Hollywood’s chew-’em-up-and-spit-’em-out culture, where the crew always pays the heaviest price for everybody else’s mistakes. 

It’ll be easy for me to wrap before midnight on Friday, because I’ll be rigging the stage as we push the big rock up the steep hill once again to get my little cable sit-com prepped for another season. My work day will be over long before the witching hour. It will be a much tougher call for crews of episodics, and I suspect many will end up working deep into Saturday.  But as the crew of the A&E show “Longmire” recently found out, the cost of pushing crews so hard can be death.

Haskell has been beating the drum for his "12 On, 12 Off" campaign for several years now (12 hours of work followed by 12 hours of rest), and it's a lesson Hollywood should have learned a long time ago. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in this town have never been interested in anything that might slow the pace of production. The sanctity of the budget remains their one true God, and until that changes, hard-working crew members will continue to die, one by one, on the deadly Fraterday drive home.

Although I'm not optimistic that Haskell's latest effort will make any difference, I really wish the producers (and their corporate overlords) would learn to pay attention to something beyond a show's budgetary bottom-line. I hope they finally listen this time, and acknowledge the value of allowing their crews to wrap by midnight on Friday.  

Enough is enough.

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