A simple search on this Instagram tag offers you a sneak peek into the glamorous world of video production. We love our jobs. We get to work with beautiful outdoor sets, crew members we love, and the high-end gear, albeit the occasional all-nighter.
Its common knowledge in our industry that part of being a Video Production Professional is coping with the impossible hours. Production schedules with 14-hour shoots with 10-hour turnarounds are common. The heroes of our industry —Directors, Producers, Gaffers, Editors, Cameramen and others, often work 50+ hour weeks.
Professionals in numerous other fields also suffer the same fate, known for surviving ungodly marathons: Surgeons who have to stay focused during 14-hour operations and long-haul Airline Pilots who have to fly non-stop. It’s true that we’re comparing Apples to Oranges here, since these Professionals shoulder a massive responsibility at work — real human lives.
However, sleep deprivation is a real problem in today’s society — long working hours gives you a higher risk of coronary heart disease, depression, and it increases your risk of obesity. This is prevalent in many industries, with more and more Singaporeans suffering from high work stress levels.
We think its important to start paying more attention to the health & wellbeing of our crew members.
Who Needs Sleep?
If you’re in this industry, you’ve probably experienced this typical day at work —
It’s Day 1. You’re excited for the shoot. You show up on set with the crew at 6am. And usually, set up takes about an hour and everything starts on time at 7am. Everything progresses pretty smoothly.
It’s 2pm. Lunch-break. While you gobble up your packet of chicken rice, and realise you still have an entire day ahead of you. By 4pm the shoot progresses again.
Nightfall hits and the crew transitions into the night shoot. As this is Day 1, the Director and Cast had some prolonged discussion during Dinner Break about what they should be shooting. Everyone’s a little groggy as the Crew stood around waiting. Finally the shoot resumes at 8pm. The Producer realises there’s a 1-hour delay now, and asks the crew for an extension.
They did, and the shoot wraps up at 11pm.
That’s 17 hours at work (15-hours if you subtract lunch & dinner). By then, you just want to lay down and sleep. And if you’re lucky, you’d wrap up quickly, call a Grab to get home by 12pm, and have maybe 30-minutes for freshening up.
You’re exhausted! You’d get in bed, enjoy some Facebook & Instagram before you fall asleep at 1 — only to repeat this process 4 hours later to get ready for Day 2.
Hard Work, Longer Hours
This problem spirals even deeper because sets tend to last for a few successive days. Most people can do one 17-hour shift, but when you do it back-to-back for a few days, your mind deteriorates. You feel sick. Not to mention if you have a family to take care of.
By Day 3 or 4, most of the crew would be constantly downing Kopi-O and Red Bull in order to stay awake in order to get that perfect shot in the feature.
But hey, at least we don’t have to travel long distances to work right? We’re pretty lucky in Singapore. We’ve got a great MRT system, Bus and PHV services like Grab to help us get home after an exhausting day. Its a stark contrast in bigger countries: With stories of production crew fighting to stay awake while driving long distances home, and the well-publicised death of cameraman Brent Hershman in 1997, who was killed as he fell asleep while driving after a punishing 19-hour day.
Brent’s death was the inspiration for the 2006 documentary “Who Needs Sleep?” — which highlights the deadly combination of sleep deprivation and long days of work. I highly recommend this!
And the sleep deprivation problem is not only limited to on-set crew. Post-Production Professionals: Video Editors, Audio Specialists & 3D Animators have a hard time as well. Here’s an anecdote from our Producer —
“On a tight schedule, multi-day shoots are often run concurrently with Post-Production. Time becomes really precious - which means new footage is delivered straight to the Editor’s desk everyday, and clients often expect the First Cut within the week. It’s like an assembly line.”
And of course, advanced hardware and software has allowed us do more in less time. Today, Professionals can produce videos while sipping on a cup of Latte at Starbucks with powerful Macbook Pros; Production Companies can render a 4K short film before your lunch is over; and Adobe Creative Cloud is a godsend to many Videographers who want a streamlined workflow.
But all that technological progress is all for naught when Production Studios & Project Managers fail to correct unrealistic project expectations —which result in extreme situations for video production professionals.
About Your Overtime Work and Pay
Overworking and not giving the crew members sufficient rest is simply not a sustainable way to work — both physically and financially. Productivity drops significantly as fatigue sets in over the course of the day, and the crew costs way more per OT hour.
However, sometimes the situation is simply not favourable: The budget is limited, so the equipment, location, talent and weather will only be available for that day.
So as a Professional, you just have to get it done, y’know?
Most video professionals are cool with the long hours, as most of us understand that it comes with the job. But it is important to get paid for overtime. Today, a staggering amount of freelancers still have to fight to get paid for their work.
How Freelancers can Protect Themselves
Video production companies, Directors and Producers have the responsiblity to ensure that their crew are well taken care of.
After all, is it fair for you to be penalised if the shoot has been poorly planned?
If you’re just starting out as a Freelancer, here’s a few tips to help you achieve work/life balance:
- Before committing to the project, get a clear picture about the locations, turnaround times, the crew, and the production schedule. If any of these were not provided clearly, that is a red flag to you.
- Get to know the Director/Producer beforehand. If they’re inexperienced, and the production schedule looks way too optimistic - that’s a pretty good signal as well.
- If you’re billing by a flat day rate, make sure you specify how many hours in a day you work (usually 10-hours). And include your overtime rates. For more demanding shoots, you could give another rate for a 12-hour day. This gives you a guaranteed number of hours, and gives you more control over your time.
After all, we’re not complaining—we love making films. The camaraderie, and the sense of satisfaction when we nail that perfect visual image is hard to replace. Video production professionals are willing to put in long hours to bring an idea to fruition, but all of us should start protecting ourselves by getting these right before getting to work.