Monday, March 10, 2014

Are crews being put at risk for management's profits? Tragedy on 'Midnight Rider' Shoot Raises Safety Issues

Tragedy on 'Midnight Rider' Shoot Raises Safety Issues

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The tragedy on the Midnight Rider shoot which killed assistant camerawoman Sarah Jones and injured others has industry veterans calling for change. Producer Marty Katz talks about the safety protocols that DGA members are trained to employ on set. Then, Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler furthers the conversation on crew safety by discussing the dangerous issue of severe fatigue due to long work days.
Banner image adapted from Horia Varlan

Hollywood News Banter (2:30PM)

John Horn of the LA Times and Kim Masters discuss top entertainment news stories of the week.
Darren Aronofsky's Noah may be banned in some Middle Eastern countries.
ABC's parent company, Walt Disney, strikes a deal with Dish Network to dismantle the ad-skipping function.
The fight between broadcast networks and Aereo gets ready for a Supreme Court debut.

Marty Katz (2:38PM)

Marty Katz has over 40 years in the business as a producer, studio executive, and production manager. In the wake of the tragedy on the Midnight Rider shoot, he lays out the protocols that crews are expected to follow when shooting in dangerous locations or high risk scenes. 

Haskell Wexler (2:49PM)

Haskell Wexler is an Oscar-winning cinematographer and an outspoken advocate for saner workdays on film shoots. He wrote an open letter after the Midnight Rider incident His 2006 documentary Who Needs Sleep? has interviews with talent and crew logged over an eight year span on the dangers of sleep deprivation. His organization 12On12Off calls for the industry to limit work to 12 hours/day.



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Haskell is right -- things have only gotten worse since Brent Hershman's death. Wexler rightly blames the corporate obsession with the bottom-line -- just a few years ago (and this according to the LA Times), the crew of NCIS were working 17 to 18 hour days before a new producer came in and brought those work days down to "only" 14 hours -- but there's another factor as well. The HBO-inspired sidebar deal allows cable dramas to shoot 14 hours before double-time kicks in -- and with the hour lunch break, that means the crew can't expect to head for their cars and home until they've been at work for 15 hours, day in and day out, all week long. And all that for paychecks that come in 20% under normal union scale. 

Under the standard IA contract, double-time starts at 12 hours. 

The purpose of double-time is not to make money for the crew, but to serve as a financial hammer to dissuaded producers and directors from abusing their crews. When limited to 12 hours, a director is forced to focus on getting what he/she really needs from each work day. Allowing two more hours to play in the sand box is bad for directors (who never learn any self-discipline) and bad for the crew, who suffer the many deleterious effects of compounded sleep deprivation. 

But with so much of our work flowing out of state thanks to lopsided tax incentive programs elsewhere, I don't see much chance of anybody taking a serious stand to turn this around. Anything that raises production costs, no matter how worthy the goal, will be a non-starter. We'd need to hike California's tax incentive program to $200 million/year to begin stemming runaway production ($300 million/year would be a lot more effective), but I'm not sure the rest of the state or our governor would sign on to that.... which means things will get worse before they get better -- if they get better at all.

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