Camera, rolling – just like the hands of a clock perpetually moving around and around the face of a watch, evading rest; like everyone all around the set, working and working, evading rest.
Sound, speed – but the work seems so slow. Everyone’s sluggishly moving in the hot midday sun, unable to decide which shot to use for a take, despite the storyboard having been prepared weeks before.
And action – again, again, and again. Action again for the fourteenth time. Same blocking, line, actor, set-up, angle, and mistake. Counting the hours until wrap and pack-up, and yet, the set-up and call time for the next day looms over – a promise of repetition and undeniable exhaustion.
I entered my practicum site as a naïve and eager trainee. Based on my upper batch peers, what I expected from this OJT was an 8-hour shift, full of fun projects where I get to work with fellow interns on a baby project, and a chance for me to apply what meager thing I learned in class. If there ever was a Miranda Priestly in the office, I promised myself to fast forward to the fashionable and knowledgeable Andy, to save myself from embarrassment and useless time spent fumbling instead of learning.
Of course, I knew nothing.
The schedule was irregular and I was on-call, I was the only intern working on the project, and oddly enough, much of what I learned in class applied to the project – except for the homegrown office jargon. My boss was kind and not scathing. However, the project was not.
It demanded so many meetings spent fighting with clients over the director’s vision, so many trips out of town to perfect location, casting, and acting, so many unplanned work shifts. It was a culture shock for me, a totally big leap from my organized and amenable group projects.
I was so tired. More tired than I have ever been after a whole day of school and dance class at night. It was mentally exhausting as well, trying to solve problems of logistics on the spot while running multiple errands for producers who do not seem to realize that you are the only intern struggling to carry out 13 tasks all at the same time.
Soon, I began to notice that my tiredness was not only my own, but of the whole staff as well. As consoling as that may be, it was also troubling to me. Do I really want to be stuck in an industry that moved an unrested, exhausted, and physically weak being from one tedious project to another?
Then again, I knew sleep was a sacrifice once adulting began. I understood how my lack of sleep (and quality time for leisure) would result in a glorious project, possibly entered into international competitions.
But I was really so tired. And I knew everyone around me was too. And through Instagram stories, I knew my batchmates were too.
TV and Film production is not your usual eight-hour work shift kind of job. It sucks up more than 24 hours, from pre-production up to post-production. More than time though, productions exhaust people mentally and physically.
Shoots are a string of set-up and pack-up, with everyone expecting everyone else to come on time, based on the call-sheet but never really doing anything to make everything efficient and as quality as quick can muster.
Most of the people working behind the scenes are contractual, working day to day, project to project to earn. In one day’s salary, these people traverse mountains, endure heat, carry heavy lights, and shout their voice box hoarse, all while having no sleep at all.
In TV, taping takes longer, and is usually much more stressful—what you’re shooting at 8 am today must be edited and aired by 10 pm of the same day. Production staff rarely get to sleep, putting out fires, calling people all over the country to make the show happen, all while appeasing guest stars, program managers, and producers.
Any sleep they get is a luxury, and because coffee is a free-flowing fountain of supposed strength and survival, no one gets that luxury at all.
Still, there have been efforts to regulate the time spent on productions. The Department of Labor and Employment issued Labor Advisory No. 4 series 2016 which states that the working hours of movie and television workers must not exceed eight hours, if at all, the maximum hours should just be 12.
However, many employers still see these workers as machines, expected to produce quality work in the least amount of time for maximum positive cash flow. Even if they are legally allowed to hold these workers for only 12 hours, within that time span, staff will be worked to their maximum capacity, squeezing their usual 72 hours into that meager and legal 12.
There’s this term at work which refers to this kind of treatment—harassment. A lot of times, my superiors have used it to describe my situation – plunged into the working world of straight 72-hour shoots and producers on my back to do errands. To them it’s a laughing matter, something every trainee must go through, something they themselves still go through because that’s just how the industry is—cramming, sleepless nights, eyebags, and stress. That’s how it is when they entered and that’s how it will be until the moment of their death – probably working another project that just so happens to pop-up problems that take more than 24 hours to solve.
Fatigue and exhaustion are non-negotiables in any industry. It is inevitable for anyone in the working world to not feel tired. There must be sacrifices in order to earn and succeed in your career. I myself, as of this writing, still believe that any sleepless night will be rewarded by numerous accolades and laurels. However, it’s a harsh exchange. A barbaric barter, really. Your health and well-being at the expense of your success. Do I really have to monetize and cash-in my exhaustion just so I can call myself successful? How about the quality of work I put in; wouldn’t it be affected by how unhealthy I am?
Then again, this is a systemic fault. Like everything else, driven by capitalism, the need to earn and make money. It’s a mere, simple, and inescapable cycle really, the entertainment industry. Satisfy your audience endlessly and work your staff to death.
That’s a wrap.