Mar 7, 2009

Remembering Brent

** This is a re-post from last year..(including the first three comments) I plan to post this every year to remember Brent**

I was recently given a link to Haskell Wexler's site on Who Needs Sleep.

And I remembered...

Several years ago I was very fortunate to work a movie with Brent Hershman. Brent was an incredibly funny and very nice camera assistant. I was a bit green at the time, but Brent really made me feel at home on the set. The kind of person a "newbie" never forgets. A few short years after that job, Brent was working on another feature. After a 19-hour day of filming, Brent jumped in his car and headed home. He had promised his daughter he would be there the next day. Tragically, he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a telephone pole. It’s still surreal to think about such a senseless loss.

After Brent’s death there was a movement in the film community for “Brent’s Rule” where production would have a limit on how many hours they could work a crew. Sadly that movement has been slow going.

We often pull long days working in film. Pretty typical of the job actually, and everyone accepts it as part working in the film industry. But at what cost? Does it really save the production money paying overtime and exhausting the crew instead of filming at that location for another day? Some production bean counter will have to explain that to me. And then factor in the cost of losing someone like Brent. How much is a life worth?

There is hope... during my last movie, we had already done 16 hours in a smoky bar. The next scene scheduled for our day was an exterior of an actor leaving the bar. This would have required a company move outside, time to film it, and then time to wrap, clearly putting us well over the 20-hour mark. The gaffer on that job asked me if I felt we needed to get that exterior shot. I indicated to him that those additional shots could easily be covered with a 2nd unit on another day. So, when the A.D. asked gaffer and key grip if the union would be OK to continue the shoot day, the gaffer said NO, the crew was done. So we wrapped and went home. I was happy that the gaffer stood his ground and put his crew first... and most importantly production listened to him.

There are also several famous directors and producers that run such an efficient schedule they rarely put in long days. (I have yet to work with those guys...but knowing they are out there is a good thing!)

So, to those of you reading this, do me a favor. Whether you work in the film industry or not, remember if you are leaving a job exhausted…grab a caffeinated beverage, run cool air in the car, roll the window down and blast the radio.

Better yet, book a hotel.

Doctors say losing sleep can have the same effect on response time and driving skills as someone driving under the influence of alcohol. Take precautions. I want you to be around to comment on my next post!

"The Longest Day" an article about Brent in Time Magazine

Video from Haskell Wexler Who Needs Sleep:


Devon Ellington said...

I think after a certain stretch, it becomes a point of diminishing return. Mistakes are made, tempers are short.

I know I'm most productive early in the day; I'm useless in afternoons. I'm great again in the evening(because of all those years in theatre).

I dip between 11 and midnight.

If I make it past midnight, I'm good until 2 or 3 a.m., but beyond that . . .uh, uh. And not if I've been there since 6:30 in the morning.

If bean counters could learn to look at the big picture instead of looking at each day, they'd wind up saving money with fresh crews.

That's why more below the line people like us need to become producers -- we need producers who've actually worked their way up on sets, not those who move in from corporate jobs.

This problem is really prevalent in theatre now -- producers haven't worked their way up in the business. They have no idea what anyone needs to do their jobs. They make decisions by looking at a piece of paper, not from any knowledge of how a production works.

My twenty-three cents.

Azurgrip said...

Same issues here in Canada. Crews (and unions - IA) don't want to piss off producers and lose future work, so most grin and bear it and enjoy the overtime (however we just lost triple time in some of our contracts).

I'm told we still have the best contract in North America, but the new "Low Budget - Independent Contract" has brought us down to new lows. The usual - cost of living goes up and the rates go down. Not enough work to go around...

whoops! sorry! Rant mode off...

Scripty said...

Devon: Thanks for your 23 cents! I agree, it has to be a diminishing return at some point. We all get sooo tired!

I perform best on a split 11A to 11p...overnights kill me 5p to 5A= brutal!

Azurgrip: Thanks for stopping by and your comments regarding film in Canada. I think everyone is feeling "the cost of living goes up and the rates go down. Not enough work to go around..."

I know I am!

Feel free to rant anytime! Thanks!

digital scripty said...

I just worked on a show that was an hour and a half away. I knew if I drove back and forth I would only get about 3-4 hours of sleep each night. Production wouldn't pay for my hotel since I was within the production zone. I decided it wasn't worth losing my life and booked hotel rooms for 3 weeks. I'm glad I did. Even with being close to set, I still only got 5 hours of sleep a night.

editorJH said...

Some of the colleges aren't helping in this area either. The film department at my school isn't so bad about giving students too much work that they have to sacrifice sleep. Still, one of my professors have said my classmate and my class at large, "You're young, you only need 4 hours of sleep a night. Develop this script in that extra time, but film the other one."

My roommate has it worse. She's in interior design and she's in her studio all the time. Very frequently they'd pull all nighters and go days without sleep, just to get their workload done. It's drilled into the students that to be productive and employable, that they must forgo sleep and work all the time. It is sick and unhealthy to encourage this kind of mentality. Everyone likes to brag about how little sleep they've gotten or how they pull all-nighters all the time. I feel my college should be responsible to do their part in discouraging this type of behavior. They should promote healthy living, so that when the students move onto their careers, they will also promote healthy choices in the workplace as well.

I'm surprised there isn't a "Brent's Rule" already. I wholeheartedly support it. No one should die from such an unnecessary death either from heart failure or an accident caused from sleep deprivation. I hope more people become aware of this danger.

Christine said...

I just stumbled on your blog a couple days ago and I'm glad I did.

While I'm an actor, I fell into this role as scripty a few months ago and found that I really like it...and the producers and AD and DP liked me too. :)

Reading the sad article on TIMES made me grateful for the non-union gig I worked that strictly stayed within 12 hours. Also, had to point out that a scripty's death is mentioned in this article too.

Thanks again for your blog.

Scripty said...

Hi Christine! Thanks for stopping by the site! I'm glad your production stayed to 12 hour days. It's so very important to remember how dangerous long days can be!