Advocates are sounding the alarm about working conditions in the film industry and two popular Vancouver actors are sharing their support.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) recently announced that it is preparing for a nationwide strike authorization vote citing unsafe working hours, poor wages for workers in the lowest-paid crafts, and inadequate breaks. It also noted that workers on some “new media" streaming projects are paid less, despite working on productions with equivalent budgets.
Vancouver resident Kerri Coombs is a member of IATSE Local 891 — the union representing over 9,000 film production workers in B.C. and the Yukon. She started working in film in 1999 when she was in her twenties but left the industry for about 10 years. When she returned to it in her forties, she says she suffered severe depression.
"I was suicidally depressed," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome. "Along the way, I lost so many friends. You'll be at work and you get obituaries emailed to you in the middle of your workday. And you may learn someone you were just talking to yesterday and [was] totally fine is now gone.
"I've never seen that in any other industry."
Coombs has compiled a spreadsheet of data collected from available obituaries published by two large IATSE locals — one in Vancouver and one in Toronto — but she notes that it is "a really small data set." Some film departments are not included in the data and she underscores that it is not a scientific study. Regardless, she says it speaks to some serious issues in the industry.
The data shows the life expectancy of each person based on their date of birth, their gender, their department, the age they died, their date of birth and death, and how many years they worked in the industry. The Vancouver sample size is 137 people: 111 men and 26 women. The Canadian average life expectancy is shown as 68.56 years while the Vancouver film worker's expectancy is 9.48 years less, or 59.08 years.
Interestingly, the Toronto local's data also showed that film workers have a lower life expectancy than the Canadian average. Based on a data set of 249 workers, 223 men and 26 women, the average life expectancy was 7.08 years less.
Daniela Saioni, a Toronto-based script supervisor and comedy screenwriter, sent Coombs Toronto's IATSE Local 873 obituary data that she used to prepare for an upcoming YouTube video "In Praise of the 8 to 10 Hour Shoot Day." She tells V.I.A. that one of the most significant findings from the data is the percentage of transportation workers who died before their sixtieth birthday.
"What you can’t tell from the way the data is laid out in the Toronto table is that [20 per cent] of those who died before their sixtieth birthday belongs to one department: transport," she explains.
"This is significant because they work the longest hours."
Transport workers are not represented in the Vancouver data because they are represented by Teamsters Union Local 155 in B.C. and the Yukon, rather than IATSE, added Saioni. "In Toronto, we are all in the same local."
"There's nothing more important to our overall health and longevity than sleep."
Solaris Fatigue Management President Mike Harnett was interviewed for a documentary film on working conditions in the film industry entitled Safe Sets, which is still in production. In a mass survey of film workers with over 2200 respondents, she tells V.I.A. that lack of sleep represents a significant risk to film workers and the general public.
"The biggest factor is they have ridiculously long schedules that are not conducive to allowing people to get the recuperative sleep they need," she explains.
In most cases, the film crew will work upwards of 12 hour days. In worst-case scenarios, she notes that they may work 20 hours a day, depending on the shoots.
"We have situations where I like to call it 'sleep bulimia' — where they will work ridiculous hours and then try to make up for it when they get a break between the next production that they go to," she notes. "But our body isn't designed like that. Our body is designed to get a minimum of somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep every day."
If they don't get proper, recuperative sleep, Harnett says workers may experience a range of health consequences and also put their colleagues at risk, particularly if they work in departments such as lighting, transportation, or are involved in stunts.
When asked if implementing a midday nap may replenish tired employees, Harnett says it won't make up for a continued pattern of poor sleeping habits.
"We need to get a consolidated block of seven to nine hours. You can not do a couple of hours. You're not going to make up for lack of sleep by napping all the time."
There's a very strong connection between mental health and sleep, adds Harnett. "There's nothing more important to our overall health and longevity than sleep."
Harnett notes that the biggest risk to all film workers is the drive home. After staying awake for that extended period of time, she says they are more likely to have a fatigue-related crash.
"You have lost so many good people who have fallen asleep at the wheel and died," she explains. "You've gone into a micro-sleep and you don't know that you're about to crash."
Seth Rogen and Ryan Reynolds share support
Vancouver's own Hollywood heavyweights Seth Rogen and Ryan Reynolds have shared their support for film workers.
On Sept. 22, Rogen took to Twitter to state that "our films and movies literally would not exist without our crews, and our crews deserve better." The funnyman also joked that it might have been a little "early" in the day for him when he wrote that because he meant to say "film and TV."
Ryan Reynolds also shared his support for film workers in an Instagram story, although he didn't have to edit his first attempt à la Rogen.Numerous other actors have shared similar messages including Ben Stiller, Kerry Washington, Jane Fonda, and more.