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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who Needs Sleep?

Having been laid off by dint of the strike, a friend of mine is working props on a major feature film starring Shia Labeouf. She's so glad to have the work but the shoot has been grueling. Long, long days, late nights, swing shifts, out in the rain - making a movie is a bitch when you're below the line.

What does "below the line" mean? Those are the jobs governed by IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). Simply put, IATSE is the union for the crew: gaffers, property masters, makeup, wardrobe, etc. and I'm leaving out dozens of specific jobs, but as IATSE puts it, these are the "technicians and artisans". Most people think about the "above the line" positions: directors, actors, writers, producers, but those jobs are outnumbered by far by the crew. If you ever get the chance to visit either a television set or the set of a major motion picture shoot, you'll be absolutely gobsmacked by the small army of crew present. Small army actually doesn't quite do the sight justice.

Recently, my friend loaned me her copy of WHO NEEDS SLEEP , a documentary by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, which premiered at Sundance in 2006. The doc offers a fascinating, disturbing inside look at the way the Industry works, particularly below the line. Crew members work grueling, often dangerous hours in the name of producorial budgets and deadlines, i.e., the bottom line. Many crew members have lost their lives due to a lack of sleep, working 15 and 18 hour days. And yes, they get overtime, but it's not really a choice. The dominant attitude is - if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. There are hundreds of people standing in line who would love to work in "Hollywood". So it's a pretty serious situation. Sets are notoriously dangerous places, not to mention driving back home to your family after three successive 15 hour days.

It may be long time - if ever - when the ethos of being worked this hard changes in Hollywood. But what about the rest of us, who do have some control over our sleep hours?

I had dinner with a dear friend and Rouge Waver the other evening who was devastated by insomnia leaving him with 2 to 3 hours of sleep each night for some time. Sleep and how much we need versus how much we get, has been creeping into the media as a hot topic. Just look how many books come up at Amazon simply by searching for "sleep"

I am fascinated by the genesis of not sleeping enough - the advent of electricity combined with a macho sense that, well, who needs sleep? We can get more done, we can be more productive - we don't need to be a wuss and fall into a soft bed for - gasp - sleep! Untrue. The hours of sleep necessary to function fully are pretty much non-negotiable as far as your body is concerned. And what's really interesting is that sleep deprivation is cumulative over time. In other words, if you, for whatever reason, get 3 or 4 hours of sleep every night for three nights and then 12 hours for the next few nights to make up for it - you don't make up for it. You still have a sleep deficit.

The fact is, when you are rested, you are more productive during the day - leaving more time for sleep. So not getting enough sleep is a wicked cycle. You stay up late trying to get more done and start each new day with a sleep deficit leaving you much less productive - even if you are not cognizant of that fact - creating a need to stay up later to get more done.

Sleep is not lazy, sleep is restorative and necessary. As writers, our unconscious works while we sleep. We can dream up stories, ideas and solutions to something we're already working on.

Do you make time to sleep, Wavers? Or do you push the limits?

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Tavis said...

Now might be a good time to suggest films that will put you to sleep.

My recent pick: Transformers.

I know it was loud and action-packed, but I found myself nodding off.

Julie Gray said...

LOL Tavis - I can't remember offhand a movie that put me to sleep but when I was in the theater watching the Sands of Iwo Jima (sp?) this older man a couple rows over fell asleep and snored audibly! Can't say as I blamed him. I have had close calls; theaters are dark and sometimes warm and stuffy, plus all that white noise...

Why do they keep most theaters so cold though, that's what I want to know!

Geena said...

Worker exploitation is a winning script theme. It may not excite a producer,
but it can help break through that contest reader question of 'Why should I care about this person?"

Does not everyone have empathy for the honest cab driver? "In America"
Remember the workers in "Dirty Pretty Things"? I bet you do.

It won't be long till an ensemble style, we're all tied together movie comes out ( probaly already and I missed it ) using worker globalization as the bond.
Much like CRASH with race, BABEL - culture-language, SYRIANA - geopolitics.

Think I'll spend a lot of energy on this, thinking up a story.