I’m guilty of violating what I’m about to say, and there are always exceptions, but you will end up with a much better production that will cost you less if you keep your filming day to 12 hours or less.
In both the US and UK a studio work day is about 12 hours (which with lunch can translate easily into 12 1/2 to 13 hours per day, plus an additional one or two hours for crew members.) There are always exceptions, but here are 4 good reasons why a film day, even among independent filmmakers, should be 12 hours or less.
1. It Establishes Professionalism
The main reason films go over 12 hours is because of the lack of planning. Most scenes follow a formula. It will take a certain amount of time for makeup, setup, and rehearsing a scene before shooting it. All of this should be factored into the scene before anyone walks onto a set. Additionally, the complexity of a scene, number of actors, how many script pages it covers, the number of cameras needed, various shots and angles, should all be factored in. Then, some additional time should be considered for flubbed or forgotten lines. But all of these factors can be planned in advance that will give an estimated amount of time it will take for a scene to be filmed. If as a filmmaker you plan for all of this for each scene you will establish professionalism for your film because it is what the professionals do.
2. It Costs Less
One of the most used reasons for cramming 12 hours or less into 14 hours or more concerns money. Actors, locations, sets all cost. So the thought is if we can film longer it will cost less. But the truth is it will cost more. A number of years ago Robert P. Schneider, an experienced Hollywood line producer with over 50 years experience, had an idea. He re-budgeted a multimillion dollar film based on a 12 hours camera day (not counting set ups) for 17 weeks to an 8 hour camera day (not counting set ups) and 20 weeks. To his surprise, the bottom line came in over a million dollars cheaper. Schneider and his wife Yudi Bennett formed the company Budgets By Design and have worked on films such as Dead Man Walking, Fight Club, American Beauty, and The Nutty Professor, and has worked with directors such as Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins, David Fincher, and Sidney Lumet. Reasonable hours equal lower cost just as saving time equates to saving money.
3. It Produces Better Quality
When people are tired (not to mention after a few days they are near exhaustion) they move more slowly, and do not think as clearly. When people are refreshed they move faster, think faster, and have more energy. This all plays into a better quality film. Makeup does not have to spend time in trying to remove red from weary actor’s eyes. Reaction times are faster. Mistakes are fewer. The atmosphere is better. The performance is stronger. Veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood will not shoot over 12 hours a day for the simple reason that people are not as creative after long periods of time. You get the most from cast and crew when you have a well rested cast and crew.
4. It Saves Lives
Rest is healthy. Exhaustion is unhealthy. When the human body is drained it is more susceptible to illnesses. This is reason enough to plan out a shoot and film it within a reasonable about of time per day. But it goes even deeper - lives could be at stake. When crew members are tired they think less clearly which lead to mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can be deadly. Oscar winning filmmaker and cinematographer Haskell Wexler notes the perils of long hours resulting in injuries and death on filmset in his documentary film, Who Needs Sleep? (See link below to watch this film.) Lack of rest and set safety led to the death of Sarah Jones, AC for the film “Midnight Rider” in Georgia in February 2014. It also landed director Randall Miller in jail for a year after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. In 1977 AC Brent Hershman fell asleep while driving home after a 19 hour work day on the film Pleasantville. This led to a petition asking producers to limit shooting days to no more than 14 hours. It was known as “Brent’s Rule” and received over 10,000 signatures from Hollywood professional crew members. As filmmakers when pushing yourself along with cast and crew for long hours day after day ask yourself this question: Is the possible risk to life worth the repeated long hours on set?
There are always exceptions, and most cast and crew members are more than willing to give extra hours every once in a while in order to see a project through to completion. But if you want a professional film, that costs less, and reflects quality work that keeps all involved safe and healthy; consider keeping your shooting hours to 12 hours or less. In the long run you and everyone involved with the film will be glad you did.
WHO NEEDS SLEEP a documentary film by Haskell Wexler