Nine to Five

Does anybody remember working nine to five? The last time I did that on a regular basis was in the late ’70s. I recall that it was a near-blissful experience: a regular work schedule and a genuine life after work every day. That’s never been the rule in post-production but it was once the rule for most of corporate America and, guess what, it profoundly changes your life — and your family’s life.

In France, the standard work week is now 35 hours. Americans can’t believe that. It’s so foreign to us that we just can’t process it.

I remember a meeting of union activists I attended many years ago. We went around the room and talked about things we’d wish for. I said that my main wish was to go home while the sun was still shining. That got a big laugh from everybody. Ha ha! Never happen!

Does what we do really require 14- or 16-hour days? Or is it simply a habit we’ve collectively adopted? The culture is so frenetic and competitive that we can no longer go home at a reasonable hour without feeling that we’re somehow cheating. The only way you can get your life back, it seems, is by working at home — and then you can’t go home at all.

Generations of editors have lived with this work ethic and some have died at their Moviolas, valiantly pushing on. The non-linear revolution hasn’t changed this at all. We bemoan the crisis of values in our culture, the lack of family connections, the alienation. And we keep on working.

Haskel Wexler’s film “Who Needs Sleep” covers this subject in compelling detail. You can buy the DVD here. He’s also started a group called “12 On / 12 Off,” which focuses on creating reasonable work schedules in the film business.

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8 Comments on “Nine to Five”

  1. Liam Says:

    I think a lot of film folk forget about the average Joe…U never hear any oscar winners thanking the fans working minimum wage 40+ hours week who go to see their crumby films. A lot of normal people work 15-16 hours a day just to survive. I always think it is a bit rich when people on decent wages complain about working long hours in comfortable air conditioned offices. Steve being an ACE im sure u are on a wage that would make a lot of people working dead end jobs want to shake their fist at u. Not being an ACE i’m probably not too far behind them! I feel sorry for the PAs and office workers in this industry who do long hours, are demeaned at every possible moment and rarely rewarded for their long hours. There are no whips or chains it is totally your choice to work or not.

  2. Robin Buday Says:

    Call me young and naive, but it’s not work to me yet. I love what I do.

  3. Steve Says:

    Liam — I didn’t mean to make an elitist argument. 16 hours a day is too long for anybody. My comment about 9-5 was simply that this used to be the standard day for all kinds of jobs and that, as a society, we’ve slowly seen our work day lengthened and our lives diminished, as a result. Most of the world lives on a dollar a day or less. Whatever we do, we’re rich by comparison. But I’m not sure that invalidates our own desire to live full lives.

  4. Liam Says:

    I understand where u are coming from Steve, longs hours are terrible and realizing on a Thursday that you are probably going to be working all weekend doesnt make much of a happy camper! usually 16 hours days only happen through lack of preperation or jobs thrusted down our throats at the last minute. I try and avoid the first by setting decent schedules the latter well u cannot bite the hand that feeds u too many times..

  5. Edit Says:

    Folks here are going to be working harder to keep their jobs from getting exported. Nothing will come of it until the day that companies realize that a lot of management type jobs can be exported as well – then you’ll see some *real* complaining and potential for labor reform.

  6. Liam Says:

    Too true, i have been doing some post production quote getting for a feature. i got some fairly standard $20000 quotes for color grading in LA but i also found out from a colleague that an Indian company is charging $2800 and doing a decent job at the same time….scary, no?

  7. Scott Says:

    One thing that many people do not take into account, beyond lifestyle, is that our deals are based on a minimum guaranteed number of hours of overtime. Our “guaranteed gross” is based on 5/10/16 or in the case of editors, 20 hours of OT built in. Do the math and while we are paid reasonably well, our hourly rates are not what they appear to be on the surface.

    -Scott

  8. Steve Says:

    Guaranteed overtime eliminates the problem of getting your overtime paid for, but it has some unintended (or not so unintended) consequences, namely that it raises take home pay without raising your base rate, and also, it increases the standard work week. If you’re working 40 hours, you get overtime after that and there’s an incentive to get you home after 40 hours. If you’re working 45 hours, with 5 of it as “guaranteed overtime,” then you’re now, effectively, working a 45 hour week.


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