STATEMENT - Conrad Hall (2002)

The Conrad Hall Statement

In autumn of 2002 Conrad Hall ASC spread the following statement amongst his colleague cinematographers

«As Directors of Photography, our responsibility is to the visual image of the film as well as the well-being of our crew. We strive to explore the language of cinematography and the art of story telling. The expanding practice of working extreme hours seriously compromises both the quality of our work and the health and safety of others. I believe it is my obligation and the obligation of every Director of Photography to oppose a practice that compromises our creative ability as well as the health and well-being of every member of the crew»

A number of cinematographers have signed and supported Conrad Hall's personal statement during Camerimage 2002, just a few weeks before he died.
Conrad Hall, ASC, one of Hollywood’s most renowned cinematographers, had earlier that year, photographed “Road to Perdition” where the crew had not only worked extremely long hours, but alternated between shooting days and then shooting nights, a difficult adjustment for the human body to endure after several weeks or months.

Vilmos Zsigmond, HSC - ASC,
presented Conrad Hall's statement to Camerimage in Łodz in December 2002, in order to bring international attention to this issue and gain support from Directors of Photography worldwide.

Haskell Wexler, ASC
“Working excessive hours is the scandal of the American movie business, which is being quickly exported all over the world wherever American companies work.”

Vittorio Storaro, AIC-ASC
As CINEMATOGRAPHER, our responsibility is to the visual image as well as the well being of our crew. We strive to explore the language of cinematography and the art of story telling. The expanding practice of working extreme hours seriously compromises both the quality of our work and the health and safety of others. I believe it is my obligation and the obligation of every Cinematographer around the world to oppose a practice that compromises our creative ability as well as the health and well being of every member of the crew.

Roger Deakins, BSC - ASC
“Many cinematographers are quite naturally uneasy when it comes to ‘complaining’ about the hours that crews are expected to work these days. Like me, I am sure they feel privileged to be able to work in a profession they love and do not want to do or say anything that could jeopardize their position. Fuelled by such passion, I have myself been guilty of pushing the crew to work long hours when I wish to make use of particular light or I am struggling to make a particularly difficult shot. But there has to be a balance here between the demands of the production and the health and safety of the crew.
Of course, one’s ability to work to ones full creative potential is compromised by fatigue, but it is the health and safety of everyone on the crew that should be of uppermost concern.
I have been relatively lucky over the years and only infrequently have I experienced a shoot on which I would consider the hours to have been extreme. But then within an industry where a 12 to 14 hour day is considered quite normal, a 16 to 18 hr day is long and even 20 to 22 hr days are not altogether unusual anymore, what really should be considered extreme? Would most people not consider it ‘extreme’ to begin work on a Monday morning at 6 am, work the Friday of that week as a night shoot until 6 am on the Saturday and then begin shooting again on the Monday at 6 am. And this schedule can often continue for many consecutive weeks.
The cinematographer is in an invidious position. On his shoulders falls the responsibility to maintain a schedule regardless of what disasters might befall a production whilst maintaining the quality of image making for which he was hired and which (not least of all) gives him his own personal satisfaction. At the same time, he is head of the shooting crew and it is this responsibility which is perhaps the most onerous and most important in human terms.

John Lindley, ASC Director of Photography on “Pleasantville” wrote this letter in 2002:
“Four years ago on March 6th, 1997, after working a 19 hour day on “Pleasantville” as a second assistant cameraperson, Brent Herschman fell asleep at the wheel of his car and was killed. In the days and weeks after his death a union-sponsored petition circulated throughout the industry calling for an end to the routine practice of working excessively long hours. Every business agent spoke out against abusive hours worked by craftspeople in production as well as post production. But what has happened? Today our member’s lives are more at risk with 16, 18, or 19 hours as an acceptable working day. IATSE President Tom Short went from saying at the funeral “Excessively long work days place our members’ lives at risk” to “our boys want the overtime” and put those Brent’s Rule petitions away never to be seen again.
Long hours is the Number One safety issue in the motion picture industry. Safety is everybody’s business. Some might feel with the tough work situation and runaway problem it is not the right time to improve working conditions. Apparently there hasn’t been a good time in the last four years, even as the studios were banking record high profits.
Our lives, our safety, our health are not union bargaining chips, they should not be negotiable. I don’t care if some members choose to breathe asbestos to make overtime, our health and safety is not for sale.”

This is a letter that was published in the trade magazines in Hollywood…..

“TO ALL WORKERS FROM THE CREW OF ‘PLEASANTVILLE’
Four years ago our friend, camera assistant, Brent Hershman, was killed in a car crash after working a 19 hour day.
We, the crew of Pleasantville, pledged to speak the truth about unsafe, unhealthy,
Since Brent’s death, 15, 16, 19 hour shoots are routine. We have all experienced a ‘lost weekend’ which abuses us and the families for whom we work. In Brent’s memory, we ask all our film community to dedicate a work free weekend to our family and friends.
WE ASK PRODUCTION COMPANIES TO SCHEDULE NO MORE THAN 12 HOURS WORK ON MARCH 16th.

Henry Cline, camera operator, made the following statement in 2002….
“It is no secret that fatigue is a health and safety concern. On large studio driven films, the studios make the calls. Except for a small group of powerful line producers, middle-management works in fear of the studio boss. Once a project gets behind schedule the missing days are generally unaccounted for on any schedule or report.
It is better to keep shooting now matter how many hours rather than notify the studio and force the simple decision-shoot more days or cut scenes.
It has been a very bad time for many of us which certainly has helped to create an environment where people feel uncomfortable asking for anything and are less inclined to enter into a battle for what they deserve.
The group of people that bonded together as a result of Brent Herschman’s avoidable death worked many years to try and find a way to spread the word about the dangers in the motion picture workplace. It has been a difficult journey which started out with broad popular support and soon atrophied into complete disinterest. I hope in my hear of hearts and the hears of others that it will not remain so forever.

Garrett Brown, Director of Photography and Steadicam inventor adds
“Long hours are a triumph of the middle management weenies with lap tops that massage the numbers to impress their bosses but the practice is destructive to art as well as to body and spirit”.

Pierre Lhomme, AFC
“I believe we should pay great attention to this debate amongst our colleagues in the US because the virus came to us from American productions and is gaining momentum over our continent. It is our health and our quality of life that is at risk.”

“Au cours d’une réunion d’Imago à Lodz, on a pu mesurer l’impact du constat de Conrad Hall. Je crois qu’il faut apporter une grande attention à des débuts de ras-le-bol chez nos collègues des USA car le virus nous est venu des productions américaines et gagne petit à petit notre continent. C’est de notre santé et de la qualité de notre vie professionnelle qu’il est question.
Dans un film de Philippe de Broca des années 60, Daniel Boulanger faisait dire au «farceur»
«Il ne faudrait pas perdre sa vie à la gagner…. »
Je crois que l’AFC, sans se substituer à nos syndicats, ne peut pas éluder ce problème.

Willy Kurant, AFC - ASC
«Exemple-type d’une journée de travail de D.P. aux USA:
Lever 05 h 30; sur le plateau 07 h ; arrêt lunch à 7+6 = 13 h
Reprise 13 h 30
Arrêt normal 19h30 (très rare) arrêt presque HABITUEL : 21h30 ou 22h30
Projections des rushes
Si film: / trajet labo 30 min + projection 1 h + retour 45 min
Si cassettes: projection rushes 1h + retour
Sommeil, sans voir ses enfants, sa femme ou son mari entre 22h30 et 23h30 complètement épuisé.

Un système qui consiste à faire travailler des techniciens, réalisateurs, acteurs de 12 à 16 heures par jour sur des longs métrages ou des télé films est inhumain….infantile et dangereux. Lorsque je suis arrivé aux USA, j’étais fort surpris que personne ne prévienne l’équipe qu’on dépasserait… cela semblait normal aux producteurs…puisque on payait les gens.
Les syndicats…puisque on payait OVERTIME…n’avaient jamais inclus de normes horaires réelles. Certains techniciens…grips, sparks, étaient favorables aux heures supplémentaires, vu l’argent que cela leur rapportait, un problème qui n’est pas inconnu en France !!
On a vu des hommes ou des femmes aux yeux rougis de fatigue mourir sur la route en s’endormant au volant en rentrant chez eux.

Conrad Hall qui vient de disparaître, avait lancé une campagne contre ces abus.
Notre soutien (LA VIEILLE EUROPE) est total. Nous ne pouvons pas être créatifs aux cadences des sweat-shops d’immigrants au siècle passé dans une industrie qui brasse des millions.
Notre santé morale, physique, psychique est en danger. Hélas, la contagion de ce système atteint l’Europe malgré des lois assez fortes dans nos pays…souvent menacés de délocalisation, car la «nouvelle Europe» les ex-pays du bloc communiste, permettent tout et plus.
Notre désir d’aider les productions dans des moments difficiles, notre ardeur au travail n’est pas en cause mais ces conditions de travail dégradantes et improductives nuisent à tous réalisateurs, acteurs, techniciens et producteurs intègres.

Vilmos Zsigmond, HSC - ASC
At Camerimage, I gave everyone who was there a copy of Conrad’s statement - people from Spain, Mexico, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, England, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and they all said, “This is what we really want.” But they actually accused Americans of coming into Europe and making them work these long hours, but that may be not 100% true. It sounds to me like they do it themselves. Maybe the Americans started it and now the local producers caught on and thought “Good Idea, let’s kill these people!”
No, I really think we have a problem when we push too much at the hours, and we really should do something about it because after 12 hours, the artistic quality of the is sharply reduced. You cannot think anymore, you cannot do your job as well as before; all you are doing is saving money for the producers but the end result on the film is not as good. We should have 12 hours turnaround (like the actors have) and we should only work a 5 day week. Otherwise you don’t have a rest period, you just keep grinding away. Where is the quality? Apparently nobody cares anymore as long as the product is there, they can throw it in the theaters, spending millions of dollars on advertising the film, and people are watching shit on the screen, Is this an art form? What is it? What is movie making? Is it making art or is it making money?

Haskell Wexler, ASC, continues….
“So the question is, Why, when something that has been proven medically, scientifically, and practically, in human terms to be so corrosive, so damaging, so unsafe, does this continue? How is it possible, when everyone is aware of how destructive this is to our health and how dangerous this is to our lives, that working long hours not only continues in Hollywood and all over America, but has spread to other parts of the world? Total silence has fallen upon this community with regard to this issue. In fact, it is being ignored. On a TV show a very honest, intelligent producer was asked what producers would want to see happen about this? and he replied “We just want the whole issue to quietly go away” …. and that’s just what it did.

After Brent Herschman was killed, meetings were held with elected representatives of the different motion picture guilds and unions, sitting across the table with lawyers and representatives of the movie studios (owned by multinational corporations), and it was the first time that all the various guilds and unions agreed on any one issue at the same time. This coalition threatened the producers, as if their power and authority was being undermined. They won’t allow anyone to tamper with their managerial flexibility.
On top of that, the union bosses started making statements that the membership actually wanted to work these hours to make the overtime.
One compromise producers made was to offer paying for motel rooms for the crew instead of driving home, but in practice, no one wanted to admit they were too tired, and they didn’t want to be singled out thinking that same production manager won’t hire them on the next film.
The other offer was to work ‘French hours’ which was presented in the U.S. as having no official meal breaks, but having a running buffet where you could eat or take refreshment when you wanted to. So instead of a 12 hour minimum day, you had a 10 hour minimum. But ‘French hours’ never worked either.

Before any film is made, the heads of all departments are called together for a safety meeting. They tell us things like- "Don't go around the back of a helicopter, don't jump on the camera car when it is moving, only 8 people on the camera car, be careful when using certain smokes because they are toxic, etc."
If you know that a hazardous situation exists, you are supposed to make that statement and the authority on the set is supposed to deal with it. When I mentioned the word 'fatigue' was missing from the report, the reply was "we don't have that", meaning fatigue is not included as a hazardous factor.
Medical evidence shows that cognitive thought and reasoning is impaired when someone is sleep deprived: all the common sense and knowledge of safety one has learned over the years- things that your mind would normally tell you NOT to do, just doesn't register. So, in practice, this safety meeting is a sort of charade that is meant to protect the production companies from lawsuits.

Research studies carried out by N.A.S.A., the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago to cite just a few sources, have documented and proved that sleep deprivation is extremely detrimental to one’s ability to think and to function. Furthermore, there is severe cognitive damage over long periods of time, and there is evidence linking too little sleep to high blood pressure and elevated level of stress hormones that may raise the risk of heart disease.
When sleep-deprived, the human brain has an impaired ability to judge what is safe or prudent. Accidents are happening regularly in the motion picture industry because we work in a profession where special effects, stunts, high speed chaser, helicopter shots, and explosions are the norm. Add to the equation, people working while extremely tired and worn down, who aren’t as alert as they should be, but still operating large cranes, heavy tools, machinery, and equipment, and you have all the ingredients for a dangerous situation.

On a social and human level, family life, particularly in America is being destroyed. We uniformly work Friday all day and work well into Saturday, known as the “lost weekend”. The worker returns home Saturday morning and tries to catch up on his sleep during the day, having little or no time to see his family before returning to work Monday morning at 6 a.m. During night shoots, everyone is encouraged to drink lots of coffee, but that is not strong enough. The guys have to take No-Doze to stay awake. More common than amphetamines, are the sleeping pills they need to take once they get home to fall asleep, because the body cannot just automatically switch off and fall asleep and in a few hours the alarm rings, and it’s time to get ready for the next day’s work.

A sleep deprived person is more impaired than someone who is considered to be, in legal terms, drunk or "under the influence". You don’t know what is happening to your body, and there is no warning signal – suddenly the lights just go out and your body just shuts down and you fall asleep at the wheel of your car. It happened to me a few years ago after working long hour days consecutively. When I woke up, I was upside down in my El Camino truck on the 101 freeway hearing the paramedics announce that I probably wasn’t alive. On the last picture I photographed, “61”, someone asked the crew members how many of you are falling asleep driving home – and everyone put their hands up. Even the director of “61”, Billy Crystal, fell asleep driving home in his Porsche. Fortunately, gravel on the side of the road woke him up in time.
Billy Crystal is very sensitive to the whole issue, but he, too, was given a schedule that no incredibly organized and experienced director could ever do in the time allotted. Everyone, in every department, is against this practice.

People who really know the business know it is not really filmically productive. When you start a day that will last 16 hours and finish when the sun is coming up, everything slows down, like a long distance runner, the worker saves his energy and slows down the pace. But the producer doesn’t compute this into the equation when they make the schedules out.
In this harsh economic climate, people consider themselves lucky even to be working, especially in the movie business which is thought to be glamorous and privileged. Producers take advantage of the fact that we love what we do.

American workers are brainwashed into believing that the purpose in life is to earn a living, to be able to buy things. Being a consumer is thought to make you feel worthwhile. What you buy makes you a person. In the U.S., you live to work, whereas in other countries, people work in order to live. Here, living is deferred.
There is no question that sleep deprivation is dangerous, but it persists and producers will continue to insist that it is necessary. In essence, what you have is a greedy culture taking an aggressive and hostile stance against people who work for a living. We are not in a business finding a cure for cancer, we are making entertainment, working in one of the most profitable businesses in the world.”

In February 2003, the members of the American Society of Cinematographers once again discussed the statement issued by Conrad Hall which up until then, had been refused official recognition and endorsement.

Richard Crudo, President of the ASC,
“The ASC Board of Governors is unanimous in its support of the sentiment brought forth by Conrad Hall’s statement. It is in no way considered an infringement upon any labor or union issue. To the contrary, it is recognized here in the U.S. as a health, safety and artistic issue.
As such, it is well within our rights to promote it among both the public at large and every other cinematographer’s association around the world. Indeed, I consider it a responsibility to do so.”

Kurt Brazda Austria AAC President
“Fighting for human working condition has to be a general demand of all of us in a period, were human dignity is sold in the field of fast profit.

But we are faced with increasing fear caused in pressure by the managements of the production companies. The threat of loosing job and immediately substitution makes people ready for working till physical and psychical breakdown. It is easy to keep principles for those, who are prominent and respected and continuously in job. But what about the others, who suffer under the obvious decrease of production volumes and the loose of professionalism, the older colleagues, who do not get any more chance, the young beginners, which get more and more abused in their ambitions.

It is not easy to stand against this cynicism. A lot of courage is needed. I think that dop’s generally are in a privileged position, so that one could require this courage. They have influence in shaping working conditions in order to their special position in production hierarchy.

Let us say “NO”, if we recognize, that members of our team get pressed, because they are not in the condition to offer resistance.
We should also consider a kind of “job sharing” to give dop’s, who are workless, also a chance and we should frequent recommend young colleagues to make possible for them a professional beginning of career.

Changing working conditions starts first in changing our own behavior.

Conrad’s statement should be a request for Imago to concentrate more on this topic.”

Kurt Brazda Austria AAC President
“The phenomenon we have to deal with is a typical symptom of a general degeneration of human
values. Following some deplorable working conditions in the 19th century, large improvements have been achieved in Europe during the 20th century, securing workers a decent way of living that seems to be imperishable. At the beginning of the 21st century, human beings and their social rights are in a very low ranking, where economical needs and profit become the centre of interest.
Why should it be different in our metier?
One way to prevent this development is refusing collectively inhuman working conditions, even though one looses income with such a decision. Complementary to this, it is indispensable to secure human values through harmonised legislations – and the control of their efficiency – at least in Europe. Both ways should be supported by societies of cinematographers and this has to be a raison d’être of IMAGO. Especially experienced and renowned DPs should give an example and teach younger colleagues that total submission to the world of profit is neither a good beginning of a career nor a proof of professional qualification.”
Bvk statement on working hours
“We totally agree with Conrad Hall’s statement concerning excessive working hours. Although the problem has existed for many years, possibly even from the beginning of film being considered as a business, an industy rather than an art. Business implies making money and profits for those who finance films and making films has always been expensive. We should, however, not deny that there also is a certain part of self-exploitation involved by those who do the creative work. We will all agree that the reasons lie in our artistic ambition and the urge for success in our careers.
In the recent years, due to the economic crisis in Germany’s film industry, this process has accelerated to an by now unbearable extent: For reasons I will explain later, the routine of shooting today has led to normally 12 to 14, sometimes 16 hours (and in certain documented cases) even longer. The legally requested turnaround of 11 hours is very often ignored or solved by the production by extra payment on the hand to strong union-supported groups such as the electricians and grips. Generally it is very hard for, say, a camera assistant to insist on a contract that contains overtime pay.
A few basic dates ruled by tariff agreements between producers being organized in the Federal Association of German Television Producers, the largest organisation and the only really relevant group and the German union IG Medien. One must observe that not all persons on both sides are members respectively.
The weekly wages are based on a 5 day week with 40 working hours. On certain days up to 4 hours can be added, not exceeding 50 hours. Overtime pay has to be agreed upon in a separate written agreement in the contract (it is not routine!). If the working time exceeds 12 hours, the working person has to agree to this. (This does not automatically lead to overtime payment, unless there is a written paragraph in the individual contract.)
Lunch break should be - and generally is – 30 minutes.
A 6th or 7th day is considered separately and generally paid, unless the working person has agreed to a lump sum for the entire film.
The basic wage includes work up to 50 hours a week, in the union tariff overtime pay is set as follows:
51st to 55th hour:- 30%56th to 60th hour: - 35%each additional hour: 70%
As already mentioned above, the sounds alright in theory. In the daily practice, only a person or very high standing is in a position to push hard enough to find these conditions in his individual contract.”

K.Ramachandra Babu, ISC India- President
“In our Indian Film Industry we toil for 16 – 18 hours a day, 7 days a week continuously for 40 – 50 days at a stretch. Deprived of proper sleep and rest, a lot of damage is being done to our health as well as all the crew members. All over the world, in any kind of industry, people work for only 8 hours with an hour's rest period included. They have their weekly holidays too! But in our film industry we don't even have proper lunch breaks or rest periods and we don't have a single holiday either and we still slog on for 16 to 18 hours for days together. This is happening on a regular basis in spite of Film making being given the status of an Industry by the Government. No other Industry tolerates such long working hours. This is also a major cause of accidents happening in the film sets. Many lives were lost and much more injured in accidents that happen on the sets and when the drivers of the vehicles fell asleep while returning from sleepless film shootings. It is high time that some sort of reform is brought about to curb this unhealthy practice.

We the Members of INDIAN SOCIETY OF CINEMATOGRAPHERS fully endorse and support the following statement by Conrad L.Hall, ASC, on humane working conditions in the Film Industry.

Our Indian Society of Cinematographers as Associate Member of IMAGO do hereby show our solidarity with our fellow Cinematographers' Societies by signing the following statement of IMAGO :

"We believe that professional organizations must declare a commitment to art, in the belief that film-making is still an art form that brings lasting cultural values. IMAGO was founded to make the industry and the public aware of how important these artistic values are to us as professional cinematographers. We believe we must safeguard these values from ultimate compromise in the final cultural product- the film, as it is well known that less creative or quality work is achieved when the number of working hours is excessively long. The health and safety of our cinematographers, some with 20-30 years experience, must be protected against this exploitation for selfish financial interests."