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DGA panel to study long workday issue

The Directors Guild of America has appointed a new committee to examine safety issues related to long hours in the entertainment industry, a move that comes as Hollywood crews are circulating a petition calling on the industry to adopt a 14-hour workday.

John Frankenheimer, Michael Mann, Nancy Malone, Jesus Trevino, John Singleton and Howard Storm will make up the committee. Still to be addressed is whether the DGA’s national board will endorse the 14-hour workday proposal.

The crew’s petition proposal — called “Brent’s Rule” — was named for Brent Hershman, a second assistant cameraman on New Line’s “Pleasantville” who was killed in a car accident while driving home after working a 19-hour day.

After that, renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler placed an ad in Daily Variety endorsing the 14-hour maximum day and identifying his cause as the Society for the Humane Treatment of Humans.

‘Completely irresponsible’

“We’re all aware that injury and tragic loss of life have occurred as a result of successive days of extended hours,” said DGA president Gene Reynolds. “It is inhumane and completely irresponsible to deny or rationalize the necessity of addressing this issue. We know there is the strong economic rationale that says we must finish the segment tonight or this week, but there is also the rationale that says regard for life and welfare of our people is primary.”

The DGA in 1984 tried to target the problem of the long workday with a proposal to put an eight-hour-per-day limit on camera time on episodic TV.

But the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers rejected the proposal, presenting a study of episodic TV shows. The study, the AMPTP said at the time, showed that there “is no relationship between accidents and hours worked.” Its study showed that only 11 of the 65 reported accidents in 1983 which resulted in lost work time had occurred after nine hours of shooting on a day.

But others said that what should be studied is the impact of days and even weeks of long hours. Said Reynolds: “It is the successive days.”

“There’s no question there’s no other business in this country where we put up with these kind of hours,” Reynolds said. “There’s always been this dreadful hysteria to get the work done.”

Reynolds remembers the fight that producers put up against switching from a six-day work week to a five-day week in the early 1950s.

“The companies said, ‘You are killing us with this,’ ” Reynolds said. “Somehow they survived.”

The AMPTP could not be reached. But Robert Johnson, vice president of labor relations at the Walt Disney Co., saw a benefit in regular meetings to look at problems with the long workday. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind wants that kind of day,” he said.

Complex issue

But he cautioned that there are no easy answers, pointing out that workdays are extended for a variety of reasons, ranging from bad weather, to an actor’s unexpected demands, to a director working at a slower pace.

“There’s no single factor responsible,” Johnson said. “It is easy to establish the (workday limits) as an objective, but you first have to figure out what you are legislating against.”

He also pointed to another issue: whether stunt work would be rushed to finish within the workday limit.

The AMPTP and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees will next meet on May 20.

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