Dead Tired


Published Jul 28, 2006 2:16 PM

Actors, experts, executives and others give their support for film crew safety
in a new documentary.

If you think filmmaking is glamorous, you may want to check out the documentary Who Needs Sleep? Produced by UCLA alumna Tamara Maloney M.F.A. '04 and written and directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC, Who Needs Sleep? lays bare one of Hollywood's uglier truths: film crews are worked to the point of exhaustion.

Long hours on the set — 12, 14, 16 hours and more — wreak havoc on personal lives and occasionally worse. The jumping-off point for Wexler's film is the 1997 death of Brent Hershman, an assistant cameraman on the feature film Pleasantville. Hershman was driving home after a 19-hour day on the set when he fell asleep at the wheel, struck a utility pole and died.

Stirred to action over what they viewed as an entirely preventable death, Hershman's friends launched a campaign to bring a measure of humanity to the Hollywood workday. "Everybody knew about Brent Hershman. People were upset and ready to take action," Maloney said. More than 10,000 denizens of moviedom — from marquee names like Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks to camera operators and others on the lower rungs of the ladder — signed a "Brent's Rule" petition urging producers to limit shooting days to 14 hours. Among the chief agitators for change was Wexler, an Oscar winner for Bound for Glory and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

For a while, it looked like Hershman's death would not be in vain. Unions and guilds united behind the cause. Workers were roused to righteous anger and "never again" was the rallying cry. Studios, for whom the long workday is a deeply entrenched ethos, became worried.