Who Needs Sleep?
Produced by The Institute for Cinema Studies
Written and Directed by Haskell Wexler
Producer: Tamara M. Maloney
Producer's Associate: Kinga Dobos
Editors: Lisa Leeman, Tamara Maloney
Music: Greg Landau
Ahhh... the glamorous life in Hollywood. Or is it? Film crews routinely work sweatshop hours, often clocking 15 to 18 hour days at the expense of their families, their health, their well-being, and even their lives.
In 1997, after a 19-hour day on the set, assistant cameraman Brent Hershman fell asleep behind the wheel, crashed his car, and died. Deeply disturbed by Hershman's preventable death, filmmaker and multiple-Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler shows how sleep deprivation and long work hours are a lethal combination. WHO NEEDS SLEEP? is a commentary on our quality of life.
With ENGLISH and SPANISH SUBTITLES.
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Hollywood cameraman of fame Haskel Wexler made this movie after he was almost killed in a car crash caused because he was so tired from a too long work day on a movie project he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, which was "totalled" (Wexler survived the crash).
This documentary is the result of Wexler's car crash. It is worth seeing.
Movie making is often dangerous, and not just for "stunt men."
This is true for all people working in an industry where bad labor conditions and practices are commonplace.
Bad work conditions are widely accepted as "unavoidable" and "inevitable." Neither of those conclusions is true.
Making movies under humane and intelligent work conditions is possible, and has been done before in the past.
Labor which cannot be performed under healthy and humane conditions should be refused. It is not sensible or logical to agree to or submit to brutal and unreasonable (and illogical) work conditions whether in the movie industry or in any other industry or enterprise which requires human labor.
Laborers should refuse bad labor conditions, not agree to be part of it or to accept it in any way.
Those who hire laborers have a moral obligation to provide only decent and healthy labor conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, reasonable hours of work.
The wrong motives and bad character of some movie employers along with workers who collude with such employers is at the heart of the problem.
Standing up to the bad guys, refusing to work for them, avoiding them, and evicting them is what the whole situation facing workers is all about.
Surviving and being part of movie making without the bad guys.....can it be done? Yes. It's been done before, and it can be done again. It just takes planning, high standards, and courage.
Hollywood style movie making (not necessarily in Hollywood anymore, and not limited to feature movies and certainly including national television drama filming) is dangerous and has been for a long time.........actually through the entire history of the movies as a big time business which time period extends back to the early 1900's and silent era "primitive" movies.
The history of dangerous working conditions and disasters and loss of life during and as a result of movie making is extensive and legend.
Haskel Wexler created a documentary in his old age about dangerous work conditions on movie shoots. He was a life long cameraman/ director, famous and experienced as a major player in Hollywood since 1947.
At age 83, he created a "last hurrah" documentary titled "Who Needs Sleep" which is unusual because it points out that the price paid for movies everybody loves and needs is danger and at times loss of life and permanent injury to workers who make movies possible.
His "Who Needs Sleep" documentary is a protest about a situation long known, but sadly seldom acted on or even much publicized. People part of the movie business work under brutal and dangerous conditions.
He gives many examples in the course of his documentary.
Wexler notes that when he was a young cameraman worker in Hollywood, he worked 8 hour days, had time for his family, worked in healthy conditions which deteriorated over time.
Longer and longer work days came to oppress him and his fellow workers.
12 hour and 14 hour days became common, and 18 hour and 20 hour days were not unusual. These hours were (and are) worked by union workers, making it obvious that organized labor does not protect its members from the increasing danger of ever longer hours on the job in the movie business.
In the 19th century, England's art critic of fame John Ruskin (1819 - 1900) wrote a book in 1857 titled "Political Economy of Art" (later re-issued by Ruskin in his old age and re-titled "A Joy Forever, And Its Price At The Market" in 1886) in which he noted that conditions in the art world and the commercial side of it all had led to widespread dishonesty and fraud which had (1857) become commonplace, and seemed to be the price of commercial success in the art world.
Haskell Wexler's documentary movie titled "Who Needs Sleep" is a cry of objection to widespread labor practices part of the mainstream movie-making world in the USA, and Wexler suggests during his narration comments that the same problems and wrong mentality regarding bad labor conditions increasing and becoming commonplace extend outside the movie world into other parts of the mainstream USA labor force, including into health care and other areas critical to society's survival functioning.
His movie is a "little movie," made by a now very old man, and obviously made on a low budget about a topic not presently (2012) considered "mainstream." Even so it is valuable and deserves to be seen and supported because it treats an important topic, controversial, but not to be ignored.
John Ruskin, in the mid-19th century, tried to make the same points, overall, that Haskel Wexler makes in his old age 21st century movie.
The times, sadly, have not changed, and are getting worse.
The conditions and situations both men highlighted with their reporting should be paid attention to and the bad conditions challenged, and somehow changed.
At the least, the problems cited by Ruskin and Wexler should become widely known so that people can protect themselves from danger clearly present, and getting worse as time passes.
Written by Tex Allen, SAG movie actor.
From the rambling narration to the bland and emotionless soundtrack, "Who Needs Sleep" oozes low budget. I realize this is a passion project, not a blockbuster, but where's the passion? When Wexler admitted in the narration that he'd been dragging his feet for over a decade to finish this, it was hard to give him my full attention. (Sometimes a good editor can do wonders.)
Worse, his message gets lost. Wexler never fully addresses why the union, a democracy, doesn't change the contract to focus on better quality of life. He doesn't have enough evidence to support the theory that union and studio heads are colluding against film crews. And he doesn't press hard enough when he questions them. His brief forays looking at other unionized work feel like tangents. Is this movie about a flaw in the film industry or the failure of American unions in general? Or is it about sleep and the American way of life?
While the incident that prompted this documentary and other safety failures in the film industry are deplorable, it's hard to see them as an endemic work safety issue (like, for example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire). There are some interesting moments in the film, but in both production and message, Wexler has bitten off more than he can chew.