Calling “Cut!” on the Inaccessibility of the Film Industry

Disability with Charlotte Paradise

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) have been pulling the curtain on the unacceptable work conditions and inhumane hours in the film and TV industry, especially over the last few months with a potential strike on the cards. This could be the perfect opportunity to expose the lack of accessibility and disabled representation on film sets and to finally make a change.

A few weekends ago, I had the absolute dream-come-true of being on my first film set as we shot my debut short film, ‘Chronic’. Everyone in my life knows I’ve always wanted to be a writer but most people don’t know that I’ve also always aspired to being a director (oof, why does that feel really vulnerable to say “in print”?). In the few years before I became disabled, I’d actually decided to leave the writing ambitions aside and pursue directing. But when I got sick, directing suddenly felt completely inaccessible for me primarily thanks to long days incompatible with my fatigue.

Being on set had me falling in love with filmmaking even more than I already was and reminded me of those dreams to direct as well as learning cinematography and camerawork. It was also the week that the legend that is Emma Watson posted on Instagram about her time “getting behind the camera” and how “empowering” she’s found it. Her post gave me all the feels and yet I looked at her photo and couldn’t help but be deflated by that fact that I can’t hold a camera like that. Let alone be able to do a 15 hour day on set with it.

Ben Gottlieb has been bravely exposing the unethical working conditions and hours in the film and TV industry by sharing anonymous experiences on the Instagram page IATSE Stories. Some standout stories are the neurologist who claimed how “dangerous” crew working hours are and that he was “amazed more film workers weren’t psychotic”, the person who “not only… work[ed] 12-14 hour shifts without breaks or food, but… also lost an hour of pay for the breaks [they] never received”, and the person whose “first thought, after hearing that his firstborn child was about to be born, was about [missing] work”.

IATSE Stories has also shared accounts centred around the effect that working in the industry is having on the bodies of crew members. In particular, the story of a PA who “ignored worsening health symptoms” for years because of the pressure to prove and “show” the industry that they were “tough enough” to excel. That health condition turned out to be cancer with the anonymous source stating “this industry is literally killing us.” In the words of another contributor, “how is a body supposed to acclimate to [the] kind of schedule” come to be standard in the industry? The majority of sets are currently unsustainable for non-disabled people not even mentioning disabled people and the chronically ill. There’s even a whole role called the “runner”, known to be the entry role into the industry… That doesn’t bode well for us disabled lot.

I stand with the IATSE union in their call for changes that need to happen now. Creating a safe and ethical environment on set is a priority for everyone but it would be remiss of me not to highlight that should include disabled people. I’d love to see IATSE’s plans for better well-being and pay on set include a real awareness of and advocacy for current and aspiring disabled filmmakers. Better hours, respect for physical and mental well-being, and consistent food and toilet breaks are a great start that IATSE are pushing for. But I hope the future of life on set won’t stop there and will also include further steps to making positions from director and production assistants to MUAs and cinematographers more accessible. Here’s to a time where wheelchair accessible sets, plans in place for health flare contingencies, and even accessibly designed film cameras are part of standard practice.

Image via Lil McDermaid / Canva.

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