Friday, August 7, 2009

French Hours.

The other day, I wrote a longish post about meal breaks on a movie set. There is one other strategy for meal breaks called French Hours. The first thing you should know about french hours is that officially speaking it doesn't exist. You can't ask the crew to work french hours, and if you do, the crew is bound by their union contract to turn you down. Then, they're required to call their union rep and rat you out.

But, shhhhhhh, french hours do exist. The most reasonable explanation I've heard for the origin of the term french hours is that in the 50's and 60's it was common for French movies to be shot on a regular schedule of starting at noon or 12:30 p.m. and wrapping by 7:30 in the evening...without any meal break. The quick and dirty definition of french hours is that it's a day that's scheduled without any meal breaks at all, but the production has hot catered food brought around to the crew on set all day long. Some people will eat on the run (a few times) and department heads will usually tell individuals in their department to take a periodic break to sit down and eat like a human being. And the main thing about french hours is that every single crew member has to agree to it in advance or you can't do it.

Now, since there is officially no such thing as french hours, the producer will usually offer or the crew can ask for other incentives. Maybe the producer will pay the meal penalty for the 5 or 6 hours that ellapse after a meal break was owed. Maybe he'll just make a lump-sum cash deal to offset the meal penalty. Whatever.

Anyway, this isn't a strategy that comes up often. There has to be a compelling reason to work french hours. Phone Booth was reportedly shot in 10 days utilizing french hours. The only time I've ever worked french hours was on a day that had the following complications:

-It was winter, so we had about 7 hours of usable daylight available.
-All scenes to be shot were daylight exteriors.
-The location was more than an hour from the crew hotel.
-Once arriving at the location, all of the equipment had to be walked into the shooting set about a 1/2 mile further down a snowy trail. (We had already bulldozed and graveled two miles of additional road just to get that close.)

Now, this was a great location and it was going to make the scene, so after some bartering about details, everyone agreed to work french hours. On the shooting day, everyone stopped by the catering truck before going to set and got a good hot breakfast. For the first couple of hours, they hauled more breakfasts down to set so people could eat more. Starting about 4 hours into the day, they started hauling an assortment of lunch-type food to dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, sloppy joes, burritos, you name it. If it could be created as a hot meal that someone could pick up and eat on their feet, it was served.

On that day, the caterer kept cooking until the last union crew member left set. That's really different from your usual day on set.

One thing that was not different that day was that about 10 minutes after we called camera-wrap for the day, the director, the director of photography and the first assistant director were all in a car headed back to the hotel. That's fine. They'd done their work for the day and, frankly, while the rest of us are wrapping things up, the more people with nothing to do who just get the hell out of there...the better. Otherwise, they're just in the way.

I'm guessing that the working stiffs, the producer and I were all there for another hour or so after camera wrap. Eventually we got back to the hotel. Since we were shooting again the next day, a bunch of us, myself and the producer included, had more work to do once we got to the hotel.

Imagine this scene if you will. The producer and I walk into the hallway where we've created temporary offices. We're talking about something -- I don't remember what, but it's surely related to solving some issue for tomorrow's shoot. We've been out in the snow all day, so we're not only tired, we're cold and wet. And waiting for the producer outside his office's door is...well, one of those people who get to leave set as soon as the camera stops rolling each day.

He's wearing different clothes than he had on when last, we saw him. His hair has to look of the freshly showered. He has a friggin' cocktail in his hand. And he wants to speak with the producer if he has a minute.

Now, I'm piecing this together from what I could hear down the hall (some of this was quite loud) and from what the producer told me later. Mr. 'Gets to leave set at camera wrap' says, "Uh, I know we agreed to french hours today, but my hamburger was cold."

Producer: "Excuse me?"

Mr. GTLSACW: "My hamburger was cold. We agreed that there'd be hot food on set and my hamburger was cold".

Producer: "Get the fuck out of my office".

Mr. GTLSACW: "You didn't live up to your end of the bargain. I'm representing the crew here and you need to negotiate some sort of offset to make it up to us."

Producer: "Get the fuck out of my office".

Mr. GTLSACW: "I don't think you understand. If we don't come to some sort of agreement, you're going to have a mutiny on your hands."

(at this point, the part that could be heard down the hall really got going.)

Producer: "I don't think you understand. If you don't get your freshly showered ass the fuck out of my office right this fucking minute, I'm going to punch you in your fucking face."

Mr. GTLSACW: " that all you have to say on the subject?"

Producer: "If you're not out of my office by the time I stand up, I'm going to punch you in your fucking face and then I'm going to fucking kill you."

This discussion then proceeded to relocate to the parking lot behind the hotel. I don't recall any actual punching (or killing) occurring, but I distinctly recall there being two large Teamsters holding the producer back.

I'm guessing that the French temperament may be better suited to french hours than we are here in the U.S.

P.S. I will neither confirm nor deny, the name of the project on which this took place nor the identities of any of those involved. In fact, I may have shamelessly stolen this whole story from a fellow Location Manager. Or maybe I just made it up. Yeah...that's the ticket!

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