Hollywood is on the brink of a complete shutdown after the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted to authorize a strike due to unfair working conditions for its members (more on that here).
The union represents everyone from light crews and set builders to costume designers, makeup artists, and hairstylists. While actors and directors are vital to the production of a movie or show, nothing would get made in Hollywood without IATSE members.
However, countless below-the-line workers have been mistreated on set for years. From not receiving fair compensation to working 16-hour days, many of these employees have been grossly mistreated by the industry as a whole.
An Instagram account called @ia_stories has been giving these workers a platform to share their horror stories in hopes of making a change. With 147,000 followers and counting, these stories are bringing to light serious issues within the entertainment industry.
From falling asleep while driving to being forced to miss important doctor’s appointments due to long work hours, the stories from these IATSE workers are horrifying. Scroll through to read some of the most shocking revelations from @ia_stories. We hope that posting these stories will help readers understand the extremely urgent need for change in the film industry.
Content Warning: The following true stories may be upsetting to some readers. All stories are anonymous submissions from the Instagram page @ia_stories and some have been edited for clarity and for brevity.
Falling Asleep While Driving Home
“A few years ago I was working on a big production, all of it on stage, budget over 150 million. We were working 16+ hour days and about 2 months into the job… I was in my car on the freeway, was so tired I passed out for a few seconds, had that little burst of adrenaline to wake up, pulled over, and for a few minutes I sat there on the shoulder so sleep deprived I couldn’t remember if I was going home or if I was on my way to work.”
“I was on my 2-hour drive home at 5 am after an overnight. I woke up rolling down the right shoulder of the freeway around 10 mph, my foot off the gas and brake hitting the little speed bump turtles on the lane edge… Last I remember I was in the far left lane. I have no idea how long I had been out.”
“One of the most casual yet dangerous habits I got into… was sleeping at red lights on the way home.”
“I am [a] camera assistant working on a hugely popular streaming show. We regularly SHOOT for 13-14 hours, not including pre-call or wrap time. About 2 months in, driving home at 4 am on a Thursday, I dozed off driving on the freeway. I nearly drove off a freeway overpass and would have fallen 50 feet over the edge. Luckily I jolted awake to the sound of my tires scraping the side of the curb.”
“I was working a Fraturday (editor’s note: when a Friday workday goes overnight into a Saturday workday), after months of straight 15 hour days. I was exhausted, and driving home at 4 am, and found myself driving the wrong way down a one-way street. It was one of many times that I avoided a serious accident after 70-80 hour workweeks.”
“We’ve had 3 [production assistants] fall asleep at the wheel, the paint crews were pushing 19+ hour days. The main actress posted a photo of herself “in solidarity”. Funny because she is also a producer and it is well within her ability to create a better work environment.”
Injured (or Worse) on Location
“Last year I had a bad accident on location due to horrible safety violations they refused to address after multiple complaints. Set medic: you don’t want to go to the hospital right? (Covid)… hands me ice and Tylenol. Me: I may not want to go- but I NEED to go.”
“Had a producer yell at me on set because we needed to do a stunt safety rehearsal, instead of going right to [filming]… After wrap, the producer proceeded to tell a story of a big stunt where they ‘[filmed the] rehearsal’ and the stunt person died, but the footage was used… I couldn’t help but be disgusted.”
Forced to Work Insane Hours
“A couple of years ago I worked on [a] project for a major streaming service and regularly worked 16-20 [hour] days with 4-6 hours of turnaround. Our… producers knew and simply didn’t care — our union hit them with every fine they could and they simply paid it. There were times I would hallucinate walkie [talkie] chatter from lack of sleep, and respond to a call that didn’t happen.”
“I was working on a high profile [censored] movie and we had two stints of 27 days straight with no time off. Well over 14+ hours every day. We were walking zombies. On days 18-19, I was driving to the next location and fell asleep while driving. Rear-ended a car in front of me; luckily we were both okay but their car was pretty smashed. When I got to the location and explained what had happened, one of my supervisors asked if [it] was still okay [for me] to go into overtime that day.”
“Hot tip my Dept head shared with me… blast A/C on your feet to help keep you awake. The loud music, windows down, face slapping does nothing for me.”
“As an Assistant Editor, I once was pressured to work a 36 hour day, followed up by a 24 hour day to get a screening ready on time.”
Disregarded Health Issues
“I worked for a well-known comedy website… One day, my wisdom tooth literally cracked in half and I stayed at work the rest of the day because I was so petrified of being replaced.”
“Every single day I hope to get a positive covid test just so I can have the time off to sleep without the stigma of taking time for myself.”
“I had to reply to emails while getting a pap smear. When people ask what life in production is like, I tell them that.”
“I forced myself to work through chemo not because anyone on the crew asked me to, but because I’d been brainwashed by the industry for so many years… I got a call from a frantic producer as a nurse was hooking me up to the IV. The nurse told me she could wait for me to finish the call if it was important. That’s when I realized this had gone too far…”
“A friend had to leave a big film before they wrapped production because her bosses wouldn’t giver her a week off for a mastectomy for her cancer”
Unsafe Work Environment
“I was working during the extreme heatwave… When I got to set I asked where BG holding was (for the extras) as it was supposed to be inside. I got told the patio was now too hot for the equipment… so now the BG will be outside in that spot. So it was unsafe for equipment but safe enough for humans!”
“One day I woke up in a trailer in the middle of [the] California desert after suffering from heat exhaustion… the production had hired more [production assistants] that week because they knew a lot of them would faint…”
Zero Empathy For Employees
“I was on a show recently and the best boy grip passed away after wrap one night. He was a young guy, new family, 5 kids. Producers didn’t even acknowledge his existence. No email to the crew. Hell, they didn’t even bring everyone together and mention it. We raised thousands of dollars for this young man’s family and not one person from production even took a minute to grieve with us, let alone say anything about the [GoFundMe].”
“I’m working on a show rn where yesterday one of our crew members literally died on set after working a 16 hour day. They were young (40s), had kids, been in the union for years and production barely acknowledged his passing and kept moving along with the show.”
“My daughter tried to commit suicide. I found her, picked her up and loaded her in the car, took her to the hospital, handed her over for care and was told I had to leave her. I went home and showered and drove to work because I had a 5:30 am call… I didn’t tell my department head for fear of being fired… I feared losing my job as a single mom on a show that did not allow for us to have personal lives that might affect our bosses or the show.”
“As recently as 2015 I had job interviews where they asked if I wanted to get married and have children. They didn’t want to hire those women, ‘not dedicated enough’ they said.”
“I had a miscarriage and went into work the next day. Between Covid testing and the shooting schedule, there was no way to take time off while keeping my position. Every day was emotional torture, shooting overnights when all I wanted to do was be alone with my family in my own bed.”