- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
One of my first days back on a TV set after pandemic shutdowns didn’t turn out as planned. On a summer morning, I arrived around 7 a.m. for the filming of a reality lifestyle show where I was working as a field producer. The plan was to demo a home, but simmering tensions involving the on-camera talent escalated into a moment of shock for crew as a hammer went flying across the room, leaving a hole in the wall. I wasn’t the intended target, and no one was seriously injured that day, but the production halted, for about a month, so the executives could look into the incident and determine whether or not we should continue filming the show.
This type of incident is too common. But it isn’t until you personally step foot in an unsafe work environment that you realize how many people share these similar experiences. Within the entertainment industry, stories of injured co-workers quietly circulate on a daily basis among crewmembers. I’ve heard stories about crewmembers falling from platforms and stages due to the fact there were no reflectors or cones placed down to warn of major drop-offs in darkened areas.
At times, these accidents occur despite people trying to prevent them by voicing concerns to stage managers and assistant directors. It’s not uncommon for crewmembers to look out for each other, but when those in power fail to correct these issues, negligence comes into play, inevitably leaving the employees to suffer with a preventable injury.
There are a few reasons why these types of incidents keep happening, despite set pros trying their best to keep working safely. For one, it seems like the industry is trying to plow through the filming process with slashed budgets and increasingly tighter deadlines in order to beat competitors to market. In some instances, this creates an environment where those on set (without even realizing it at times) work haphazardly and feel as though they can’t make the necessary adjustments because they are too worried about the bottom line. Any delay in production could make it look like they aren’t doing their job effectively, so they would prefer to keep moving forward. Yes, money is at stake, but so are lives.
When project budgets are cut in half, it often leads to the downsizing of the crew too, which endangers the set even more since this could mean anything from less security to hiring fewer people that would normally be put in place to monitor filming and make sure the process runs smoothly. It also means some working on set might be juggling various roles that are normally split between two or more people, leaving room for mistakes because of their divided attention.
Flying hammers and crewmembers falling off stages don’t make the news, but even when more serious cases occur and are written about, they fail to spark major change throughout the industry. Within the last two years, some of the most horrific accidents on film and television sets have been reported on, like the shooting on the set of Rust that caused the death of Halyna Hutchins, or the crewmember on Law & Order: Organized Crime who was shot while sitting in his car on what was supposed to be a closed set. Those cases are exceptions, but in many other cases we rarely see follow-up coverage about what ultimately caused the incident or if any action is being taken to ensure that these mistakes don’t continue to happen. There’s a desensitizing effect to just brushing it off with a settlement and/or a promise that it was just an isolated incident.
What is worrisome is that this topic doesn’t seem to be prioritized by Hollywood’s decision-makers, either. And top talent, even though they’re on set and can see issues when they happen, rarely publicly advocate for change or answers on their projects. This “hush” mentality hurts the integrity of the industry. And without concern for how we can better protect our crewmembers and talent, relaxed safety measures and missed warning signs will continue to exist. Just as sexual abuse and mental health have been spotlighted in the industry, and rightfully so, neglect and/or potentially life-threatening situations on set should be a priority.
After the hammer-throwing incident and the production pause, it felt different when I did return to the home renovation show. I thought, “Shouldn’t there be stricter guidelines for throwing an object across the room?” No, it appears not. Ultimately, filming resumed on the reality show with the same team intact.
Whether it’s a home renovation show, or any set, there’s always a level of danger and precaution you have to take. But the more negligence that crews experience on set, whether it’s on a large or small scale, the more often it tends to reoccur. It becomes the norm. And without talking about it or notifying unions (for those that are unionized), these “small” incidents add up.
No one should feel like they can’t raise red flags regarding safety measures because they think it will be ignored or put their job at risk. No one should look around their set and wonder if things such as tools, production equipment, or even cars could obstruct crewmembers and talent from doing their job and leave them injured, in the worst cases to deal with workers’ comp hell. The phrase “The show must go on” is a dangerous notion when there are issues on- and off-set that need to be addressed first.
Toni-Ann Lagana is a freelance producer who has worked in nonfiction television for 10 years.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day