The End of Year Slowdown

I was talking with producer Chris about an episode of Crew Call he recorded last night1 One of the topics that came up was the holiday slowdown in Hollywood. Some of my newbie readers may not be aware of this phenomenon, so I thought now would be a good time to explain.

Nothing Happens Between Thanksgiving and New Year

The holidays are a busy time for everybody– visiting family, shopping for presents, fighting traffic.

It is pretty, though.
I’m still driving.

The opposite happens in Hollywood, especially because Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are all union holidays. Hanukkah isn’t, but there’s a significant Jewish community in this business, so Jewish holidays can affect production schedules as well.

Television

This is a case where half hour and hour-long shows differ. Hour long shows typically shoot for eight days an episode. That means they have to shoot constantly to keep up with the broadcast schedule. You’ll get two days off for Thanksgiving, then work the three weeks until Christmas starts. Still, you’ll be on unemployment during the two weeks around Christmas and New Years.

Sitcoms, on the other hand, often have a three-weeks-on, one-week-off shooting schedule. Since they only have five days to shoot (whether they’re traditional multicam in front of a live audience or single camera), it can be difficult for the writers to keep up. The writers office (and sometimes the production office, too) stay open during those hiatus weeks.

Sometimes those hiatus weeks line up awkwardly with the few weeks between Thanksgiving weekend and the Christmas break. (This year, most shows go on hiatus December 16.) It just seems silly to come back for only an episode or two, then take another couple weeks off. Instead, the entire month of December is a holiday hiatus!

An unpaid hiatus. :/

Features

Features are a slightly different beast, since they don’t operate on the rigid season scheduling that TV does. In theory, they could shoot whenever they want.

But again, do you want to start shooting, take half a week off for Thanksgiving, shoot some more, take two more weeks off for the holidays, and then finish?

Filming a movie requires a lot of momentum. You have to keep pushing forward so you don’t run out of steam. Remember, they film, like, three pages a day. That shit gets boring after a while. You want to drag that out even more with holidays?

Some movies will shoot towards the end of the year, and wrap up at December. That’s all well and good, if you landed that gig in September or October. But if you’re looking for work in December? Forget about it. You might get a day player gig every now and again, but don’t count on it.

What About January?

You’d think everybody would be raring to go in January, but you’re forgetting something– preproduction. For all the reasons listed above, few productions will start prep in November or December. Which, naturally, means they won’t be ready to shoot in January.

This is fine if you’re in the art department, and maybe the production office. But if you work on set, you’ll likely have nearly two months of little to no work.

The good news is, this happens every year. Which means you can plan for it. When you’ve had a good run of gigs, and your bank account starts looking nice and fat, don’t start spending money willy nilly. Save up for the dry season. Besides, you’re probably going to have to spend a lot around the holidays, too, what with travel and presents, etc. Don’t expect Santa to cover everything for you.

I don't reference Calvin & Hobbes nearly enough on this blog.
I don’t reference Calvin & Hobbes nearly enough on this blog.
Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Crew Call, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a below-the-line podcast I help produce in association with Shortwave Radio.
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2 Comments

  1. The holiday slowdown you speak of may apply to production personnel, but it’s been crazy busy for below-the-line crew in Hollywood the past few weeks. When I started my current show (two one-hour specials) three weeks ago, our studio lot Best Boy told us he’d just finished a big Michael Mann feature for which he had to hire six “permits” on his crew — essentially untrained workers hired off the street — which only happens when all the eligible union people are working. Word is that permits aren’t being hired anymore, but it’s still very busy in town.

    That said, I too have experienced serious dry spells around the holidays in years past, so this may be an aberration or the salutary effects of California’s enhanced film subsidy program.

  2. You’re forgetting the secret that for some reason most people don’t mention publicly–you get to file for unemployment.

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