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.
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.
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 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.