BBC “Considering” Findings From Landmark Study That Trialled Eight-Hour Working Day In Film & TV Drama Production

The BBC is “considering” the findings of a study that found production costs would increase by a minimal amount if the working day was reduced from 10 to eight hours.

The ‘Designing a blueprint for a shorter working day in film and scripted drama’ blueprint found that costs would rise by just 4% if the industry reduced its standard working day by two hours.

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Given that the working day would be reducing by one fifth and productions would therefore take longer to shoot, the main reason for the minimal increase in costs was put down to the fact that 71% of the 800 respondents to the survey would be prepared to see salaries drop to a pro-rata basis, which was used in the modelling. Almost all respondents (98%) said they want a shorter working day of eight hours.

Conducted by social enterprise Timewise and Bectu Vision, the first-of-its-kind study, which was mainly funded by the BBC and Screen Scotland, concluded that it is “in principle commercially viable to extend a production schedule in order to reduce the daily working hours from 10 to 8.”

Having spoken to commissioners, producers, directors, writers, actors and crew, the study’s authors said there was “general consensus” that working hours are “too long and unsustainable in film and television.” The BBC and Screen Scotland are now “considering” the findings, it said.

“Whilst the writers’ strike resulted in a reduction in work for crew, there remains a need to tackle the long hours culture that is causing many to leave due to ill health and resulting talent shortages,” said the study. “The situation is acknowledged by many industry insiders to be unsustainable.”

In order to reach its 4% costs conclusion, the study modelled a budget for an eight-hour working day production including paying staff on a pro-rata basis and then compared that with the standard 10. It found other measures could help support the shorter working days such as locking scripts down earlier in the process, improving location speed by filming at two locations at the same time and challenging “embedded behaviours.” The study said commissioners it spoke with are “considering a framework where scripts are written and delivered well in advance of the first day of principal photography, with only minor changes subsequently allowed.”

Swedish model

The model is already used in Swedish production, which rules that filming must take place either across four days per week for 10 hours, or five days for eight hours. A collective industry agreement in Sweden imposes a penalty fee for any late changes to the schedule, with no exceptions for events such as bad weather conditions or cast illness. While overtime can be worked in exceptional circumstances, it can’t be planned for in the schedule.

In the UK, there is no precedent for such a short working day although there was anecdotal feedback from respondents to the survey about an attempt in the U.S. by Clint Eastwood to introduce something similar across the pond.

“There appeared to be a reticence to discuss any previous tests of a shorter day because of the commercial implications,” added the report. “While in principle the industry leads agreed that a shorter working day could be done, there were concerns around the possibility of adding any cost to the bottom line.”

The report is likely to reignite the debate around the connection between longer working hours and wellbeing. The Film & TV Charity’s surveys have frequently shown high levels of poor mental health across the freelance community, which is currently struggling to find work with little opportunities out there across multiple genres.

Working hours, however, proved a major sticking point in Bectu’s messy negotiations with producer trade body Pact in 2022 and the pair ended up compromising on the 10-hour day, meaning any further reduction would likely be difficult to negotiate.

Emma Stewart, who runs Timewise, said she started her social enterprise after becoming “one of the thousands of people who had to walk away from a career in TV and film after starting a family.”

“We have to face facts: current working patterns mean we slam the door in the face of inclusion,” she added. “You instantly lose people with family commitments, caring duties, and the need to balance anything else in life.”

Film & TV Charity CEO Marcus Ryder added: “We have long observed the harmful effects of excessive  working hours on those who work in film and television. Both our Looking Glass research and our direct work with clients has repeatedly highlighted the damage excessive hours have on workers’ mental health and wellbeing, and the role they play in people leaving the industry.

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