Not banking: the glamorous industry where deaths from overwork have long been a problem

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The death of Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt last month shone an unfavourable light on the long hours worked in investment banks. The cause of Erhardt’s death remains unclear, but claims that he worked 72 hours straight have fueled speculation that Erhardt effectively died from overwork. If so, it’s a concept that people working in the U.S. film industry can sympathize with.

Like banking, the film industry is a world where the work is relentless. In banking, clients have to be pandered to. In film, movies have to be shot on tight budgets. Like banking, film is a world where young people queue up for jobs in the full knowledge that they’ll be working 80 hour weeks – or more. Worse than banking, the film industry is a place where most people are contractors – they have to work crazy hours because they have no income security.

In the wake of Erhardt’s death, a documentary made in 2006 by American cinematographer Haskell Wexler titled ‘Who needs sleep?’ has been doing the rounds among finance bloggers. It shows that Hollywood is just as guilty as Wall Street of working people to death. Big banks, at least, pay for taxis home when their employees leave after 10pm at night. In the film industry, contractors regularly work a succession of 18 hour days before driving home to their families – a practice which has caused multiple traffic accidents, some fatal.

If you don’t have time to watch Wexler’s full documentary, here are some of the most pertinent quotes. Read them. Feel glad you’re a banker and not a cameraman.

  • ‘One of the problems with the movie business is that it does seem glamorous. There are a lot of people who say I’ll do anything, at least at the start of their careers.”
  •  ”Lawyers and investment bankers talk about the long hours, just like we talk about the long hours. But I think the big difference is that their long day starts at 7am and is over by 8pm, while our long day can start at any time and is over at a time undetermined by us.”
  • “Hollywood wants you to have one mistress, and that’s her. It’s very difficult to work in this industry and have a family. It’s very difficult to work in this industry and have a relationship of any sort.”
  • “No one else works the hours we do. No one could even conceive of working these hours.”
  • “There’s a macho element to working these long hours. It’s like I’ve worked 90 hours a week, how cool am I?”
  • “There are plenty of 9-5 jobs out there if you can’t hack it.”
  • ‘We’re the only group of industrial workers in the world fighting for a 14-hour day.”
  • “He worked 18 hour days for six months.”

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