Shooting Day #10:
You wake up and instantly realize something’s not right.
Your head feels heavier than it did yesterday.
Only one of your nostrils is operational.
Your throat is sore.
Crap. You’re sick.
In a normal job, you’d take a sick day. But here’s the problem — you’re the DP on a feature film and there are over 75 people counting on you. Craft services is booked. The location fee is non-refundable. The cast is already in makeup. The shoot is happening, with or without you. So you pump yourself full of decongestants and DayQuil and head off to work, dragging a cloud of germs with you. As illness spreads throughout the crew, focus and morale steadily decrease.
Filmmakers are passionate about their art and often push themselves to the point of overexertion. In a profession where sick days are not an option, it is important to take preventative measures to stay healthy.
Here are 5 health tips to keep in mind during production:
1. Eat smart
A good crafty table is one of the best perks of working on a film set, but it can also be a diet nightmare. Easy access to sugary snacks with little nutritional value can sabotage your energy and your health. When choosing between “double chocolate chunk peanut butter fudgey bites” and an orange, go for the one that provides antioxidants and vitamin C. (Hint: It’s not the fudgey bites.)
A chocolate bar might give you a fast energy boost, but it won’t last. Soon you’ll be crashing harder than before. Stick to fruits, veggies, and high protein foods like jerky, trail mix, and Greek yogurt. They’ll give you more sustainable energy and help your immune system stay strong all shoot long.
Exhaustion is a common problem on set. Between the insane amount of work to be done, irregular hours, quick turnaround time, and nervous energy of being in production, it can be almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, your immune system isn’t based on sheer will-power. Your body needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night in order to fully recharge.
When you’re working typical 12 hour days, make sure you get to bed at a reasonable time every night. Don’t schedule late meetings or plan to do a lot of prep work for the next day. Avoid sleeping pills, which can leave you groggy in the morning, and alcohol, which can act as a stimulant. Just get yourself horizontal ASAP.
If you are suffering from extreme sleep deprivation, alert your production team and ask for help. Exhaustion can increase the risk of accidents, both on set, and on the drive home at the end of the day. It just isn’t worth it.
3. Stay hydrated
Every well-run set has an abundant supply of water, either in disposable bottles or in much bigger tanks to fill reusable ones. If your set doesn’t have enough water, make some noise! Staying hydrated is a serious issue, even in moderate weather, so if the production team isn’t prepared, you need to let them know that’s not cool.
Proper hydration is a necessary part of good kidney function. When you are dehydrated, your kidneys become inefficient and aren’t able to properly filter waste from your body. This can cause numerous health problems, including a weakened immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness.
Incidentally, while soda, juice, and coffee contain water, they are not suitable water substitutes. In fact, many are diuretics which contribute to dehydration. If your palate is too refined to choke down plain water, sports drinks like Gatorade or carbonated water such as La Croix are worthy alternatives.
4. Lift with your knees
Preventative measures apply to injury as well as illness. You never know what the physical demands of a film shoot will be. You might be required to lift something heavy, travel across treacherous terrain, or work in an environment with poor air quality. Take the necessary precautions.
That starts with equipment. No open toed shoes on set, EVER! It’s a good idea to have gloves and a flashlight handy as well, even if you’re not a grip or PA. You never know when you’ll need them. And when your job demands that you clean up a dusty room, or spend all day crawling around on the floor, request appropriate equipment such as a dust mask or knee pads from production.
When it comes to lifting, don’t be a hero. Bend at your knees, not your back. Wear a lifting belt if you’re spending a lot of time moving heavy objects or equipment. And there’s no shame in asking for help if something is just too damn heavy. Sometimes it takes a team effort. That’s why we shoot movies as a crew!
5. Some things aren’t meant to be shared
If you do get sick, let your production team know ASAP. If you all agree that you’ll continue working on set, take precautions not to spread your illness. Cover your mouth with your arm when you cough or sneeze. In fact, wearing a surgical mask on set might be the safest strategy. Hand sanitizer should be readily available on set, so use it. And let your co-workers know you are coming down with something and they should keep their distance.
Once your body is weakened by illness, diet, rest, and hydration become even more important and are critical to a fast recovery.