SAG-AFTRA will be sending up a team to the Vancouver set of the CW/Warner Bros.’ television production of Riverdale after one of the union’s 20 year-old stars — K.J. Apa — fell asleep at the wheel last week and crashed his automobile after he worked what Warner Bros. TV said was a 14.2-hour work day.
“This is an extremely troubling situation and we are deeply concerned about the safety of performers on the Riverdale set,” said SAG-AFTRA in a statement. “We are sending a team to Vancouver to review the circumstances surrounding safety issues affecting performers on this production.”
Long hours on sets have been a frequent complaint from crews across Hollywood for years and cinematographer/producer/director Haskell Wexler became the spokesperson after camera assistant Brent Hershman was killed in 1997 after he fell asleep at the wheel and also slammed his car into a pole after working a 19-hour day – which had been preceded by four 15-hour days.
Studios and networks often push actors and crew to save money which results in these kind of 12 to 16 hour days. Usually there is an investigation but nothing ever really happens and the cycle continues. Crew members are often too scared to speak up for fear of getting blacklisted.
Two and a half years ago, 48-year-old Longmire crew member Gary Joe Tuck fell asleep at the wheel and rolled his car on a New Mexico highway after working an 18-hour shift (from 9 AM-3 AM). He was a Teamster driver for Local 492 and also a SAG member.
After Tuck’s death, Netflix and Warner Horizon Television subsequently set up charter buses to take crew to and from remote locations for safety’s sake. That move was applauded by crew members. But still in that instance, crew members Deadline spoke with were scared to put their names on quotes because they felt that the networks would think they were complaining before and would blacklist them. Whether warranted or not, that continues to be the case in Hollywood.
Today Warner Bros. said that Apa who fell asleep and hit a lamp post after the long day said that other options were available to the actors (nothing like blaming the young victim — obviously, for legal reasons), and that he could have taken a cab home.
Safety issues have come to the forefront time and time again after accidents or deaths (like the Twilight Zone case where two children and Vic Morrow died), but none so significant for crews in recent years as the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider.
Since then, there have been anonymous call lines set up to report unsafe working conditions and some of the older crew members have looked out for the younger workers on the set, but long working hours — despite the loud voice of the late great Wexler — continue.
One of the worst treated on sets continues to be production assistants who are sometimes put into dangerous situations and also work very long hours. However, they have no union to represent their interests.