One of the films I’ve worked on did “French Hours” for one day of the shoot. Chances are unless you’re a film production geek you don’t know about it. Worse still you’ve come here to find out just what French Hours are all about. Hopefully you read this before you vote on the request to work French Hours.
French Hours while most certainly not French, are when a film crew is asked to give up their meal break in return for grabbing something to eat from the craft services table or catering area on the run-in between doing other things. There is no lunch break and lunch is handed around while the crew works continuously.
This is most often requested when the production wants to get a lot of shots in a difficult situation in a very fast time. I have no problems with that. Phone Booth was famously made in 10 days by Joel Schumacher thanks to the crew agreeing to work French Hours.
Traditionally, the 1st AD asks the crew if they are willing to work French Hours and the crew votes on it. The vote must be unanimous for French Hours to be be imposed. Technically union members should vote no then call their union rep and the union will go to war with the production company. You don’t historically get retirement benefits and health coverage in the entertainment business by giving up long-fought-for work entitlements like lunch.
However what happens when you are working on a independent non-union shoot?
The Production Company must pay you more for agreeing to give up your lunch break. And not just a one-off meal allowance. In Australia, you should earn penalty rates from the 5th hour after call without a lunch break. Five hours since call or the end of an earlier break is longest stretch of time without a meal break. The Delayed Meal Break penalty rate is 1x normal pay.
On a 10 hour day with French Hours you should be paid 10 hours normal time (x1 = 10 hours), 5 hours Delayed Meal Break (+ x1 = 5 hours) plus 2 hours overtime (+ x1.5 = 3 hours) so a 10 hour day means you get paid for 18 hours. In Australia, superannuation is payable only on the normal 10 hours.
Make sure you get paid to give up your lunch break.
Why would a I as a Producer want to incur this added cost? My location or other element may only be available for that day or week. It is a financial calculation and sometimes it’s worth paying 80% more labour to get the shot.