LOS ANGELES – Being a television and film editor in Hollywood is what Zack Arnold has been doing for over two decades, but after years of enduring the demanding working conditions required in the entertainment industry, he began to see the toll it was taking on his life.
“I’ve seen over and over and over, myself included, people who have gone through extensive periods of burnout, depression and overwhelm because of the demands the job puts on us,” said Arnold.
Arnold was working on the highly successful TV series Empire and putting his children to bed via FaceTime when he heard something one night that changed the direction of his career and his life forever.
“I was putting my son to bed via FaceTime, I think he was about five years old at the time. My wife and he thought that they had hung up the phone and my son leaned over to my wife and he said, ‘Why doesn’t daddy want to be home to put us to bed at night? Why doesn’t he love us?’ That moment made me realize that it didn’t matter how important the work I was doing, how successful it was, how many people were watching it, none of it mattered. And I had to completely reshape my priorities,” said Arnold.
Being able to spend time with his two kids became more important to Arnold than anything. During the pandemic, he says many other people who work in the entertainment industry suddenly became aware of the many ways in which their jobs had forced them to sacrifice their personal lives, their health and their general sanity.
So he decided to write about it. Arnold published a letter on his website called “Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to Go Back to Normal. Normal Wasn’t Working.”
“Since the pandemic I’ve had so many people reaching out to me with this new level of awareness about the choices they’ve made in their lives,” Arnold said. “Realizing that they don’t want to go back to the way things were before.”
In his “Dear Hollywood” letter, Arnold expressed his frustration with what he called the insane way people approach their livelihoods in the industry. After publishing the article, it exploded on social media, with over 45,000 shares and 95,000 page views in the first three days it was out.
“The one thing that affects every human being in this industry universally is the hours that we work. The expectations that are put upon us are that yesterday’s miracle has now become today’s expectation,” he said. “And it’s this vicious cycle, where we just continually meet insane deadlines. But because we have to meet that deadline to keep our job, the assumption is that becomes the new normal.”
Arnold’s list of things that were not working about the Hollywood work ethos include:
- A standard contract expecting a 60-hour work week before any discussion of overtime
- Eating lunches at desks because it’s socially unacceptable to take breaks
- The cultural pressure to show up to work every single day, even when you were sick and could make others sick
- Parents terrified that having kids will make them less desirable as a potential hire because they “have outside responsibilities” and they aren’t able to “give everything”
- Assuming we prefer windowless rooms because “editors are weird like that” and depriving us of the most basic human need of sunlight
- Wearing a “sleep deprivation badge of honor” and bragging about how many nights you’ve slept on your couch to meet deadlines
If ever there was a time to set boundaries and demand change, Arnold says it’s now. He has started a campaign on change.org to support a 45-hour work week in Hollywood.
“It really is about us collectively, being able to look at each other and say we need to do this for all of us. And just really change the work culture and the expectations from the ground up,” he said.
He has become someone people in the entertainment industry turn to, through his coaching and mentorship program OPTIMIZE YOURSELF.
“I firmly believe that you can be healthy, productive and successful in the entertainment industry because you priority ties your health and your well being not despite the fact that you prioritize all of those things,” said Arnold.
He has also embarked on a mission to get fit and fulfill his dream to make it onto the TV show, American Ninja Warrior — as a competitor, not an editor. In the meantime, he is honing his dad skills and appreciating every moment of his life’s most important accomplishments.