Workers in the entertainment industry have been particularly hard hit as production sets and performance venues find themselves completely shut down as a precaution against the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
According to IATSE who spoke to The Wrap, 120,000 below-the-line production people are out of work in Hollywood.
Tobin Neis is the Director of Marketing at the lighting and electric supply company Barbizon who, like other businesses, has been impacted here in Chicago and across America. Neis sees this situation as an opportunity to utilize the skill set of displaced lighting and electric technicians in this time of crisis.
Barbizon’s business practices are quickly adjusting in the face of pandemic. “What we’re doing is a lot of pickups. If people have to come in, we’re not letting them past showroom areas,” Tobin said.
He went on to explain how the company has continued to utilize its employees who are at home caring for children. “The phones are all networked, so anyone can pick up a call and process an order.”
While Barbizon has managed to keep their employees busy with shipments and general company maintenance, Tobin acknowledges that many other workers in the industry have not been so lucky. He thinks there’s a way for our country to repurpose the lighting and electrical crews’ unique set of skills.
“These crews know how to quickly set up and mobilize, and get things done. In our industry we understand shelter, we understand power, and we understand getting stuff done quickly.”
Tobin pointed me towards a Facebook post in a group for IATSE: the International Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees union.
The post suggests that these crews would be ideal candidates to employ in building and helping to run field hospitals and drive through testing areas. It’s not the only suggestion that now is the time to get a little creative in mobilizing and repurposing the entertainment industry.
Angie Gaffney, local Producer and Executive Director at Independent Film Alliance Chicago, took to twitter in an effort to get the attention of Gov. Pritzker. She suggested that fabrication shops such as Hero Solutions now be utilized in building hospital beds and face shields and “anything else” we may fall short of in the coming days.
The Chicago-based fabrication shop, Hero Solutions is housed in a 25,000-square-foot former west side bookbindery on Grand Ave. Partners Ira Amyx and Jay Neander are known for their uncanny ability to fabricate whatever your imagination can conjure up.
“If it’s something that doesn’t exist and you can’t buy or rent it, that’s generally when we get the call,” says Neander. “We’re pretty resourceful, if you asked us to build a spaceship, we could probably have you something by tomorrow morning.”
When necessary, they call on the community of artists.
“There are a lot of other film guys, a lot of other clever builders and fabricators and welders and sculptors,” says Amyx.
There are ways in which the film community has already contributed to those professionals who are battling against the coronavirus.
TV medical dramas including Fox’s The Resident and ABC’s The Good Doctor and Station 19 are donating their medical supply props, specifically face masks, to hospitals and fire stations left ravaged by the virus.
To quote Tobin Neis once again; “we just don’t know how long all this will last,” and in the face of uncertainty, it’s time for our cities to call upon anyone willing to help, especially when doing so can help provide relief in a time of financial hardship.
LEAD PHOTO CREDIT: AMBROSE PETERS