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‘It is brutal’: Hollywood’s rank-and-file on the coronavirus pandemic

LOS ANGELES >> The red carpets are rolled up in storage, the A-listers holed up in mansions, multiplex doors are closed. For now, at least, the coronavirus has shut down much of Hollywood. And for the entertainment industry’s many one-gig-at-a-time staff and freelance workers — a quarter-million people in Los Angeles County alone — it’s an economic disaster.

There’s the hair stylist who can’t do his job due to social distancing, the TV producer whose feature film premiere drew only a few dozen audience members days before theaters closed, and the event producer who fears losing her family home. Six men and women in the entertainment industry explain below how their lives have been upended by the coronavirus.

“IT TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY”

A year ago, Los Angeles-based film and entertainment publicist Annie Jeeves says she would have been “bouncing from plane to plane, city to city, with film festivals, launching different films and preparing for the Cannes Film Festival.”

Not this year.

“Corona(virus) derailed me,” Jeeves said. “Literally the day that South by Southwest (festival) was no more, it was a snowball effect, and I was on the phone with current clients and clients who aren’t even on and advising on strategy and pivoting. And it’s been pivot, and really what ends up being crisis management since.”

The uncertainty is devastating for independent contractors and freelancers who depend on steady income to survive.

“I mean, independents lose houses. They lose everything. They go through savings that, you know, they have a little bit of, but not a lot,” Jeeves said. “I think people think of Hollywood and they think of A-list stars on red carpets. I think of Hollywood and I think of all my friends who are independents, all of them who do costume, do hair, do makeup, produce show runners, editors, composers — like that’s Hollywood to me. … And when things like this happen or like the writers’ strike happened, it is brutal and it takes your breath away.”

But it has not dealt Jeeves a knockout punch. She says she’s got a nest egg. And because it’s a job for Jeeves to help clients “pivot” out of problems, she’s got a lot of ideas to do some pivoting herself. She’s taking advantage of the unexpected spare time, taking her photography hobby more seriously.

“It’s definitely a creative passion that I think feeds me, especially when, you know, things might be kind of tenuous.”

“WE’RE GOING TO ALL NEED A BIG GLOBAL EXHALE”

The first week of March, event producer Heather Hope-Allison and her husband, Steve were putting together the schedule for the ninth season of Street Food Cinema, a six-month series of events in the Los Angeles area featuring film indoor and outdoor screenings, food trucks and musical acts.

Hope-Allison, a 48-year-old mother of two, said recent Street Food Cinema seasons have attracted approximately 100,000 attendees.

But when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a citywide “Safer At Home” order, shutting down all nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus, it became unclear whether Hope-Allison would be hosting any kind of season at all — with a worst-case scenario being losing the family house and selling what remains of her company.

“We’re a family owned business,” she explained. “You know, we’re not a big corporation. We regularly deal with the studios. Our sponsors are Southwest (Airlines) — hugely impacted industry; Live Nation, hugely impacted industry —and many different brands throughout the season. Although we work on a very large scale and we work with very large companies, at the end of the day, our business supports our family ….”

Hope-Allison couldn’t continue speaking. She began to cry. But after pulling herself together, she ended up on the bright side.

“I keep telling myself that when the community is ready to get back together again, we’re going to need these events. We’re going to need the community to be able to come together comfortably and to exhale. We’re going to all need a big global exhale and celebration that it’s over.”

“I’M WATCHING MY FRIENDS PANIC”

On March 14, TV producer and film director Leslie Thomas was one step closer to the Hollywood dream. That night, her feature-film directorial debut was set to premiere at the Pasadena Film Festival. Tickets were sold out for the 250-seat theater set to screen her indie comedy “Honesty Weekend.”

“And 30 to 35 people showed up,” Thomas said, “because they were terrified of the coronavirus.”

A day later, the Los Angeles mayor ordered cinemas closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The following Monday, more bad news came: “I got the news that I am ‘on hiatus’ for two weeks for my day job, which is I produce several series for a very popular network that’s based on food. And I’ve produced these series for several years and we are struggling. We don’t know where to shoot. We don’t know when it’s safe to shoot. We don’t know how this is going to resolve itself.”

She knows that her situation isn’t exclusive to the world of entertainment. But entertainment is the professional world of herself and her wife, a TV show runner/documentary filmmaker.

“I feel like there is such a great loss of momentum,” Thomas said. “Just everything coming to a screeching halt and affecting everyone who works in this industry — you know, from the people who would build the sets on the stages to the people who do makeup to the people who cater to the actors and just to everyone. It’s just a screeching halt to an entire industry.”

“HOW LONG IS THIS GOING TO LAST?”

TV and film music composer Matt Hutchinson says he’s watched production “grinding to a halt” across Hollywood. But, for now, he’s still on the job —working remotely with the help of video conference calls with filmmakers and musicians.

“We’re able to still do some of the work that we would normally do: spotting sessions, which are when I review a television episode, for example, with the producers and we go through and decide what we’re going to be scoring and how to score it,” he said. “I’m just very, very fortunate to not be in a paycheck-to-paycheck situation.”

Hutchinson, 41, has more than 100 total sound/additional music/music score credits, with projects including last year’s Octavia Spencer horror film “Ma.”

Hutchinson says he’s not sure what will happen in the period between when his current gig ends and TV and film production resumes.

“I think the big question is, ‘How long is this going to last? And what’s going to happen with things like pilot productions?’ Obviously, the fall TV schedule typically shows come out in the fall. Is that still going to happen?” he said. “And I just have to wait and see with everyone else. And we’re all on the same boat.”

“IT’S A GIANT SCRAMBLE”

Unlike many of his colleagues, TV editor and filmmaker Pi Ware is still working.

Keeping specifics close to the vest, Ware said he continues to do editing for a “big show for a big network” — only now working from his home instead of a studio, which took some doing.

“There’s a lot of technological and security issues to deal with when you’re taking a huge edit facility and then suddenly splitting it into 45 different units to work from home,” he explained.

Ware, 48, was just coming off stress of the cancellation of the Cleveland Film Festival, which was to premiere his big-screen documentary feature, “Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons.”

“The silver lining here is that, in my case, because I’ll be going digital and because folks are home because of coronavirus, there will be an opportunity for folks to see the film,” he said.

Ware’s editing job will provide a steady paycheck through the end of spring. But many of his friends aren’t so lucky.

“Most of the people I know who are editors, they’ll continue to work for a few more weeks. But most of the people I know who are producers, their shows are shut down completely. They’re out of work. They don’t have income. That’s that.”

And once Ware’s current gig ends later this spring, Ware doesn’t know where to start looking.

“Other network shows that I could possibly edit, they’re on hiatus until who knows when,” he said.

“ALL OF MY JOBS ENDED”

With awards season and a flurry of other major start-of-year events done, celebrity hairstylist Steven Mason anticipated this to be a slow period.

But his bookings came to a total stop when public health officials began to call for more extreme “social distancing.”

“Considering that I’m literally touching the person,” Mason said, “when social distancing started a week or two ago, basically all of my jobs ended.”

But at least one of his celebrity friendships continued. Mason, 40, said he became close with actress Alison Pill, working together frequently as she was doing press for both “Picard,” which he worked on, and the new techno-thriller “Devs.”

“We had a lot of events going on: photo shoots, press tours,” said Mason, who lives in Arcadia, California. “So, she’s checked in to see how I’m doing.”

Mason, a contract worker who is not a union member, said he has a nest egg to get him through “a couple of weeks” without work. “Until then,” he said, “(I’ll) take it easy and get things done that have been waiting a long time.”

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