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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Below-the-Liners Eager To Get Back to Work

Like other industries across the country, the entertainment industry taken a hard hit from COVID-19. Production on feature films and television series has come to a standstill. Movie theaters have closed down. There have been some big-name celebrities, such as Tom Hanks, who have tested positive for the virus. But what about the below-the-line workers and the businesses that employ them? At North Hollywood prop house History for Hire, Vice President Pam Elyea keeps in touch with her 16 employees through email these days, sending one out a couple times a week to keep them all in the loop. Another way the staff stays connected during the pandemic is with a Netflix viewing party every other day. “We watch a movie together and we are able to send notes back and forth,” Elyea said. “We’ll talk about the props and projects that we worked on.” But one comment she has also heard from her staff, who continue to get paid by the company, is that they are bored, Elyea added. “They want to get back to work,” she said. “They want to get back to doing projects.” History for Hire has been closed since March 16. In Burbank, fellow prop house owner Keith Marvin, of Lennie Marvin’s Prop Heaven, closed his business down on March 19, the day that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered all non-essential businesses to shutter. “We didn’t know how long it was going to be and it was easier to do because already a third of the staff had checked out and were on unemployment,” Marvin said. The 32 workers at Prop Heaven have all be laid off. Marvin and Dan Schultz, the vice president, come into the office once or twice a week to check mail, pay bills and strategize. Schultz has been in email contact with other Los Angeles area prop houses, including Elyea at History for Hire, and he described them as frustrated. “Our industry shut down pretty quickly,” Schultz said. “There are lot of moving parts in our industry so there are a lot of thingas to figure out before we can even get started again.” The major Hollywood studios, including both Warner Bros. Entertainment and Walt Disney Co. in Burbank, and Universal Studios in Universal City, are pretty much in control of when business will start moving again. “We are at their mercy,” Schultz said. “We cannot do anything without productions getting up and going again.” Rob Gibson is a location manager in Santa Clarita who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. He has been through strikes and production slowdowns before but nothing that compares to the industrywide shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The entertainment business will have to rewrite how it operates and even how he does his job of finding locations for television series, such as “The Orville.” “Whatever this new normal is going to be, I cannot foresee taking 75 people into somebody’s house within the next few months at best,” Gibson said. Daniel Veluzat, an owner and manager at Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Santa Clarita, said that his heart breaks for everyone in the industry, especially the laborers and carpenters and drivers and others working behind the scenes. “A lot of my friends have literally nowhere to turn,” Veluzat said. “It’s not like they can just jump to another show.” Like History for Hire, Veluzat said that he is paying his employees for the time they are not working. “We will continue to do that until the situation is resolved,” he added. For below-the-line workers who live paycheck to paycheck, they may work for six month and then have three months off. The ability to save money is there but not for what the entire industry is currently going through, Veluzat said. “Any money you save, you are saving for that downtime, not for a crisis like this,” he added.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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