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Panel Report: The Pandemic Pivot

Updated: Apr 12, 2021





Takeaways


  • Community-based, ad hoc responses mirrored New York City responses in terms of addressing PPE fabrication and food insecurity. Pro bono, local response reaches recipients in need sooner, albeit on a smaller scale, but nonetheless necessary until municipal relief arrives.

  • The City of New York recognizes that the film industry played an important role in emergency response throughout the years. The Office of Emergency Management is writing the playbook for the next administration to streamline potential ​public-private partnerships, including with the film industry.

  • Across the board, panelists agree that the film industry is a training ground for improvised problem-solving and ad hoc infrastructure development.

  • Staggered re-opening phases opened upstate New York to more production companies and needed revenue.

  • California's summer of rising COVID cases and historic wildfires boosted revenues for some of New York's production vendors.

  • Savvy business owners are not waiting for "things to get back to normal", they clearly see that COVID-era methodologies will morph into hybrid models.

  • Business owners with a deep and understanding and empathy of the clients' needs in a changing market, can lead to new enterprises, services, and products and builds a loyal client base.



Quick Links


Speakers:

Marielle Segarra, Adam Richlin, Andrew Stern + Patrick Rousseau, Debby Goedeke, Jason Weindruch, Jake Baer, Peter Hatch



Topics:

Response // Pro Bono PPE fabrication + Food Insecurity Relief

Retooling // Virtual Meetings + Hotel to Qualified Production Facility

Entrepreneurship // New Services and Products + Digital Marketplace for Prop Rentals


Addendum:

Peter Hatch: What the film industry can do now to prepare for the next crisis.

Included are action items you and your business can take now to work direct;y and indirectly with the City


Moderator Final Thoughts

Disease and the environment, prevention is less expensive than the cure.

Speaker Contact Information


 




From ad hoc supply chains, hybrid business model adaption, and COVID-era startups, the film industry remains quick to respond, resilient, and able to foster new ideas for the shifting business landscape.


March 2021 marked the first anniversary of the shutdown of New York. We dedicated our panel to those who rose to the occasion in adversity to create relief efforts and opportunities.


Response

The film industry vendors and freelancers who volunteered to address food insecurity and PPE fabrication via ad hoc operations were the stopgaps for a city and industry crisis. At the time, we did not stop to consider that our efforts were a pro bono indirect partnership with the City, but in hindsight, that's exactly what it was.


Here are just a few stories of the many pop-up relief efforts where the film industry's competencies and core values met at the crossroads to address a crisis.




Pro Bono PPE Fabrication

VIDEO: Dr. Ted Segarra of Downstate Hospital on ArtCube Army's PPE relief and what it meant to healthcare providers in the early days of the COVID-19.




Marielle Segarra,

Journalist, Citizen Healthcare Crisis Coordinator




Eva:

That was your brother in the video. And you are one of many, many of the requests that came to ArtCube Army from family members terrified for their caregiver loved ones. You're a civilian with no real ties to the film industry, then fortuitously hitched wagons with the with us in relief efforts, can you tell us your story?



Marielle:

I looked back at the initial email that I sent, which was March 27th, 2020. My brother had called me the night before. All this happened so quickly and the medical staff was really scared and the conditions at the hospital were awful at the time. They were trying to build out a lot of ICU rooms really quickly, and they just didn't have the supplies they needed. So for instance, in the ICU they had patient beds,

separated from the doctors' and nurses' stations by only a thin layer of cloudy plastic that didn't reach the floor. The fact that it's cloudy matters because the doctors and nurses couldn't see through it, so they couldn't monitor patient machines without actually going into the isolation area. And that means they have to use more PPE.


The patient room was open, the window was open, so the air was blowing directly from where the patients were onto the doctors and nurses who were stationed right there. And in some cases, they sleep overnight, and during their overnight shifts at the hospital were right around the corner from some of those patient rooms.


They didn't have basic supplies like masks and gowns and face shields.


They had some. But they were being told to take home their masks in a paper bag for a week, and just keep reusing the same one.

I think that happened at a lot of different hospitals.


So Ted called and asked for help. I think he just felt pretty desperate. I'm not really sure why he asked me because I'm a journalist. I don't have anything to do with this field, but he needed things like clear vinyl sheeting (aka marine vinyl) that would actually reach the floor so that they could monitor patients from outside. IV drip extenders so that we can put drugs to patients from further away again without having to enter patient areas."

Marine vinyl sourced for shields and dividers

So I put out an email to a community of radio and audio professionals, and I asked if people had any suggestions on where to get these kinds of supplies; it was kind of shot in the dark. A friend of mine put me in touch with her sister, Sally, who put me in touch with ArtCube Army and I didn't even really know much about what you were doing, except that you were making some supplies. And the outline of it wasn't entirely clear to me, but...


...it seemed like magic. Like you guys were able to source a lot of this stuff.

I think we raised a significant amount and started sending those supplies to not just downstate, but 149 other hospitals.


Downstate got a large portion of it. I know it meant a lot to my brother and his colleagues. Two of my brother's colleagues got COVID and died right around that time, in the spring, and it has had an enormous impact on them. They had to worry about themselves and their loved ones and whether they were going to die there to see what happened to their colleagues. And then meanwhile, they didn't know much about this virus or how to treat it.



So they were seeing their patients die despite everything that we're doing. Uh, and I think having this kind of support from the community meant a lot to them, it showed them that someone cared or that a lot of people cared. It's always hard to quantify, did someone not get sick because of the things that we did? But, I think that that almost certainly has to be the case.


Eva:

Were you surprised that the film industry was able to do this? When the world opens up again and we're shooting on your block and take up all the parking will you be just as annoyed? What are your feelings now that you have a little idea about what we're capable of?


Mariella:

Yeah, I thought it was amazing. I never thought about how when films are made, or about how all of the props and sets get there, who makes all that happen? I've learned about some shows like Saturday Night Live skits are written just a couple of days before. It reminds me of the news business because everything happens so quickly.


I think that's a superpower that you all have. I guess I've heard this kind of joke in several iterations, but if the film needs, like a giant shark by tomorrow, you figure out where to get the giant shark. The fact that you can do that for disaster relief, I think that is really important to know, because who knows what the next disaster is going to be.


The ability to pivot so quickly, just being able to fly the plane while you're building it, when you're not going to have an answer to right away, is critical.

And in those moments, it sounds like that's something that film industry production folks are really good at.


Am I going to get annoyed when you all the parking spots? Probably still yes. But whenever I saw it in Midtown, where I worked, I was always pretty excited to see what the program actually was. It was usually something I've never heard of or a dog food commercial or something.



Eva:

As founder of ArtCube Nation, a digital community of 1000's of New York City Art Department freelance crew and small businesses, our pro bono PPE fabrication happened via volunteer businesses and freelancers that have materials and tools on hand due to on-the-fly prop-making requirements. Thankfully, a lot of film fabrication businesses were awarded City contracts to fabricate very large quantities of PPE and hired prop makers to assemble face shields, a welcome paycheck in a bleak employment landscape at the time.


The gap in time, 42 days in this case, from signing a contract to mass distribution of finished goods, still left frontline workers vulnerable to viral exposure. In that length of time, determined, small, ad hoc operations emerged to bridge that gap until the local supply chain caught up. Businesses kept employees on the payroll, despite no incoming revenue, because our city's care providers needed us as we need them.


It was harrowing. Small businesses and freelancers risked exposure in the process but the pleas of overwhelmed healthcare providers and their terrified family members asking for help drove us to push forward. Rightly so, as historically, health providers are the first to perish in pandemics, and to date, more than 3,600 healthcare workers have died due to COVID-19.


We came together a year ago, and today, with work protocols and COVID compliance officers in place, these businesses are experiencing a return to business as usual to a lesser degree. When asked to speak about the experience, the common reply was, "I'm too busy. I'm making up for lost time and lost funding." One frankly said, "I just don't want to talk about it."


This video was created in April 2020, by BRIC TV mid-way through of efforts, tell the tale.



BRIC Arts Media, April 2020



Pro Bono Food Insecurity Relief


With freelance paychecks coming to an abrupt halt in the historically "slow" winter period in New York, pandemic food insecurity became a real problem for many freelancers who were not qualified for unemployment insurance, or if they were, NYC living expenses far exceeded what the assistance provided.


That's where Adam Richlan of Lightbulb Grip and Electric came in. At first, he offered his space to Feed the Freelancers and soon fell into being an integral part of the effort with the founder, Isabella Olaguera.


Adam Richlin

Managing Partner, Lightbulb Grip and Electric





Eva:

Describe the days between day one of realizing that grip and electric rentals were on hold and your first delivery of groceries to our community.


Adam:

I would say we were gearing up in the first half of March for a great spring. We had a lot of orders that were scheduled on the books. And then between March 13th and 16th or so I just watched everything cancel.


Over a hundred jobs canceled in four days, and it was just a flurry of cancellations. The state was about to shut down. I went from thinking was just gonna be another SARS-like thing passing through the country to "Uh oh. This is gonna shut us down for a while."

So we had probably a week or two of quiet. And then a friend of mine, Isabella Oliveira, this is actually her idea. She came to me and said, "Hey, we're doing this thing where we're collecting donations and we're going to go buy some stuff at Costco and make food boxes and give them out. Can I just use some floor space from you guys?"


Our checkout floor was doing nothing. And so I agreed. I sat on the side and let them do their thing. At one point, I was having a conversation with her because I enjoy logistics and processes and figuring out how to make things work better. I said, "Well if we put all the tables in a line if we could get someone to donate the boxes if we could find a better food supplier..." I always remember her comment was, "Well, you keep saying WE, so you're in on this?"



Photo: suzeebehindthescenes.com

And so that became the start of me being the New York City flagship site leader for Feed the Freelancers. Then we partnered up with Red Hook Terminal who had a lot of food coming in their massive shipping terminal in Brooklyn, that there were a lot of huge shipping container ships already on the water moving food or fresh produce and stuff over from other countries that once the city had shut down, the restaurants had closed. There was no place for those two to go. They're just sitting on the dock.


And so we started. We got a call from them asking if we were interested in taking some food, so that started to change for us between, buying stuff retail and finding, you know, better avenues worked with Amy, who runs a service Rock Can Roll that helps catering companies and film sets repurpose unused food and gets it to charities.


So, with Red Hook, a story was that when we first when they first called, they had shipping containers of pineapples that they were not using and asked us if we would like any. We were doing about 100 boxes a week at that point, so we said, "Sure, we'll take 100 pineapples."


And when they delivered, it was an 18 wheeler, and they delivered us 48 ft tall pallets of pineapple because they shipped us 100 cases of pineapple. They don't work in single numbers.

In case anyone's wondering, you can fit 94 pineapples in a standard like film-equipment hamper.

Because we had all of those hampers from all those pineapples from our loading dock, we started getting more selective about our questioning. But we were getting everything from them from squash to fruit. All different. We got corn, we got whatever was in the shipping containers, they would just say, like, "Okay, it's fair game you have out to come by and come pick it up."


We started mostly to serve freelancers that weren't getting covered by any other government support service at the time.

Most freelancers don't have access to unemployment. Most freelancers don't have access to really strong support networks because we're all just this web of other freelancers, and nobody had anything to really grab onto.


We saw a lot of food insecurity, and we also saw a lot of people being unwilling in the film community to stand up and say that they needed help. A big part of being a freelancer is putting out this aura of they are always working. People were not as willing to share their hardships. We're trying to make it a little easier for them.





We figured out how to make it as efficient as possible. We were packing about 125 boxes a week. Every box gets a little label in the corner. And we had all of the boxes bar-coded and labeled for destinations. We got donated cargo vans every week for us to send out all the deliveries direct to doorsteps versus asking people to take the subway to come to meet us. We thought that was a safer option.


We really tried to think through, making sure that all of the boxes were

diverse foods that were nutritionally sound they could use in a lot of different ways if you come from a Spanish or Italian household, for instance. They could use these basic staples like beans and rice and bread and stuff in different ways.


It took us a while to get all this together, but it was a lot of logistics work and figuring out how to solve one problem at a time. As Marielle was saying about filmmakers...


...we are really good at solving problems that we don't see the full end of. We just know that we need to get started and we will figure it out along the way.

I think that makes for a really great team because we brought together about 15 filmmakers. Every week our roles were changing and what we had to do and where we had to go. Plans changed and everyone would just go with it. So, that helped us get a lot more done in a short period of time.

If we had waited for for for somebody to build a process for us, this would have never happened.
Photo: Feed the Freelancers Instagram

We made about 1500 boxes in total, and we assume that each box served about 33 meals or two weeks of food. In total, I think that's about 33,000 meals.

And so we served about 2500 freelancers. Everyone could apply for a box every week. And we had over 5000 applications, and these people came. These names came from everywhere from film and TV freelancers and photographers. And then it started branching out as people shared the link.


This was from a pitch for getting people involved originally. But we made a big survey asking for some basic information and then people were passing this link around, and so we would start getting networks of people who were independent contractors, babysitters, and bartenders. We would see one person find it, and then we would see a whole bunch of other people come in that were in that same genre, and we didn't limit it to just film and TV people. If there were people that applied that needed food, we pretty much just produce boxes as quickly as we could and then just kept taking the next chunk of names on the list, routing them two different boroughs, and then sending them out. Each has its own label and instructions for the user as to how the boxes work.


We also realize that freelancers didn't always have the best experience with cooking. A lot of freelancers also work 12 hour days constantly and eat on film sets, so we included a lot of recipe cards and instructions, especially when some of the recipients were getting four or five pineapples in the box to try to help us get rid of 800 pineapples, like pina colada and pineapple upside-down cake and the like.


The recipe cards kept continuing in our team would throw in recipes and family recipes that we had for different things that you can make out of whatever was in the box that week. Okay, we've got squash this week and bell peppers. Okay, maybe we can make some sort of summer stir fry kind of thing.


Eva:

You started with no system whatsoever and morphed it into that intricate system that helped 1000's feed themselves... Unbelievable yet unsurprising. Thank you so much.




RETOOLING


Film and Television production opened up in phases with strict guidelines, and hesitant clients, crew, and talent. Small businesses adapted to these new restrictions to keep the workforce safe and employed by retooling existing operations creating a new hybrid of services.



Andrew Stern

Be Electric Studios

Eva:

Tell us about your business in 2019 and describe the steps you took to retool your business to offer new pandemic-era services?


Andrew:

I'm Andrew, the CEO of Be Electric studios and equipment rental company. We have ten stages located in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We provide stage space and equipment rentals to TV shows, music videos, commercials, productions of all shapes, sizes, and colors.


2019, for us, was a really big year. We doubled in size twice. We acquired the former Brooklyn Fireproof stages, and so that bumped us up into the Level One Certification for the New York Film Tax credit as a qualified production facility.


And at the same time, we had already started construction on our largest stage Studio Ten. It was a lot of the really difficult thing to manage. Not something I would have chosen to do all at the same time. But that's just kind of how things happened.


We doubled in size and had the first TV show in Studio Ten. They started in November of 2019. Basically, they went straight up until the pandemic. Luckily for them, they wrapped right before the pandemic hit. But, just like Adam said, we started seeing the same kind of cancellations. By February, we started hearing from clients that production lines in China were delayed they couldn't get their products, and they had to push their shoot back, things like that. But by March, they canceled left and right.


I remember our last production was crazy. We had crew members walking off, people didn't feel safe. We determined we had to call it and we shut down. The governor's order for the shutdown came in a few days later.


Eva:

So what was your pivot?


Andrew:


We had a bunch more time on our hands. So we started reaching out to our clients and just kind of checking in and seeing how they were doing and what they're up to.