On a Friday, Tyler Blackwell, a 27-year-old digital imaging technician, wasn’t expecting to get a text that he couldn’t come to work the following week.
The four-day commercial that Blackwell was slated to start working on March 11 got canceled due to coronavirus precautions.
“I would like to say that it blindsided me. But I think I was just being more hopeful that it wasn’t going to have as much of an impact as it has proven to have been,” he said.
Since March 6, it’s been like a “domino effect” for the Newnan resident, with projects coming to an end left and right. He was planning to work in cities that are currently seeing surges in coronavirus cases, such as Los Angeles and New Orleans.
In Georgia, about 51,000 people are employed in the film industry, according to Marie Hodge Gordon, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
But now, more than 4,000 Georgia members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 479 have reportedly lost their jobs within the last two weeks, said Whit Norris, VP of the group.
Productions around the state have stopped due to city ordinances to stay at home, which means lost revenue for the state and pay for some workers.
During the 2019 fiscal year, productions spent $2.9 billion in the state and paid about $9.2 billion in total wages, as stated in the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s news release.
The ‘Domino Effect’
This is a time of great uncertainty for workers in the film industry, affecting those who are gig workers and who are employed by companies.
“It’s really unprecedented where we are and kind of hard to manage your expectations when things just seem to be getting progressively worse,” said Blackwell, who worked as a contractor.
By March 13, Blackwell found himself at home with no work, scrolling through his social media feed and seeing how others in the film industry were also facing job losses.
“It was Friday the 13th when our industry came to a screeching halt when productions left and right started to shut down their operations,” he said.
He estimates that every month of not working equals another month of delay for him to return to work due to the nature of his job.
Already, he has lost approximately $25,000 from the projects, consulting work and equipment he would have used to perform his job. The HDR equipment rental company he co-owns, called RDH Partners, has also lost about $100,000 so far.
The impact on the film industry has already been felt nationwide.
IATSE International estimates that more than 120,000 union members have lost their jobs nationwide, according to Norris.
This includes technicians and artisans in the U.S. and Canada who were employed by places, such as studios, television shows, movies and Broadway.
Unemployment Benefits And The Gig Worker
After learning that his work had dried up, Blackwell filed for unemployment for the first time. He said it took him hours to finish his application because he had to list his previous gigs since the application asks for an 18-month employment history.
But he is unsure if his application will even get accepted.
“So when you get these dropdown menus of the unemployment application, none of them apply,” Blackwell said. “Then it gets concerning like, ‘Oh, am I going to get denied for this?’ And then also from previous knowledge of people just getting denied in this gig economy.”
Before the CARES Act was signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, contractors and gig workers couldn’t get unemployment benefits if they didn’t receive W-2s from their employers.
But the economic relief package will loosen those restrictions to let gig workers get unemployment benefits, which includes an additional $600 on top of what states award the filer. Coverage spans four months, as well.
Georgia’s minimum and maximum weekly benefits are $55 and $365, respectively, according to Kersha Cartwright, director of communications at the Georgia Department of Labor.
The max amount of benefits someone could receive is $965 weekly in Georgia due to the CARES Act.
GDOL is also allowing people who receive unemployment benefits to make up to $300 weekly before it counts against the benefits they receive, according to a March 26 press release.
Blackwell said he would be able “to survive” on this, but he would still need to put certain bills aside and possibly defer them.
“I really have no control at this point,” he said. “It’s tough to feel so vulnerable.”
How Unions Are Helping
The union that Blackwell is a member of, called IATSE Local 600, is waiving dues for the second quarter from April to June. They also have a hardship fund that can provide grants of up to $1,000 for members in financial need, according to a statement sent by Dejan Georgvich, national vice president of the group.
Norris said IATSE Local 479 is “coming up with some programs to assist our membership financially” during this time. IATSE International is also offering annuity hardship withdrawals for those who are being affected by COVID-19.
The Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has resources on their website, along with access to emergency financial assistance for members through their COVID-19 Disaster Fund.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 613, is telling members who are furloughed to email Jeff Deppe.