Below-the-liners see signs of rebound

A wisp of year-end optimism has brightened the outlook for Hollywood’s below-the-line crafts employees, after what was a brutal second half of 2001.

“I keep hearing there will be a pickup next year, but I take that kind of speculation with a lot of precaution,” said Norm Glasser, business rep for Local 728 Motion Picture Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). “We hear department heads telling us that stuff will be starting to shoot soon, but the real test will be what actually happens in the first two weeks of January.”

Steve Dayan, business rep for Local 399 Location Managers of the Teamsters, reports an upswing in hiring activity among his 500 members.

“We’re hearing that more and more location managers are starting to get work or will soon be working on TV and features, so we’re hopeful,” Dayan said. “And we tend to be a pretty good barometer of future activity, since the location manager is often the first person hired on a crew.”

The basis for asserting that Hollywood will see improved prospects comes from the sense that production activity, particularly on films, is on the verge of a rise due to a quartet of factors:

  • Producers and studios have used up most of the stockpiled projects that were shot in early 2001 to withstand possible writer and actor strikes.

  • The national recession that dogged the economy for most of 2001 appears to be tapering off.

  • The industry has started to shake off the lingering shock from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

  • With the Writers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America all having reached deals on their major contracts, there is no uncertainty on the labor front for the first time in several years.

“There is a sense that things have bottomed out and now can only go up at this point,” said Scott Roth, exec director of the Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 876. “I don’t expect it right away, because January is traditionally a pretty tough month, when people are returning from hiatus, but I am looking for a lot of increased activity in February and March.”

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