Hollywood odd jobs drying up

Hollywood is feeling the chills of a hiring freeze.

Jobs that the creative community once relied on to stay afloat during rough times are themselves starting to dry up in this recession.

That includes everything from directing assignments at commercial production houses to positions at restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers.

Even temp agencies have little to offer job seekers.

“Most employers now are getting rid of someone and, instead of calling us, they are just having someone else they employ do two or more jobs,” said one temp agent, who hasn’t seen the entertainment industry this deep in the doldrums since the period after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Even then the job market wasn’t as bleak as it is now, the agent said. “I’m getting calls every day and am simply unable to fill everybody’s needs,” she said.

That’s bad news for the hundreds of staffers who have been handed pinkslips at the major studios, networks, tenpercenteries and various shingles around town over the past year.

It’s even worse for people who are struggling to break into the biz.

Ken Kaufman, a former TV producer and current owner of Rush Street restaurant in Culver City, Calif., said most of his employees are actors, writers or people looking to start a career in Hollywood.

“L.A. has a lot of young people coming to it every day, and they all have to find a way to survive and make a living,” Kaufman said.

This year, the threat of an actors strike and the ongoing production of pics outside Hollywood hasn’t helped the job shortage. But cutbacks in spending by major marketers have hit congloms with advertising-dependent TV, publishing and Internet arms the hardest.

The depressed ad market has put production shops in the position of having to wait longer than usual for payment from clients, with some even left stuck with unpaid bills.

For example, Anheuser-Busch has delayed paying commercial producers until 120 days after an ad runs vs. the typical 30-day period. Meanwhile, General Motors isn’t paying for a spot’s production costs until it starts shooting and then pays only half the total bill.

Vidgame companies are eliminating the use of live-action footage in spots and relying on animation from their games to push new titles.

Those kinds of moves have greatly reduced the number of commercials being produced and eliminated what were once considered lucrative side jobs for directors between TV or movie assignments.

But the commercial biz isn’t the only area hurt by job losses.

Overall, the entertainment job market is down 19,200 posts from a high of 141,400 in 2008, according to Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

That has considerably reduced discretionary spending.

Retail jobs fell by 19,400 last month in L.A., while the leisure and hospitality sector was off by 8,100.

Anorexic sales have forced boutiques around town to shutter, with a number of shops closing on Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue, Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive and L.A.’s Melrose Avenue or looking for cheaper rents elsewhere in town.

Musicstores like Tower Records on Sunset and Virgin Megastore are gone or closing. Bookstores are boarding up, including Dutton’s in Brentwood and several Borders locations, while Book Soup’s future is in doubt after its longtime owner died.

The city’s restaurant biz is also taking a big hit amid the downturn.

While some spots are still popular, fewer patrons means less business and less need for waiters, bartenders and other personnel.

Several hot spots are struggling. Venues including Citrus at Social and Eat on Sunset are reducing hours; Joachim Splichal’s Paperfish was forced to close its doors last year. Campanile has said its business dropped 15% in 2008, with its final quarter numbers down 25%.

In a report released by Technomic, a Chicago-based research and consulting firm, fine dining revenues could fall by as much as 15% in 2009.

The slump is killing the momentum that Los Angeles’ restaurant scene had enjoyed in the past few years as high-profile chefs opened outlets. The city also has four new major hotel properties, the SLS, the Andaz, Montage and London West Hollywood, that recently opened their doors, but they have been forced to slash room rates to drum up business. The London was supposed to open a spa but has put those plans on hold indefinitely.

Those that are hiring have been deluged by applicants.

Job seekers applying for positions at Eleven, a bar and restaurant in West Hollywood, for example, recently stood in line for three hours just to get an interview with a manager. Nearby Mickey’s had a line wrapping around the block when it sought hires.

A manager of the Stone Rose Lounge said business has been slower than usual but not to the point where bartenders are losing shifts.

“It all depends on timing,” he said “We are always looking for new help and are still getting resumes regularly.”

A manager at the Grill at Hollywood and Highland said it’s in the midst of a hiring freeze but hasn’t had to let anyone go. Management at Sushi Roku said it’s always looking for new help but the times have had an effect on how many people they’re able to hire.

The situation’s not expected to change anytime soon.

Companies continue to cut back on expense accounts or have cautioned execs on using them.

“We haven’t had to put a limit on it yet, but we have been told as of late to mind our expenses and how often we use (our expense account),” a Warner Bros. exec said.

One Lionsgate exec said that the studio has set limits on how much money can be spent on breakfast, lunch and dinner for each expense account.

Premiere parties aren’t immune.

Wade Williams, owner of Picnic Catering in Los Angeles, said clients have scaled back on big events compared with the past couple of years, cutting the number of staff working them.

Picnic and most catering services recommend one server for every 20 guests. A couple of summers ago, the after-party for a major pic like “Transformers” could have staffed 30-50 servers, but the sequel’s after-party will likely only hire half as many this summer, Williams said.

“The average premiere today has between 14 and 30 people working it to match the ratio,” Williams said.

The current situation may be dire, but recent numbers offer a bright spot for the future job market.

The number of entertainment jobs remained relatively unchanged in February vs. last year at around 122,200, according to the LAEDC. Org is forecasting a modest improvement in Hollywood with 1,000 more showbiz jobs to be created this year and 2,000 more next year, mainly because of increased pic and cable TV production.

“The increases in box office and cable are enough to offset the uncertainty this year,” Kyser told Daily Variety, “(and) 2009 has gotten off to a very strong start.”

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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