Below the Line, an industry website devoted to covering issues important to Hollywood crew on TV and film productions, didn’t post any new stories last Friday. The home page featured an old date (April 14), alongside an ad for Ang Lee’s new movie.
It wasn’t a technical glitch. The business, owned by Patrick Graham and funded in part through awards season ads, is facing a staff exodus. Variety has learned that three top-ranking managers—editor Scott Lehane, publisher Sandra Howatt and advertising executive Dan Evans—resigned last week, after complaining that Graham had stopped paying them. One of the site’s writers, Jack Egan, is also leaving.
They claim that collectively Graham owes them tens of thousands of dollars in back pay. When reached by phone, Graham declined to comment on the departures. “It’s an internal matter,” said Graham, who serves as the CEO.
The company, which features interviews with makeup artists and tech teams as well as a subscription-based archive of job listings, launched in 2002 as a print product that later went digital. It always had an unorthodox way of compensating its employees, who were part time. They got checks when there was money. But staffers tell Variety they are tired of that kind of arrangement, especially after a healthy year where Below the Line did well with advertising.
Last Tuesday, Lehane, Below the Line’s editor of six years, stepped down. “I know that Below the Line owes all of you a lot of money,” Lehane wrote in an email to the staff obtained by Variety. “I am very sorry it has come to this … I can no longer continue to work for IOUs and I can’t see any viable path forward.”
Lehane’s last day will be on Friday. The company’s directory still lists him in his old position. Graham told Variety that new stories would resume posting this week, and spoke highly of his outgoing editor. “He’s a damn good man,” Graham said.
Lehane said his paychecks stopped in February and they were on and off again before that. “It’s been incremental,” Lehane said. “You kind of tolerate it up to a point. The debts kept adding up.”
The editor claims he is owed about $20,000.
The evident lack of pay isn’t necessarily connected to economic hardships. According to Evans, he landed roughly $141,000 in ad sales in 2015 from companies–including Universal, Warner Bros., Focus Features and Fox–wanting to reach the target audience of industry workers. “He might have brought in more,” said Graham. “It’s one of the best years we’ve ever had.”
Evans claims that he’s owed $18,075 in unpaid commissions, according to internal emails obtained by Variety. He’s contemplating legal action, but says he’d rather just walk away. “This guy is supposed to be the champion of the crew and the unions,” Evans said. “And he doesn’t even pay his people.”
Howatt, who worked for the company for about a decade as publisher, said she had enough. “I turned 60 in March and had to take stock of my life,” she said. “As much as I love Below the Line, I knew I could be very successful and not have to deal with lack of support and lack of payment.” She told Variety she is owed $22,000.
Egan estimates Graham owes him $6,500 for approximately 40 stories he wrote. “It is very much an ad hoc arrangement but it has worked,” Egan said. “And I have no idea why there is no money.”
Lehane added that even his brother Sean, who designed the Below the Line site, wasn’t fully paid. “He got about half of it,” Lehane said. “It made for awkward family gatherings.”