In Hollywood, Unemployment Is Rampant

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Sound stages are empty. Studio backlots have become ghost towns. And post-production facilities have closed their doors.

Unemployment has hit virtually every corner of the entertainment business. Over the past few days, the hard-hit Walt Disney Co. said it would furlough an undisclosed number of "non-essential" employees; the imperiled movie chain AMC Entertainment has told hundreds of corporate staff members they won't be paid for the immediate future; and talent agents are forgoing salaries and slashing positions.

By some estimates, at least 120,000 Hollywood crew members have lost their jobs, and more than 100,000 actors are now out of work.

But unemployment benefits can be complicated, especially because so many people in the business are freelance gig workers, who previously did not qualify for government coverage. So a number of Hollywood unions have begun offering independent help to their members.


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The Directors Guild of America has launched a COVID-19 relief fund, where members who have less than $10,000 in liquid assets can apply for emergency grants of $1,000. The DGA and other Hollywood guilds also assembled a chart that helps "1099 Workers" -- gig employees who move from job-to-job -- navigate how to apply for relief.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents crew workers, has cut its members dues; earlier this week, editors received a 50% reduction in their union fees. In a statement to the guild's 8,300 editors, IATSE leaders said: "We are indeed facing an unprecedented crisis, certainly unlike anything our union has ever had to endure."

SAG/AFTRA, which represents actors and radio performers (including KPCC reporters, news anchors and some producers), says more than 100,000 of its members -- nearly two-thirds of the entire union -- are unemployed. The guild's foundation, which is a separate entity from SAG/AFTRA, has disbursed more than $1 million through its relief fund, but has been inundated with what it calls "an overwhelming number of applications" for relief and is currently processing more than 3,000 requests. The funds are earmarked for those unable to pay for food, housing and health care for the next two months.

"We ask that if you have the resources to cover that period, please wait to apply, "foundation president Courtney B. Vance said in a videotaped message. "These are unprecedented times and we all must steward our resources very carefully."

The Actors Fund, an independent non-profit, also is issuing checks for emergency assistance to actors, support staff, musicians and producers.

Things aren't as bleak in some foreign countries with significant film and TV output. Even if the crews of those production companies aren't able to work, they haven't lost their jobs and are still getting paid, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Some media companies have launched their own relief efforts, following a $100-million initiative for Netflix production staff that the streaming site announced in March. ViacomCBS on Thursday launched a $100 million fund; WarnerMedia previously pledged $100 million; Comcast $500 million; and Sony $100 million.