ArtCube Nation

Waiting for the New Normal:  When Will Film Production Pick Up?

May 02, 2024 06:33
4 minutes read 182 1 0

IATSE Negotiations, Film Permit Clues, and Creative Crossover in the Shifting Film Industry.

IASTE Negotiations

When will film work get back to “normal”?

If you had this thought recently, you are one of the lucky ones. Many left the biz a year ago.

The film and TV industry is too slow for comfort in its return to its pre-pandemic bustle, leaving nearly all stakeholders above and below the line wondering about the timeline for recovery and stabilization of work volume.  In other words, we are waiting for “the new normal”, whatever that turns out to be, and it may not be unveiled until mid-summer.

I contacted a few of my peers across studios, vendors, and film commissions to gather their opinions, whispers, and insights and found the oddest of indicators.

Here’s the rundown

  • When the strike ended, the widely expected upswing in film and TV work volume ala post-COVID, was contextually comparing apples to oranges. 
  • IASTE labor negotiations are underway and everyone at the bargaining table is reportedly proceeding with unrushed caution. Neither side wants a meltdown, but it does leave a trail of breadcrumbs indicating a potential timeline.
  • The pandemic thrust creative industries that typically run in different circles into the same workspaces like ArtCube Nation, which eases the pain now.
  • Film permits and annoyed citizens on Facebook are some good indicators.

 

THE POST-COVID UPSWING MISMANAGED FILM WORK EXPECTATIONS

We were all in the same, dark boat on lockdown. Hindsight is 20/20.

During the pandemic, we all wondered how to proceed – from C-level Hollywood executives to entry-level Art PAs, most all were reeling and trying to figure out how to make movies and television safely.  We were not divided into camps as an industry. The CDC and the virus drove the narrative, not the studios or the unions as far as wanting to shoot was concerned.

States, unions, and associations wrote white papers and introduced the COVID Compliance Officers so we could work together as an industry dependent on humans in the same space.

The strike, on the other hand, was a different story. There was a dividing line.  It was apparent the studios dug in their heels,  let the time run out on the fiscal year, and let the blowhards have their day in the sun with a steady paycheck.

Crew divorced, quit the business, sold their homes, or cried in their cars begging for a resolution.  The big dogs had the upper hand, an astounding blend of lack of empathy and corporate fiduciary-coated pressure to win. We were not working together to attain the same goals. There is the core differentiation. 

LABOR NEGOTIATIONS HAVE A REPORTED DIFFERENT TONE

We are not done with hurdles, but we have a semblance of a timeline and less expected drama.

During the strikes, stock values dropped for studios like Warner Bros., Paramount, and Disney.

Public sentiment stunned by tone-deaf offerings such as Netflix’s $900K AI job post in July of 2023. That was a poke in the eye that raised some eyebrows.

The AMPTP hired a Washington DC crisis firm in August of 2023. Kids, that’s bad.

 

The studios’ main concern is driving revenue, and that, in this round, pushes them to seek non-disruptive resolutions and secure a stable operational future. This illustrates the direct link between film industry labor and financial markets; studios and streamers are motivated to avoid another public display of fratboi gags. While studio motivation is not a guarantee they will play ball, it’s reported the bargaining has a different tenor.

Streamers and Studios Minding their Ps and Qs this round.

Our locals’ craft-specific issues required the employers’ attention, and at the table, we’re seeing improved engagement and dialogue.

That indicates the studios’ negotiators have different marching orders this contract cycle.

This approach will be helpful as we continue our negotiations over the next few weeks.

Three days ago, IATSE issued an update on Instagram and its website that negotiations concluded between each of the 13 individual West Coast Studio IASTE Locals and the AMPTP. (The same organization that fought toe-to-toe with above-the-line SAG and the WGA.)

Talks for the Basic Agreement are expected to run until mid-May.

IATSE will continue bargaining for the Area Standards Agreement, which covers 23 additional IATSE locals across the U.S.

Once IATSE has wrapped, the Teamsters and other Hollywood Basic Crafts will hold negotiations in June

If all goes well, everyone can exhale and the new normal will finally be able to reveal itself.  Freelance film crew are used to a measure of uncertainty, so if they are still “standing by” they should hear their phone ping again mid-summer.

The psychological caveat is a backlog of a million green-lighted productions is the dam bursting, not the regular flow of the film production river.

"Back to Normal" Timeline Breadcrumbs

IASTE NEGOTIATIONS timeline showing negotiations going until end of June 2024

Film Permits, Insider Insights, and Public Complaints

Film permits offer a glimpse into ongoing production volume. Current commissions show film permits are being issued but notably, there’s a drop-off after July.  Let’s note, however, that permits are not long-term predictors and are usually only attained a few weeks before filming when they are well into pre-production.

When asked about permits issued, this quote from an understandably anonymous staffer sent this reply to the query:

Short-term Indicators back up the IASTE negotiation timeline.

“It seems that not a lot is confirmed after July (as the industry waits for negotiations).

No strike, I think we’ll see it get busy fast. But, who knows?”.

Comingling of Creative Industries on ArtCube and Unions

During the shutdown, the film industry resumed work before events and theatre, providing unique opportunities for cross-industry jobs offered to stagehands on indie pictures, for instance. Many theatrical fabricators made outdoor restaurant dining sheds (with their eyes closed).

ArtCube Nation saw a rise in membership from event companies, fabrication shops, and theater crews during the pandemic, which lead to a blend of skills and experience that apply to any creative sector.  

NOW, while film pros are more idle than usual, more and more find event work, brand activation fabrication, and creative side hustles on the ArtCube, thank heavens!

What the world is discovering is Events, Film, Fabrication, for Brand Activations and Pop-Ups, for example, do the exact thing with the expectation of excellence.

It’s a highly-skilled, no-room-for-error circus that gets conceptualized, built, produced, and torn down by crew. Rinse and repeat. The crew skillsets in events, film, and fabrication translate well and the issues are very in line with what Unions stand for.

Fabrication, Commercials, Retail, and Events scoop up fim crew for other creative sector work.

JOBS suitable for FILM CREW recently posted on ARTCUBE NATION

The film industry will not be the same, but the industry trains us for constant changes.

Off-Broadway joins IATSE. Little shop of Horrors Theatrical Crew
Source: IATSE Instagram

IATSE Recruits Off-Broadway Crew

Little Shop of Horrors” was touted as the fourth crew to unionize since the off-Broadway organizing campaign launched by IASTE earlier this year and they have an open invitation to any off-broadway crew that wants the security, collective bargaining power and support of a Union. 

My sense is the industry is in a “market correction”. 

Stability and the reliable “new normal” is on the other side of the IASTE negotiations when the dust may begin to settle.  

But even so, media, devices, and marketing are ever-evolving. 

Ten years ago, NYC was not a TV town. It became one around 2015 with stage expansions and tax incentives, morphing many TV Commercial crews into Episodic TV Crews.  We have to evolve or get out of the biz.

I do believe it will get busier, but the writing on the wall is the productions themselves will be different, jobs may be shorter in duration and unscripted may see a bump. 

These are the times that lay fertile ground for cinematic movements – that’s the upshot.

The IATSE negotiations are the necessary guardrail for long-term advocacy – even for non-union productions, It’s rotten timing but NOW Advocating for below-the-line wages, retirement, and work conditions is critical for below-the-line crew.

You’ve made it this far. Let IASTE set the stage for the next three years. 

The changes we’re observing are not merely reactive but are indicative of a transformative shift in how the industry operates. The reduction in episode counts and programming volume reflects a strategic adaptation to new consumer behaviors and economic realities. As negotiations continue and new agreements are forged, the very fabric of the industry is being rewoven.

Conclusion: Like Wall Street, We Are Experiencing a Correction.

In essence, it feels like the film industry is undergoing a “market correction” similar to when an over-inflated stock bubble bursts due to emotional responses and nervous stakeholders versus the data.

Just like any market correction, this phase is marked by volatility and uncertainty, but also by immense opportunity. Those who can navigate the complexities of the professional pivot and adapt to the evolving demands of creative projects will likely emerge secure if they survive the thinning of the herd.

As we look towards the completion of the IATSE negotiations and beyond, stakeholders across the board—from studio executives to the craft service rock stars—are being called to envision and create a sustainable model that respects both the craft and the economics of production.

I wager this correction is not just a response to a pandemic or a strike; it’s a doozie of a cyclical step towards more perceived stability from the top of the food chain. THEY need a financial and public relations happy place while we wait in the wings for “action”.

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