On March 4, major Hollywood crew unions began discussing their health and pension benefits with studios and streamers, with Hollywood Teamsters president Lindsay Dougherty stating, “We will strike if necessary.”

However, some Los Angeles-area crewmembers believe that, following the writers’ and actors’ walkouts in 2023, there doesn’t appear to be much work to halt if their own strike is called.

Crewmembers indicate an unimpressive resumption to production following the strikes, aggravating challenges for individuals who already had much fewer job opportunities in 2023.

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“There hasn’t been any real work,” claims one Los Angeles-based location manager who was out of work for seven and a half months during and after the strikes. “The industry isn’t back. What has returned are a few pickups or things that needed to be restarted after being shut down before May.”

Adds a set decorating buyer that has been out of employment since March 2023. “I can easily count on two hands the number of people I know who are now working. That is now. In January, it was even lower.”

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According to FilmLA president Paul Audley, whose office records production data in the Los Angeles area, permit and shoot day volume is down 14.3 percent this year compared to the same period in 2023. (Audley, like several other sources for this tale, points out that production decreased in early 2023 prior to the strikes, making it an unusual benchmark.) However, in February, the film office reported an uptick in both commercial and feature film shoot days. “However, we’ve seen a lot of really small-scale production. We haven’t seen the big films, or many of the television programs, return yet; it’s just getting started,” Audley says. Some of the prominent productions that filmed in the Los Angeles area in February include Peacock’s Bel-Air, ABC’s 9-1-1, and Netflix’s Selling Sunset.

Dougherty, whose union represents drivers, site managers, casting directors, and other crew personnel, says her local’s crews are now working on 42 productions. Meanwhile, in busy years, such as 2022, the union handled well over 100 projects at the same time. Production levels typically increase as pilot season begins, but it’s unclear what that period will look like this year: “Everyone’s kind of waiting to see what the new normal is, knowing that there is a contraction in the industry, knowing that the streaming bubble has popped, and knowing that the studios and production companies are spending less money than they have in recent years.”

Several crewmembers have noticed that the projects that are returning are usually network shows or projects that were in the middle of shooting or about to start before the strikes. “It’s either a previously greenlit series or one that was already in production at the time of the strike. “That’s all we see,” adds prop master Alicia Haverland (Hell’s Kitchen, The Masked Singer).

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At least one indicator of filming activity in New York City is close to typical. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which tracks permitting for films, TV shows, commercials, music videos, student films, and documentaries shot on public property (but not on private property, such as studio soundstages), reports that in January 2024, 88 projects with permits were in production, compared to 77 in 2023, 102 in 2022, and 75 in 2021. Some notable projects in the works in January included the current seasons of CBS’ The Equalizer and NBC’s Law & Order SVU, while the sequel to Paramount’s Smile, Smile Deluxe, and Netflix’s limited series Zero Day began filming. “We are seeing NYC’s film & TV production industry get back to work following the labor stoppages of last year,” commented Pat Swinney Kaufman, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Even in New York, some workers believe that activity is slow. Eric Klein (Cat Person, Young Adult), a veteran New York City site scout, believes there is “definitely a bit of a slowdown” in the city, with a number of members of his union, Teamsters Local 817, out of work. While job options are few, one set dresser in New York City has been temping outside the profession and working as a production assistant for a few days. “It’s been a bummer because I’m so desperate to get back in there,” says this person. “I know many people in my position who simply quit [the industry] after a few months. I’m still holding out some hope, but I’m not sure.”

Overall, production activity was lower at the start of the year, according to Alex LoVerde, co-founder and CEO of production tracking firm ProdPro. His organization discovered that the amount of written, live-action film and television projects filming in January was down 19% from 2023 and 26% from 2022. (The data only includes projects with costs greater than $10 million, excluding pilots.) In the United States, the reduction was even more pronounced, with shoots for these projects down 24 percent compared to 2023 and 38 percent compared to 2022. When discussing the state of production with his business partners, he adds, “I would say that we all share a pretty strong concern that there is going to be a new normal of restricted content spend.”

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The delayed ramp-up has exacerbated challenges that crewmembers experienced throughout the strikes. Haverland lived in an RV with a companion for two months in the fall to save money before moving into an apartment that was significantly different from her pre-strike situation. “This whole situation has completely changed my life,” she said. “I went from having a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a pool to building a condo in Canoga Park. It’s a big adjustment.”

Some people have also struggled with their mental health. One storyboard artist who routinely speaks with colleagues in their industry reports “major anxiety, stress, and depression.” You go to bed stressed, and you wake up stressed the next day. This person continues, “We’re sitting here thinking, ‘We don’t deserve this.'” “We were not even on strike.”

The set decorating buyer underlines the psychological impact the situation has had on her and her partner, who also works in the profession. “At this point, nothing else matters except the mental suffering and crisis state that we face every day. And there isn’t enough deep breathing or therapy to help with this because we’re now going through a depression. “It’s absolute torture.”

Is there any hope for the coming months? Based on usual run-up timelines, Audley of FilmLA expects that features will take another two to four weeks to begin production. The good news, he says, is that the California Film Commission recently announced that it has granted tax incentives to some significant productions, like Disney’s The Mandalorian and Grogu, which may assist improve industry employment. But generally, “it’s just a really tough year to predict because there’s still a lot of uncertainty up in the air and real questions about where production will be located in 2024 globally.” “It has not settled down yet,” he says.

Meanwhile, crew workers who are still underemployed are waiting for a break. The storyboard artist says, “I just want people to understand what film workers are going through.” They go on to say, “The strikes ended and we’re still getting crushed.”