Hollywood is a place where dreams come true — but it’s more like a nightmare for those who make their living in the industry.
“A year of turmoil” is how The Financial Times pitched it, thanks to a perfect storm of worries about the economy, slow growth and profit pressures among streaming services, and a prospective writers’ strike. On the heels of layoffs at Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery and ABC in the fourth quarter, staff cuts also loom at problem-plagued Disney.
Even though the box office last year surged 70% to $7.3 billion, stoked by megahits like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” it remains 30% below pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the number of films released fell far below the decade-long average leading up to 2020, EY reported.
As if all that weren’t enough, workplace safety once again dominated the spotlight when it was reported that actor Alec Baldwin will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a cinematographer on the set of the film “Rust.”
But it is shakeups at the studios, stymied by their unsteady streaming strategies, that will lead to the greatest volatility this year for those working in the entertainment business, according to Josh Hasty, cofounder and CEO of the production company Relavox. After the pandemic hit, “the market demanded a shift from theatrical releases to streaming, and the powers that be gave it to them,” he said. “Now that’s changing, and the studios and networks are scrambling to keep up.”
The fallout has workers at every level of the industry, as well as businesses that support it, feeling anxious.
“Warner Bros. being our biggest client, we’ve had our fair share of sleepless nights,” said Armen Haghnazarian, owner of the agency OKPerfect, which has created social media campaigns for releases like “The Batman” and “Dune”. Haghnazarian said his aim has been to refocus his team’s nervous energy on learning new skills so they will become an even greater asset for the clients. “As trite as it sounds, the vendors employed by these big studios have a responsibility to do their part and help right the ship,” he explained. “Now is the time to stop overselling, listen, understand needs, and deliver above expectations.”
Hasty pointed out that employment opportunities vary from market to market, noting that filmmaking has expanded far beyond Los Angeles and New York to include places like North Carolina, New England and Ohio. For a recent documentary it filmed in Cincinnati, for example, Relavox had difficulty finding a crew that wasn’t already booked on several productions going on there. By contrast, Hasty related, a producer friend in L.A. recently told him he was looking for a part-time job until business picked back up.
Still, headlines about layoffs can be misleading. For example, recent cuts at Warner Bros. Discovery were centered in ad sales, not production, Hasty noted. “While the industry might be shaky, it’s no time for filmmakers to throw in the towel,” he said. After all, three years ago when Covid struck, movie theaters went dark. “The quick comeback, by any comparison, shows the resiliency of the entertainment industry and the incredible people who make it move,” Hasty said.
People who work in Hollywood can gird themselves against much of the uncertainty out there, according to Sara Fruman, a manager, publicist and strategist and the founder of Soul Evolution Media. For one, it is more vital than ever that they build out their personal brand, she said, including a website featuring their work, career story and unique differentiators. They must also maintain a presence on LinkedIn and potentially other social media platforms where they can share their expertise and insights.
“I’ve been watching as incredible talent in entertainment and media has been let go over the past few months,” she said. “While we cannot change the layoffs, we can always position ourselves to be better off.”
As most people who make a living in entertainment are self-employed, knowing how to navigate the speedbumps is essential. Hasty offers the following advice:
Make sure your finances are in order. Markets ebb and flow, but when you have a basic understanding of financial literacy and prepare yourself, the winters don’t get as cold. It’s a lesson learned during turbulent situations, but it’s a habit to practice at all times.
Get creative. In 2021, Relavox produced a documentary-style education course for Susan David, a founder and codirector of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital and a psychology professor at Harvard University. It was an incredible experience for the company, which hired professional filmmakers who were available simply because fewer movies were in production at that time. Even in the midst of a downturn, the team found itself on a beautiful set doing what it loves — it just happened to be packaged differently than usual.
Be Consistent. The film industry is relatively small, and despite what one might hear, Hasty’s experience over the last decade has shown him there is a great deal of camaraderie and support out there. Stay connected to the groups you want to be involved with — and set your ego aside. You’ll find work if you’re open to working on projects outside the norm. And you’ll likely be surprised how rewarding it can be.