Column: How Hollywood creators are helping below-the-line workers during coronavirus shutdown
In Hollywood, it’s all about who you know. Especially when you need to raise money to help people put out of work by a pandemic.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many members of the entertainment industry have been able to continue work while sheltering at home — executives, writers, producers, editors, composers, voice actors, “Saturday Night Live” cast members, even sound mixers. And if you speak with them, they will inevitably express concern for those who can’t.
Until production resumes, thousands of people, including hairstylists, makeup artists, prop masters, set decorators, camera teams, grips and caterers, are out of work.
Concern is nice but money is better. Which is why producers Bruna Papandrea and Gregg Fienberg combined forces, and contact lists, to create It Takes Our Village, a GoFundMe initiative dedicated to providing emergency relief to those workers suffering wage loss during the COVID-19 lockdown.
With the help of many writers, directors, actors and producers — including “In the Heights” helmer Jon M. Chu, “A Star Is Born” producer Lynnette Howell Taylor and actor-producer Mark Ruffalo — they have raised nearly $790,000 in six days.
“Like many people, Gregg and I had to shut down multiple shows,” Papandrea said, “and while shooting does not encompass everything that we do, or the writers do, it meant putting a lot of crew out of work. So I started calling all my female friends in the industry to figure out how people above the line could help people below the line.
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“As a producer, I’m not bad in a crisis,” she added. “And I do know how to mobilize large groups of people.”
Papandrea (“Wild,” “Gone Girl”) made her name championing women in Hollywood, first as producing partner to Reese Witherspoon and now as founder and CEO of the Made Up Stories production company. Not surprisingly, she has a lot of female friends in the industry, and they will attest to her ability to mobilize.
“Bruna is one of those people who just say, ‘We have to do this, we’re going to do this, we are doing this’ and it happens,” says screenwriter-showrunner Dana Fox (“Home Before Dark”), one of Papandrea’s early recruits for the effort. “It’s kind of amazing.”
It was through her industry network that Papandrea discovered Fienberg was busy rallying his forces as well. An Emmy-winning producer of a wide array of acclaimed films (“Gods and Monsters”) and series (“True Blood,” “Deadwood,” “Sharp Objects”), Fienberg was just going into postproduction on HBO’s “I Know This Much Is True” when the coronavirus shutdown hit. Although HBO, like many other studios, was offering crew two weeks’ pay and coming up with ways to keep people partially employed, Fienberg and star Ruffalo wanted to do more. Fienberg had worked with Papandrea on “Big Little Lies,” so when he heard what she was doing, he decided to team up with her.
“I knew I wanted to raise a bunch of money,” he said. “But I’ve never done anything like this before, so the more the merrier.”
“I’m all about the ladies until it comes to raising money,” Papandrea said, laughing. “Then everyone is welcome.”
The money they are raising will be divided between the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the Actors Fund, which are both offering relief grants to those out of work due to COVID-19. Those with less than $10,000 in liquid assets can apply for up to $1,000 at a time.
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“They have been doing this for years,” Fienberg said. “They know how to vet people respectfully and privately.”
Although several studios have made significant donations to supporting front-line medical staff and Netflix quickly set up a $100 million emergency fund, Hollywood has been dinged by some for its slow response in helping its own.
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Papandrea and Fienberg don’t see it that way.
“Those first two weeks were just crisis management,” Papandrea said. “We were shutting down production, trying to figure out how to keep working and spending a lot of time thinking about how things were going to work once we came back. There might have been a bit of a delay but, once we set up the fund, so many people jumped at the chance to help.”
“Everyone was scrambling,” Fienberg said. “We had just started post and we had to figure out how to do what we normally do in a studio in everyone’s separate homes. I am amazed it happened. I think everyone responded pretty quickly after that.”
Their goal is $2.5 million — “Gregg wanted to go for $5 million,” Papandrea says, “but I convinced him to be a bit more reasonable.”
The coronavirus crisis has provided an unwelcome lesson in the hidden perils of working in the kind of high-touch environments required of movie and TV production.
“I am amazed at how quickly we got to $750,000,” Fienberg says. “And both MPTF and the Actors Fund say that no matter how much we raise, they will need more. So we’re just going to keep getting the word out.”
Those wishing to donate to It Takes Our Village can do so at gofundme.com/ItTakesOurVillage.
Those needing financial assistance and who live in Southern California can apply at mptf.com/covid-19-relief-funds/#mptf-covid or actorsfund.org/am-i-eligible-help. Those living outside Southern California can apply at actorsfund.org/am-i-eligible-help.
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