Designers in the film industry are facing significant financial challenges due to ongoing strikes in Hollywood, according to interviews with Dezeen. Set, production, and costume designers have described themselves as unseen casualties in the industrial disputes that have brought the movie and TV business to a standstill since the spring. The strikes, initiated by The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) in May over concerns about pay and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by studios, came to an end recently after writers reached a deal with studio bosses. However, separate industrial action by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) continues. Film creatives belonging to other departments have expressed support for the unions but also described feeling the impact of the strikes on their professional and personal lives.
Judy Becker, an Oscar-nominated production designer, stated that every single person working in film has been drastically affected by the strikes, with many people burning through their savings, downsizing, and selling equipment. Despite the industry-wide impact, there has been a lack of public discussion on the issue. Production designer Grant Major, who won an Academy Award for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, noted that the strikes have been tough for many people in the art department, even though they support them.
The strikes have also had a ripple effect beyond California, with the international nature of the film industry causing repercussions worldwide. Natalie Papageorgiadis, set decorator for Bridgerton, stated that the impact extends to all film departments, as well as those who contribute to the making of movies, such as caterers, florists, and security personnel. She further highlighted that many large-scale American productions are shot in the UK, with UK crew members involved.
The financial toll of the strikes has been felt by industry professionals globally. Designers in New Zealand, such as Grant Major, are also experiencing the reverberations. Major mentioned that the New Zealand government is reluctant to pay out unemployment benefits unless individuals actively search for other work.
Costume designer Ane Crabtree, known for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, has resorted to selling produce from her farm in rural Pennsylvania during the industry lull. She emphasized the complexity of fully supporting the strikes while feeling underrepresented as a costume department. While she supports the writers’ strike and SAG-AFTRA, Crabtree expressed doubt about receiving support if a similar situation were to occur for the costume department.
Becker stated that if employment doesn’t return soon, she might have to return to being a restaurant server or a personal assistant. She lamented the lack of discounts offered to members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), who have been unemployed without having any say in the decision to strike.
With the writers’ dispute resolved and hopes for a resolution to the actors’ dispute, the designers are optimistic about the future of the film industry if working conditions improve. Crabtree believes the strikes have highlighted the need for a reset in how designers and other workers are treated, emphasizing the importance of respect, awareness, manners, and empathy.
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