Panel Report: The Pandemic Pivot
Updated: Apr 12
Community-based, ad hoc responses mirrored New York City responses in terms of addressing PPE fabrication and food insecurity. Pro bono, local response reaches recipients in need sooner, albeit on a smaller scale, but nonetheless necessary until municipal relief arrives.
The City of New York recognizes that the film industry played an important role in emergency response throughout the years. The Office of Emergency Management is writing the playbook for the next administration to streamline potential public-private partnerships, including with the film industry.
Across the board, panelists agree that the film industry is a training ground for improvised problem-solving and ad hoc infrastructure development.
Staggered re-opening phases opened upstate New York to more production companies and needed revenue.
California's summer of rising COVID cases and historic wildfires boosted revenues for some of New York's production vendors.
Savvy business owners are not waiting for "things to get back to normal", they clearly see that COVID-era methodologies will morph into hybrid models.
Business owners with a deep and understanding and empathy of the clients' needs in a changing market, can lead to new enterprises, services, and products and builds a loyal client base.
Response // Pro Bono PPE fabrication + Food Insecurity Relief
Retooling // Virtual Meetings + Hotel to Qualified Production Facility
Entrepreneurship // New Services and Products + Digital Marketplace for Prop Rentals
Peter Hatch: What the film industry can do now to prepare for the next crisis.
Included are action items you and your business can take now to work direct;y and indirectly with the City
Disease and the environment, prevention is less expensive than the cure.
Speaker Contact Information
From ad hoc supply chains, hybrid business model adaption, and COVID-era startups, the film industry remains quick to respond, resilient, and able to foster new ideas for the shifting business landscape.
March 2021 marked the first anniversary of the shutdown of New York. We dedicated our panel to those who rose to the occasion in adversity to create relief efforts and opportunities.
The film industry vendors and freelancers who volunteered to address food insecurity and PPE fabrication via ad hoc operations were the stopgaps for a city and industry crisis. At the time, we did not stop to consider that our efforts were a pro bono indirect partnership with the City, but in hindsight, that's exactly what it was.
Here are just a few stories of the many pop-up relief efforts where the film industry's competencies and core values met at the crossroads to address a crisis.
Pro Bono PPE Fabrication
VIDEO: Dr. Ted Segarra of Downstate Hospital on ArtCube Army's PPE relief and what it meant to healthcare providers in the early days of the COVID-19.
Journalist, Citizen Healthcare Crisis Coordinator
That was your brother in the video. And you are one of many, many of the requests that came to ArtCube Army from family members terrified for their caregiver loved ones. You're a civilian with no real ties to the film industry, then fortuitously hitched wagons with the with us in relief efforts, can you tell us your story?
I looked back at the initial email that I sent, which was March 27th, 2020. My brother had called me the night before. All this happened so quickly and the medical staff was really scared and the conditions at the hospital were awful at the time. They were trying to build out a lot of ICU rooms really quickly, and they just didn't have the supplies they needed. So for instance, in the ICU they had patient beds,
separated from the doctors' and nurses' stations by only a thin layer of cloudy plastic that didn't reach the floor. The fact that it's cloudy matters because the doctors and nurses couldn't see through it, so they couldn't monitor patient machines without actually going into the isolation area. And that means they have to use more PPE.
The patient room was open, the window was open, so the air was blowing directly from where the patients were onto the doctors and nurses who were stationed right there. And in some cases, they sleep overnight, and during their overnight shifts at the hospital were right around the corner from some of those patient rooms.
They didn't have basic supplies like masks and gowns and face shields.
They had some. But they were being told to take home their masks in a paper bag for a week, and just keep reusing the same one.
I think that happened at a lot of different hospitals.
So Ted called and asked for help. I think he just felt pretty desperate. I'm not really sure why he asked me because I'm a journalist. I don't have anything to do with this field, but he needed things like clear vinyl sheeting (aka marine vinyl) that would actually reach the floor so that they could monitor patients from outside. IV drip extenders so that we can put drugs to patients from further away again without having to enter patient areas."
So I put out an email to a community of radio and audio professionals, and I asked if people had any suggestions on where to get these kinds of supplies; it was kind of shot in the dark. A friend of mine put me in touch with her sister, Sally, who put me in touch with ArtCube Army and I didn't even really know much about what you were doing, except that you were making some supplies. And the outline of it wasn't entirely clear to me, but...
...it seemed like magic. Like you guys were able to source a lot of this stuff.
I think we raised a significant amount and started sending those supplies to not just downstate, but 149 other hospitals.
Downstate got a large portion of it. I know it meant a lot to my brother and his colleagues. Two of my brother's colleagues got COVID and died right around that time, in the spring, and it has had an enormous impact on them. They had to worry about themselves and their loved ones and whether they were going to die there to see what happened to their colleagues. And then meanwhile, they didn't know much about this virus or how to treat it.
So they were seeing their patients die despite everything that we're doing. Uh, and I think having this kind of support from the community meant a lot to them, it showed them that someone cared or that a lot of people cared. It's always hard to quantify, did someone not get sick because of the things that we did? But, I think that that almost certainly has to be the case.
Were you surprised that the film industry was able to do this? When the world opens up again and we're shooting on your block and take up all the parking will you be just as annoyed? What are your feelings now that you have a little idea about what we're capable of?
Yeah, I thought it was amazing. I never thought about how when films are made, or about how all of the props and sets get there, who makes all that happen? I've learned about some shows like Saturday Night Live skits are written just a couple of days before. It reminds me of the news business because everything happens so quickly.
I think that's a superpower that you all have. I guess I've heard this kind of joke in several iterations, but if the film needs, like a giant shark by tomorrow, you figure out where to get the giant shark. The fact that you can do that for disaster relief, I think that is really important to know, because who knows what the next disaster is going to be.
The ability to pivot so quickly, just being able to fly the plane while you're building it, when you're not going to have an answer to right away, is critical.
And in those moments, it sounds like that's something that film industry production folks are really good at.
Am I going to get annoyed when you all the parking spots? Probably still yes. But whenever I saw it in Midtown, where I worked, I was always pretty excited to see what the program actually was. It was usually something I've never heard of or a dog food commercial or something.
As founder of ArtCube Nation, a digital community of 1000's of New York City Art Department freelance crew and small businesses, our pro bono PPE fabrication happened via volunteer businesses and freelancers that have materials and tools on hand due to on-the-fly prop-making requirements. Thankfully, a lot of film fabrication businesses were awarded City contracts to fabricate very large quantities of PPE and hired prop makers to assemble face shields, a welcome paycheck in a bleak employment landscape at the time.
The gap in time, 42 days in this case, from signing a contract to mass distribution of finished goods, still left frontline workers vulnerable to viral exposure. In that length of time, determined, small, ad hoc operations emerged to bridge that gap until the local supply chain caught up. Businesses kept employees on the payroll, despite no incoming revenue, because our city's care providers needed us as we need them.
It was harrowing. Small businesses and freelancers risked exposure in the process but the pleas of overwhelmed healthcare providers and their terrified family members asking for help drove us to push forward. Rightly so, as historically, health providers are the first to perish in pandemics, and to date, more than 3,600 healthcare workers have died due to COVID-19.
We came together a year ago, and today, with work protocols and COVID compliance officers in place, these businesses are experiencing a return to business as usual to a lesser degree. When asked to speak about the experience, the common reply was, "I'm too busy. I'm making up for lost time and lost funding." One frankly said, "I just don't want to talk about it."
This video was created in April 2020, by BRIC TV mid-way through of efforts, tell the tale.
BRIC Arts Media, April 2020
Pro Bono Food Insecurity Relief
With freelance paychecks coming to an abrupt halt in the historically "slow" winter period in New York, pandemic food insecurity became a real problem for many freelancers who were not qualified for unemployment insurance, or if they were, NYC living expenses far exceeded what the assistance provided.