Hollywood small businesses in crisis with coronavirus shutdown

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Hollywood is perhaps known for its large studios with thousands of employees and huge soundstage. But of the 5,900 companies in Hollywood, 99.5% have fewer than 500 employees and over 90% have fewer than 10 employees.

These are customers, props distributors, caterers and trailer rental companies, sound mixing specialists and film editors – everything that is used in the production of films, television programs or commercials.

After Covid-19 caused entertainment productions to stall, the vast majority of these companies’ revenues dropped to zero in the past month. many force employees to fire or take leave.

One of these companies is Star Waggons, which builds and rents bespoke trailers for stars and crew, from film and television shoots to commercials and concerts. The company employs around 100 people and generates around $ 20 million annually. But this year it’s a completely different situation. When the sets closed, CEO Jason Wagoner was forced to take some of his employees on leave because he saw months of no income.

Wagoner secured a small business loan through the Paycheck Protection Program that he says is game changer for his company and employees. “With the loan we can get through on the other side – that’s our goal,” says Wagoner. “We had a strong record, that was good, but that gives us an extra level of security because we know we will make it to the other side.”

“Now the question is, can we get some of these employees back on leave,” says Wagoner. “We’re going to try to bring some back but we’re not sure if it will be May, June, September? We really don’t know and I think there are a wide range of ideas out there.”

Now. Wagoner says they’re working to make sure they’re ready on the sets for more social distancing when productions start again. “We’re optimistic. As soon as production comes back, I have to imagine that it will be very, very busy, but I don’t know when that will be.”

But many of the small businesses in Hollywood didn’t get the safety net of a PPP loan. The mom and pop stores, which are effectively freelancers with no staff other than themselves, do not qualify for the PPP.

Camille’s Catering is one of those companies: It serves crews, mostly in independent film productions. The company was founded by Judy Napolitano and her daughter Camille during the 2009 recession. Now they cannot get a loan from the Small Business Association.

“I don’t think it (PPP) has been really well written or thought out for individuals, for freelancers … anything in hairstyles, manicures,” says Napolitano. “There are a lot of people who are just lone workers who don’t qualify for these loans . “

Napolitano says she and her daughter are now waiting for production to start again and are wondering what precautions they will take, such as packing food in individual portions instead of putting on a buffet. And they hope that the independent film they were slated to make, which was canceled due to home stay orders, will be postponed sooner rather than later.


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