With Hollywood on Strike, a bright spot in New York’s economy becomes a dark one

By day, Ryan Quinlan handles the desk lamps, sconces, and chandeliers that appear in movies and TV shows. By night, he rents props from his Brooklyn warehouse, such as an Egyptian sarcophagus and a mummified tiger. On the side, he acts and does stunts.

All that work came to an abrupt halt last week, when Hollywood’s actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, which has 36,000 members in the New York area, declared a strike for the first time in 43 years, seeking better pay and safeguards against artificial intelligence. She joined the screenwriters union, the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since May.

“This has shut down all my sources of income,” said Mr. Quinlan, 44. “There is no one left untouched.”

While Los Angeles is the epicenter of US film and television, New York has long staked its claim to being East Hollywood, and the standoff has already affected tens of thousands of workers in one of the city’s fastest-growing industries.

But not only actors and writers are out of work. With both studios and syndicates anticipating a protracted battle, everyone from makeup artists and stylists to rug dealers and foam sculptors are preparing to possibly go months without work, at a time when many are still recovering from the pandemic.

“For the people who work every day, the tech workers, it’s going to be devastating,” said Kathy Marshall, president of the East Coast chapter of the Set Decorators of America, a large trade group.

However, she and most in the industry support the actors’ demands, which center in part on their claim that union members do not receive a fair share of the studios’ streaming royalties. The International Theater Employees Alliance, a union representing more than 168,000 behind-the-scenes workers, announced last week Her “strong support” of actors’ and writers’ strikes.

The actors join a growing national wave of labor groups, including hotel workers, clerks and delivery workers, who have called for higher wages and benefits in recent months.

The strikes could have a major economic impact on New York City, where in 2019 film and television production supported more than 185,000 jobs, including work in ancillary industries such as legal services, truck rental, and catering, According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

From 2004 to 2019, thanks to New York State tax incentives for production companies, the industry directly added 35,000 jobs, outpacing the citywide job growth rate.

In 2022, the most recent year data was available, the median salary for jobs in industry in New York City was $173,500, or 49 percent higher than the private workforce median, said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. He said many actors and technicians are paid well below average, and low-paid independent contractors are not included in the average.

But with all but a few film and TV projects on hold indefinitely, anxiety is running high.

Jessica Hyman owns Art for Film, a prop house specializing in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that brokers the rights to use art in film and television productions, from giant paintings to children’s refrigerator doodles.

Almost all of the artwork on display at Waystar Royco’s headquarters was provided by her company, and is the company’s backdrop for the hit drama “Succession,” according to George Ditita Jr., the set designer.

After a slowdown in demand that began before the strikes, Ms. Hyman said she was concerned about the lease she signed for a larger warehouse in April.

“It’s the worst possible timing,” she said. “I didn’t sleep much.”

A little help has come from big “Succession” fans – like one client from Oslo, who ordered an abstract geometric print that appears during a showdown between the character Schiff and Matson – but it’s not enough.

Instead, she’s looking to rent out a portion of her 3,500 square feet or do some technical consulting work for hotels.

Until recently, the industry was also a boon to more everyday businesses. Cristina Constantino and her mother, Eleanor Casas, owners of Carpet Time, a flooring store in Woodside, Queens, have gradually moved from a 2,000-square-foot store to a 20,000-square-foot showroom, thanks to movie industry clients.

“Nobody wants to come to the store and buy anymore,” Ms. Constantino said — except for interior designers looking for the perfect celebrity scale. “It’s the majority of our business.”

Her clients are connoisseurs of what she calls “Ugly Beautiful”: a comic casino-themed rug with the playing card motif used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; faded linoleum tiles used in crawl-of-the-week cop shows; A white carpet to highlight the blood stains.

A carpet used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was supplied by Carpet Time, a Queens flooring store whose owners fear the effects of a prolonged closure.credit…via Carpet Time

Ms. Constantino, sympathetic to the unions, budgeted for three months of slow work after the start of the writers’ strike in May, but fears the standoff could last much longer.

“At least through Covid we’ve had PPP loans, but we’re not in a union, and I know a lot of these small businesses are really struggling,” she said.

Helen Offner, owner of a 50,000-item vintage clothing collection and one of the film industry’s most prestigious labels, has decided, for only the second time since opening in 1978, to close her store indefinitely; The first time was at the height of the pandemic.

“When we’re sitting there, and the phone only rings once, and it’s a wrong number, the writing is on the walls,” she said.

She’s started selling some vintage accessories and jewelry from her personal collection to help cover the rent for her 5,000-square-foot shop in Long Island City, Queens, but predicts she’ll have to dip into her savings to stay afloat.

For some traders in the industry, the strike presents other risks. The extended stop could put healthcare plans on hold for some workers, whose benefits are tied to hours worked, according to a spokesperson for IATSE, the Entertainment Workers Behind the Scenes union, which has about 15,000 members in the film and television industry in the New York area.

The Community Entertainment Fund, a nonprofit aid group for industry workers, said it has provided about $1.7 million in emergency grants to more than 1,000 film and television workers since the writers’ strike began in May.

However, for Mr. Quinlan, electrician and stuntman, reaching an acceptable contract with the studios was worth it.

He was descended from a long line of members of theatrical guilds: his uncle was a cinematographer. his cousins ​​the Fists and Electricians on the movie set; His father, Ray Quinlan, is a producer on The Godfather of Harlem.

“My whole family is out of work,” he said, adding that they have been holed up for a long time. “I hope it saves everyone for this rainy day, because it is pouring.”