By day, Ryan Quinlan handles the desk lamps, lamps and chandeliers that appear in movies and television shows. At night, he rents props from his Brooklyn warehouse, such as an Egyptian sarcophagus and a taxidermy leopard. On the side, he acts and does stunts.
All work came to an abrupt halt last week when the Hollywood actors’ union SAG-AFTRA, with 36,000 members in the New York area, announced a strike for the first time in 43 years to seek better pay and safeguards against artificial intelligence. It joined the union of screenwriters, the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since May.
“This shut down all my income,” Mr Quinlan, 44, said. “No one is affected.”
While Los Angeles is the epicenter for film and television in the United States, New York has long staked its claim as Hollywood East, and the standoff is already harming 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 the studios and unions expecting a long battle, everyone from makeup artists and costume designers to carpet dealers and foam sculptors are preparing to potentially go months without work, at a time when many are still recovering from the pandemic.
“For the people who are your day-to-day, technical workers, it’s going to be devastating,” said Cathy Marshall, the head of the East Coast chapter of the Set Decorators Society of America, a large trade group.
Even so, she and most workers in the industry support the actors’ demands, which focus in part on their contention that union members are not getting a fair share of the studios’ broadcasting revenue. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union representing more than 168,000 backstage workers, stated last week its “strong support” for the actors’ and writers’ strikes.
The actors join a growing national wave of labor groups, including hotel workers, writers and delivery drivers, who have demanded higher wages and benefits in recent months.
The strikes could have a huge economic impact on New York, where film and television production in 2019 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 in part to New York State tax incentives for manufacturing companies, the industry directly added 35,000 jobs, outpacing the citywide job growth rate.
In 2022, the last year data were available, the average wage for jobs in the industry in New York was $173,500, or 49 percent higher than the average private workforce, said James Parrott, the director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York Affairs at the New School. Many actors and technicians are paid well below the average, he said, and lower-paid independent contractors are not included in the average.
But with all but a handful of film and TV projects on hold indefinitely, anxiety is mounting.
Jessica Heyman owns Art for Film, a specialty prop house in the Brooklyn Navy Base that brokers the rights to use art in film and television productions, ranging from enormous paintings to children’s refrigerator doodles.
Her company provided nearly all of the art displayed at the Waystar Royco headquarters, the corporate backdrop for the hit drama “Success,” according to George DeTitta Jr., the show’s set designer.
After a slowdown in demand that began before the strikes, Ms. Heyman said she was worried about the lease she signed for a larger warehouse in April.
“It’s the worst possible time,” she said. “I didn’t sleep much.”
Some help has come from “Success” superfans – like one client from Oslo who ordered an abstract geometric print shown during a confrontation between the characters Shiv and Matsson – but it’s not enough.
Instead, she’s looking to sublet part of her 3,500-square-foot space or do some art consulting work for hotels.
Until recently, the industry was also a boon to more weekday businesses. Christina Constantinou and her mother, Eleanor Kazas, the owners of Carpet Time, a flooring store in Woodside, Queens, gradually moved from a 2,000-square-foot shop to a 20,000-square-foot showroom, thanks to film industry clients.
“Nobody wants to come to a store and shop anymore,” Ms. Constantinou said — except decorators looking for the perfect stage. “It’s the majority of our business.”
Her clients are connoisseurs of what she calls “beautiful ugly”: a kitschy casino-themed rug with a playing card motif used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; mordant linoleum tiles used in weekly police sets; white carpet to accentuate blood splatter.
Ms. Constantinou, who is sympathetic to the unions, had budgeted for three months of slower work after the writers’ strike began in May, but fears the standoff could drag on much longer.
“At least through Covid, we had PPP loans, but we’re not in a syndicate, and I know a lot of these small businesses are really suffering,” she said.
Helen Uffner, the owner of a 50,000-piece collection of vintage clothing, one of the best regarded in the film industry, has decided, for only the second time since opening in 1978, to close her store indefinitely; the first time was during the height of the pandemic.
“When we’re sitting there, and the phone rings just once, and it’s the wrong number, then the writing is on the walls,” she said.
She started selling some vintage accessories and costume jewelry from her personal collection to help cover the rent on her 5,000-square-foot store in Long Island City, Queens, but expects she’ll have to dip into her savings to stay afloat.
For some industrial traders, the strike presents other risks. A prolonged shutdown could lead to the termination of health care plans for some workers whose benefits are tied to hours worked, according to a spokesman for IATSE, the backroom entertainment workers’ union, which has about 15,000 members in the film and television sector in the New York area.
The Entertainment Community Fund, a nonprofit aid group for industry workers, said it has given 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, the electrician and stuntman, reaching an acceptable contract with the studios is worth the pain.
He comes from a long line of theater union members: His uncle was a cinematographer; his cousins are grips and film equipment electricians; and his father, Ray Quinlan, is a producer of the series “Godfather of Harlem”.
“My whole family is out of work,” he said, adding that they were bowing out for the long haul. “I hope everyone saved for this rainy day, because it’s pouring.”