By Sarah Berman
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Twin strikes by Hollywood actors and writers have put the damper on Vancouver’s summer of movie magic, forcing the industry’s creative minds to turn to sometimes surprising side hustles to ride out the tough times.
Known as “Hollywood North,” the city of Vancouver and its province of British Columbia comprise one of the largest film production centers in North America. Generating about C$3.6 billion in revenue ($2.7 billion) in 2022, it provides employment for a whole host of camera operators, logistics coordinators, animators, chefs and more.
But with the strikes putting multiple productions on hold, many film workers in Canada are now seeking temporary alternative work, picking up restaurant, construction, landscaping and retail jobs. And the backup plans do not end there.
Stacy Lundeen usually works as a set dresser, a job he found to support his passion as an artist and painter. He has stayed busy for a decade, most recently employed on the CW Network’s superhero show “The Flash.”
Now work has dried up, he has returned to his art practice. In early June he opened a pop-up gallery called Slender, featuring visual art by family and friends.
But fine art does not pay the bills, so Lundeen cuts hair in his spare time. “I have a lot of irons in different fires,” he said. “I’m also a dad.”
During summer, Vancouver’s folksy suburbs, striking skyline, beaches, and mountaintop resorts are in demand and the city hosts dozens of small-budget shoots that become seasonal staples on network TV.
Natasha Stoesz considers her eight-year career on TV sets a dream job, but industry disruptions in recent years left her cooking up a business on the side. In May 2021, in the wake of a COVID-19 lockdown, she and her husband launched an empanada pop-up inspired by his Chilean heritage.
As an art director on Amazon and Netflix sets, Stoesz said she is always problem-solving. When her only film job of the year shut down in mid-July, Stoesz poured her energy into folding and frying pastry under the banner Yapo Empanadas.
“We just love cooking and baking,” Stoesz said. “Now that we’re off again we’re starting to do more.”
Stoesz hopes one day Yapo can turn a profit so she can afford a truck or commercial kitchen. For now, her labor of love is barely breaking even. “We make enough to cover the costs, but not enough to pay ourselves per hour,” she said.
Side projects are nothing new for film workers, said stunt coordinator Thomas Potter. “One of the first things I learned a very long time ago is you should always have something you’re doing on the side,” he said.
Potter has worked in security, carpentry, and construction, he said. During the recent strikes he has devoted more time to his sandblasting company AXA.
For Morris Bartlett, whose usual work is building set pieces with Fiction Factory Props, the strike shutdown has been a “nightmare” for his team, he said.
For the moment, Bartlett is treading water by making custom props for comic book convention performers, known as cosplayers, as well as corporate clients.
His latest project is building a custom jetpack that will complete one performer’s elaborate Boba Fett costume. The design includes smoke from a CO2 canister, lights, fans, and speakers he will program with “Star Wars”-inspired sound effects.
Bartlett said he is grateful and excited to be able to use his skills on the project, but he is making a fraction of his regular income.
Ultimately, the side gigs can only stretch so far – and all the crews are hoping that film work will return to Vancouver later this year.
“I haven’t worked a day since May. That’s starting to feel a little stressful,” said Lundeen.
(Reporting by Sarah Berman in Vancouver; Editing by Denny Thomas and Rosalba O’Brien)