The New Film Industry


Janie Aronson, Writer

Movies and film have been helping us make memories for decades. Personally, some of my favorite memories surround the cinema, from watching a Disney movie with family to a scary movie with friends. Over the course of the last year the whole world has been turned upside down due to the Coronavirus. One of the major industries that has been affected by this pandemic is the Film Industry. Recently I got to talk with a family friend, Bicher Barmada, who is LA based and works in the industry. Bicher was able to help me get an inside view of what’s happening in Hollywood now that lockdowns across the world are loosening up and what to expect with the future of entertainment.

Graduating from Point Park in 2017, Bicher studied Film Production with a concentration in Cinematography. Later on, he got trained in electrical

Bicher can be seen on the ladder

engineering through IATSE-IBEW. Now based in LA, Bicher shared with me that he works “mostly within the Electricians department as an assistant chief lighting technician (known locally as a Best Boy).” He also does “DMX console programming and entertainment networks consulting / rigging electrical / some grip work / and some Dolly Grip jobs on occasion.” Since the pandemic started, Bicher has had to work quite a few jobs and his experience was able to give me even more of an insight of what’s going on with Hollywood in times like these. 

To begin, I was interested in the overall safety on sets and what the new COVID restrictions look like. With contracts that are “negotiated either between the union and the employer or between individuals and their employer,” the safety on sets isn’t equal across the board. Safety really depends on “what productions are willing to pay for and what workers are capable of negotiating for.” This leaves workers that aren’t as good at bargaining, or productions with a lower budget, with very few reasonable protections. On set there are a few basic precautions: wear a mask, social distance, and get tested every day. However, Bicher disclosed to me that “actual adherence to these rules has been lax and testing was frequently rushed. There is no good way to keep workers safe on a set when our jobs require us to be breathing down each other’s necks.” Bicher later referred to the precautions that production “attempted” as “frail,” only helping to show how cast and crew members are being put at risk while working. 

You may be wondering: Why don’t those worried about COVID just hold back on working? Well, in Bicher’s opinion (and many others), “Income protection for individuals that work in entertainment needs to be re-evaluated for situations like we’ve seen during lockdown.” He also thinks that small business protections need to be re-evaluated as well. These re-evaluations “could have saved any of the 11 historic clubs and stages LA has lost to bankruptcy not to mention many more beloved businesses and companies around the country.” As a result of these poor protections, many workers had no choice but to go back to unsafe work environments. There are many workers in LA whose livelihoods depends on constant contractual work. Many of these people who don’t choose to go back to an unsafe work environment are forced to leave LA or retire early as the result of not having an income to help get through daily life.  

“The film industry will always thrive in LA,” Bicher told me. It is extremely difficult for the industry to actually flop, and as a result of this, it will only continue doing the same as it has been, knowing that in the end, it will be fine. Bicher believes that “as for the restrictions, they’ll be lifted as soon as possible so that we can go back to making money for California’s larger economy and studios will act like nothing has changed.” 

This information that Bicher has shared with me helps to show the neglect that Hollywood’s workers are receiving. Over the last year, countless movie releases and productions have been canceled and pushed back. Nonetheless, Hollywood is beginning to pick up the pace again. As the result of having no work for almost the past year, cast and crew members are being forced to go back to work with very few safety precautions, potentially putting their lives on the line. However, since Hollywood itself isn’t being affected by the lack of work, it’s allowing its workers, who have no other choice, to go back to unsafe work environments.