How One Producer Employs Storytelling to Support Out-of-Work TV and Film Pros

Meet Patrick Caligiuri—aka 'Producer Patrick' from TikTok

Scores of creatives who have been consistently employed in the TV and film industry for years—directors, editors, production designers, location managers, etc.—are currently without gigs.

According to IndieWire and The Hollywood Reporter, production has dropped off dramatically. It's worse than a lull. Many professionals haven't worked for months and, in some cases, even longer.

Patrick Caligiuri felt compelled to sound an alarm.

@producerpatrick Replying to @Eddie Drama ♬ Breaking News Background Music (Basic A)(1001538) - LEOPARD

The veteran unscripted executive producer (whose recent credits include Fight to Survive, The Quest and Called to the Wild) posted an explainer video on TikTok, where he is known as Producer Patrick. He offered a crash course on how the industry has crashed, along with a few tips for survival.

It's a complex story, but Caligiuri, a natural storyteller, deftly traces the problem's origins to Netflix's decision to launch a subscriber-based streaming platform, effectively ditching advertisers. He goes on to unspool other factors that led us to where we are now.

Here, Caligiuri talks about the varying reactions to his initial post and what—if anything—can be done to get people back to work.

MUSE: As someone who loves and has written about the television industry for years, I wish we were talking about anything else other than how bad things are right now. Any hope on the horizon?

Patrick Caligiuri: In the last 30 days or so, I've seen a little bit of a sparkle happening, a little bit of a light shining through, where people are like, "Hey, I got a call for a gig." It doesn't seem as dark and dreary as it did last month. But then again, we've seen false hopes before. A lot of people are out of work and suffering and putting their houses on the market. I have a very close friend, the best editor in the industry, and even he is basically like, "I'm renting out my house and moving to Chicago to live with my cousin. That's what I have to do."

It's so rough on people financially, of course, but also emotionally.

What's so interesting in our industry is everybody internalizes it at first. You look inward before you look outward. So, you start saying, "Did I piss somebody off? Did I rub somebody the wrong way? Did I do something on my last show that is hurting my reputation?" And in unscripted—we're not represented by the WGA or DGA, we're not union television. So, your reputation is gold. If nobody has your back, if things go south, there's no one to call. So, you start saying, "Oh my, it's me. I'm the problem."

Many people are reticent to speak out about being unemployed in an industry where everyone wants to appear to be in demand. Did you think about that before your first post?

We have this internal fear. You don’t speak up. You don't rattle the cage. We are always walking on eggshells. We're always working with nondisclosure agreements. So. you never want to stick your neck out too far. That'll only make the situation worse—or so we're conditioned to believe. Instead, I was just like, "You know what? Fuck it. I can't get hurt any worse than I'm hurt now." 

What kind of response did you get to it on TikTok?

The response was really negative. It was like 50/50. A lot of people have this negative impression of Hollywood, and [the documentary series] Quiet on the Set had just came out. So, 50 percent of the response I got on TikTok was, "You deserve it. No love lost. Cry me a river. Boohoo."

[Then] I put it on LinkedIn, and it just blows up. It really got the conversation going. A lot of people have reached out to me and said, "Thank you for using your voice." If that was the first push to get the snowball rolling down the hill, then I'm glad I was able to do that. I care about my crews. I care about my staff. I care about their wellbeing.

A lot of people who don’t work in the industry think everyone is raking in the money. They don't realize there is this below-the-line infrastructure full of people who earn middle-class wages. Many have exhausted their unemployment benefits, or they aren't eligible—the truncated production and post-production schedules, the norm these days, makes their gigs too short to qualify.

That's the thing about television and movie production. Nobody knows how the sausage is made. Everybody gets up as soon as the movie credits start rolling. But if you stay, there's five minutes of credits, and there are hundreds or thousands of names. And all of those names belong to people. There's souls attached, and they're working for money, and they're the unsung heroes.

What can be done to help these workers?

The government, especially the California state government, could step in. Little to no voice is coming out of Sacramento about any of this. Media and film production is almost a quarter of the state's economy, and there's an issue happening here that's at the same level as the auto industry collapse and the tech industry collapse. But there seems to be no response.

The government could expand unemployment benefits, because a lot of people's unemployment has run out. They could put a stay on people’s mortgages and rents like they did during the pandemic.

That's where government can help now. And with tax credits to keep production from being outsourced. I know an executive producer who's filming in Ireland for an American show, but the crew is a lot cheaper over there.

I don't think people realize that entertainment is one of the biggest exports of the United States. A movie isn't just a movie. They're also paying all these other industries that are attached. Most of Los Angeles caters to the film and television industry. So, you have caterers, you have florists, you have laundry services. Even restaurants are hurting in LA because nobody's making money to go out to eat.

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