Spot Boys, Make Up Artists Hit Hard as Shoots Halted for COVID-19

The coronavirus scare has impacted freelancers in the entertainment industry.

5 min read
The daily wage workers have been hit hard.

The spread of the deadly COVID-19 has not only created massive panic across the world, but has heavily impacted the markets and various industries. While a lot of companies having rolled out a work from home policy, the entertainment industry has been hit hard. Production houses have been sent a directive by the ministry to halt all shootings until 31 March. A host of people including producers, assistant directors, make-up artists and spot boys have been affected by this. We spoke to a few of them to find out what the past week has been like, and how uncertain the future is.

The worst affected are the daily wage workers on a film set. This includes make-up artists and their assistants, camera assistants and spot boys. We spoke to a spot boy who has lost his steady flow of income over the last few months.

Govind Ranjit Sansi was working on a web series for the last three weeks before it got halted because of the coronavirus scare. “I’m still waiting for my payment of the last 20 days that I’ve worked, which is getting delayed because my superiors haven’t been able to make the transactions.”

Govind earns around Rs 1200 to 1500 per day, depending on the project. The bigger production houses making big-budget films tend to pay better he said.

The 26-year-old added,

The producers have told us that the shooting will resume from 1 April but I get daily wages, so until then there’s no income. We are also assuming that shoot might start then, it could also get delayed.
Govind Sansi, Spot boy

Govind has now taken up a job as a Swiggy delivery boy for the time being. “No company is going to hire people now, so this is the only option I have to make money.”

Govind works as a spot boy.
Govind works as a spot boy.
(Photo: Govind Sansi)

Another person affected by the shutdown is an assistant make-up artist. 29-year-old Mahesh Gabkare wasn’t working on a film when the shut down happened, but was awaiting a bunch of shoots. “I had a shoot that was going to begin in April, and now that’s been pushed indefinitely. I have no source of income for the next few months, and it’s going to be very hard.” Mahesh is not married, and lives with his parents and brother, who works for a corporate giant.

He added, “I get paid only when I go on the shoot, whether it’s a feature film or an ad-film.”

Mahesh doesn’t have any other means to earn a livelihood, and depends solely on his career as an assistant make-up artist.

30-year-old Rahul Negi was working on a big Bollywood film as an assistant cameraperson when the shoot was halted. He said, “We are paid on a daily basis, our shoot stopped on 19 March and is not expected to start before 31 March. So for that period, there is going to be no income for me.”

Rahul is from Delhi and moved to Mumbai a few years ago hoping to become a cinematographer. “I have rent to pay, need to pay my maid and for food as well. If over the next few months things don’t settle I’ll probably have to move back to Delhi and do something there.”

Shenoya worked on Vishal Bharadwaj’s <i>Pataakha.</i>
Shenoya worked on Vishal Bharadwaj’s Pataakha.
(Photo Courtesy: Shenoya Fernandez)

Shenoya Fernandez, a hair and make-up artist has been working in the industry for the last three years and has worked on six web shows, five feature films, ad-films and with individual celebrities. The shutdown however, has been worrisome for her as well. “We get paid on a per day basis, so our daily wages have gone for a toss,” she said.

The 27-year-old is from Mumbai and while one might think of that as an advantage Shenoya said, “But I’m still staying on rent. I don’t stay with my parents, because my current house is closer to my work place. The producers have told us that the shooting will begin 2 April onwards, but depends again on the situation at that time.”

Shenoya in the midst of a hair and make-up session.
Shenoya in the midst of a hair and make-up session.
(Photo Courtesy: Shenoya Fernandez)
I’m in the middle of buying a house as well, so that’s also being put on hold because of this crisis so we’ll just have to wait and see how this pans out. But there is this fear that what if then things don’t get better, then?
Shenoya Fernandez, Hair and make-up artist

The few assistant directors we spoke to however didn’t seem as worried. Ankur Singh, an assistant director who is working on a series produced by a massive streaming giant said,

The reason why I’m not panicking is because we are assuming everything will be fine by 1 April. I am a freelance AD, so we’ve been called and emailed and told to not give our dates to anybody because we will be resuming the shoot 1 April onwards.
Ankur Singh, Assistant Director

He added, “The people who are most worried are the technicians and the daily wage workers because they are the ones who stand to lose out. As an assistant director my contract with the company is till the end of March and so I will be getting paid regardless. But the daily wage workers- the light team, camera will definitely stand to lose out and are not getting paid.”

The assistant directors also come from backgrounds that are more privileged and well off, so can also write off a momentary loss of income.

Rohit Babu, another assistant director who was working on a web series said the same. He said, “We aren’t affected as much so far because we are still on the pay roll. It is the technicians who have been hit hard.”

He added, “Our shoot is supposed to begin in June-July so till then we’re doing the pre-production work from home.”

We also spoke to a director who wished to remain anonymous, whose film with a streaming giant, produced by one of Bollywood’s biggest production houses was about to begin. He said, “Our preparation was already done so we were about to go and start shooting but now we’re just waiting for things to resolve.”

When asked if they would be incurring any financial losses he said, “We’ll know only when we know how long the shoot is going to be stalled. Because we got to know early we didn’t pay for our locations, and anyway most of our film is shot on real locations.”

He said that the entire team including freelancers were getting paid at least for the next two weeks till they got clarity on when the shoot will begin.

“If the shoot gets stalled for another four-five months, then it will definitely be a problem and we will have to figure out another way,” he added.

There’s no doubt that the daily wage workers have been hit the worst by the coronavirus outbreak when it comes to the entertainment industry. But there is a beacon of hope as the Producers Guild of India has announced a relief fund for the daily wage workers. This is critical considering we don’t know long shoots are going to be stalled for and the future is uncertain.

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