Business is booming for the television industry. This caused hiring problems.
Normally, when a show is in the process of recruiting, producers call up a list of qualified professionals they’ve worked with recently, and they hire the people they’ve seen doing the job. The problem these days is that production schedules are so packed that these usual suspects are often not available.
It’s hard enough to find top showrunners, editors, and cinematographers. But the less obvious roles are just as difficult to fill. Need a good production accountant? Good luck.
There’s a reason this tradition of keeping safe contact lists exists. Department heads are often in a rush to find people available for short-term work, on jobs that may only last six to 12 months, so they go with people in their networks.
But the continued labor shortage has exposed flaws in the age-old way Hollywood cultivates its workforce. Additionally, it shrinks the talent pool at a time when film and television are expected to diversify their workforce by opening doors to more people of color, women, and LGBTQ people.
“Everyone instinctively looks for the people they know they can count on, who are great, who they’ve worked with before,” said Eli Holzman, CEO of Intellectual Property Corp. and president of Sony Pictures Television Nonfiction. “It’s a system we’ve relied on for a long time, but it has flaws.”
Heather Schuster (known as H Schuster), who worked for years as an executive and producer in unscripted television, has developed an app to help studios and production companies grow their slates.
His Los Angeles-based company Husslup (pronounced “hustle up”) works with a growing list of companies, including Russo Brothers’ AGBO, Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures to find new hires using his platform, which aims to be a LinkedIn for entertainment.
The invite-only, free app, which has 2,500 members in its beta phase, allows hiring managers to search for candidates based on criteria users choose to include in their profile, including experience, role (screenwriter , director), genre categories expertise (horror, action, romantic comedy) and diversity.
A media company like NBCUniversal may post an opening for a production assistant for “Access Hollywood.” A voiceover studio may share that they are looking for an office manager. Companies can contact potential candidates directly through the app.
Workers can set their available dates, the same way Facebook allowed users to set their relationship status as a signal to potential mates.
Creatives and professionals can post their work samples and seek collaborators for specific projects, for example, if someone is looking for a Native American writer for a feature-length thriller.
Some people just use it to post their latest wins, like an actor signed by a new manager or a director’s film selected for an upcoming film festival. Users can also vouch for each other’s abilities.
Schuster, who has worked on series such as “Master Chef” and held roles at companies such as Ryan Seacrest Productions, said she founded Husslup last year in part to help the industry solve its a persistent problem of diversity, which has long been perpetuated by a clubby culture and an informal dues system where young people walk in the door by accepting low-paying work.
“I’ve been through the frustration of trying to find diverse members for my teams and I’ve definitely been in situations where I’m on a team where there’s not a lot of inclusivity,” a- she declared. “And so the goal, for me, was really to try to do something that could have a real impact on an industry that I love.”
Husslup is one of many companies trying to cure the entertainment industry of its clicky hiring habits. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, through their company Impact Creative Systems, launched their own app in 2020 to help executives find talented writers and help scribes find work.
In 2021, director Ava DuVernay launched Array Crew, a so-called below-the-line talent database designed to address the hiring gap for women and people of color in the entertainment industry. Below the line usually refers to crew members such as cameramen, set designers, makeup artists, and hairstylists.
And, of course, there are the established general-purpose social networking services that businesses use, like LinkedIn and Facebook groups.
“Having these kinds of tools helps level the playing field, to some degree,” said Nicholas Anglewicz, AGBO’s chief operating officer. “It has become increasingly important to ensure that the content you create for the world represents the world, and these tools help in that regard.”
But for companies that prioritize diversity, apps are no panacea; they are just a tool. Companies should be proactive in meeting with potential candidates through outreach and networking events, months before an opportunity arises to avoid rushing at the last minute.
“Part of that process is building a list of people you want to work with,” Anglewicz said. “It doesn’t just happen by using an app.”
Tiana Perez, 19, signed up for Husslup after connecting through the nonprofit organization Women In Film Los Angeles. Perez, who grew up in Santa Clarita and will soon begin studying public relations and advertising at USC’s Annenberg School, wanted to work in entertainment but had no industry experience or connections. She received an offer for an entry-level job as a production assistant at AGBO a few months after her arrival.
“A major selling point was that it was a lot about networking and seeing what other people were doing in their careers in the industry,” Perez said.
Husslup completed the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator program in November and launched its app in February. The company, which has a team of around eight people, is in the process of raising an undisclosed amount of funding. The app is free for businesses and job applicants, but will eventually make money by charging businesses through tiered subscriptions, Schuster said.
“We want to keep it free for creative talent for as long as possible,” Schuster said. “We want to drive the community and we want creative talent to feel like they have a place where they can come and really network.”