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In an interview with CNBC on Oct. 22, the day after disclosing that the 6-month-old mobile entertainment startup Quibi would shut down, CEO Meg Whitman described returning money to the company’s investors as “the honorable thing to do.” Unmentioned during the appearance were crewmembers who would lose their jobs during a pandemic as Quibi wound down production on its original shows.
Although many of those crewmembers long doubted the viability of the business model, Quibi’s Oct. 21 announcement that it was closing shop came as a blow in a tight job market. Several show sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that they, just like most Quibi employees, did not know about the news in advance of the general public.
“We were blindsided. We had just signed contracts and turned down other jobs to keep working on this show,” says one employee on the ATTN:-produced title Your Daily Horoscope, which Quibi renewed for a second season in September. Antonio Monge, an animator on the show, adds: “Our own execs had to constantly hound Quibi for further information.”
Below-the-line workers on Quibi shows, which were all produced by outside production companies or studios, also expressed trepidation about reentering the job market mid-pandemic: “I’m now looking for my next show, but there might be a lot of people looking for their next show,” one crewmember scheduled to work on season two of Chrissy’s Court says — and the holidays are, traditionally, a “hard time to find work,” the person adds. (The crewmember, like so many who spoke to THR, does not yet know the fate of the show post-Quibi).
“The way I’ve seen it is that I’ve been really lucky to be employed on a Quibi show during the pandemic. I was one of the only people I know who was working,” an associate producer on Sexology With Shan Boodram says.
Quibi, which launched April 6, planned to release 175 shows in its first year. Though that’s a high volume of originals for a new service, it was a key part of Whitman and chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s plan to attract subscribers. The service was designed around the concept that people would pay for short, under-10-minute episodes of expensively produced content that they could watch while on the go.
But because Hollywood wasn’t already making shortform content for millions of dollars, Quibi had to assemble its library from scratch. Many of those shows were mid-production when crews learned that the platform would be shuttering. That left workers — particularly those employed on the current events-driven shows dubbed “Daily Essentials” who expected to have jobs locked in for the next several months — scrambling.
Like many people, Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse, co-hosts of The Nod, found out that Quibi was shutting down via news reports. By the end of the day, they also learned that production on The Nod was over. It was an abrupt end for a team that had grown close filming together through the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. “Not being able to raise a glass in real life or hug any of them and just commune together to show them how much I really appreciate the opportunity to work with them, that was really hard,” says Luse, adding that the majority Black team is now looking for new jobs. “We don’t know when any of these incredibly talented Black people are going to be up for another job again; we don’t necessarily know that about ourselves.”
In most cases, Quibi productions were told to wind down by Oct. 30. That was also the last day for many Quibi corporate employees, who will receive around four months of severance, according to a source that has worked with the company. Quibi is expected to pay commitments to its producer partners, says another source that has done business with the company. It’s up to the production companies or studios that employ the crews to provide severance to the workers who now find themselves without jobs, if at all.
“Quibi is closing out shows and negotiating settlements,” a Quibi spokeswoman said in a statement. “As third party licensors, Quibi is giving the production companies and studios the flexibility from the settlements to pay their crews as they see fit.”
In a statement, WGA East said it had “a number of Guild members who worked on the platform’s nonfiction programs and had up to six months of future work under contract, but are receiving minimal severance; we are working to address that issue with the production company.”
Companies that are supporting some employees through the shutdown include ATTN:, which is paying out contracts for long-term “pay or play” contractors employed on Your Daily Horoscope and has not laid off full-time employees who worked on the show, a source close to the company says. Other contractors are only being paid for the time they worked before Quibi shut down. If the show finds a new home, the original team will be asked to return. “We want to commend our team for its heroic effort to produce an unprecedented 12 animated pieces every day, in the midst of a global pandemic,” ATTN: vp production Taye Shuayb said in a statement.
Meanwhile, NBC News — which produced several Daily Essentials for Quibi — is providing benefits to the people who worked on those shows and is working to help them locate new roles at the company, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Bell Media, which served as Quibi’s exclusive provider of Canadian news and sports programming, eliminated several contract positions after production on its three Daily Essentials ended Oct. 30. In a statement, the company said no on-air talent would be affected. Jake Moore, president of Unifor Local 79M, which represents unionized workers on the Quibi shows, tells THR that six employees have seen their contracts end as a result of the shutdown. Employees working in another division at the Canadian media company who were moved onto the Quibi projects “will revert to their previous jobs, which will likely result in a loss of freelance hours,” Moore added. Additional non-union freelancers who worked on the Bell shows have been left without jobs.
The upside to working on a Quibi show for many local, below-the-line crew members was that a good number filmed in Los Angeles, according to Steven Johnson, who line-produced the scripted Tye Sheridan thriller Wireless.
Quibi projects also often provided crew members from commercial, music video and branded-content backgrounds with feature and television experience: “Because it was shortform, and because the budgets were low enough, it wasn’t a stringent guideline that you find only the people that worked on the last premium TV show,” Johnson says. One employee on an unscripted show produced by B17 Entertainment says the project offered flexibility with remote work mid-pandemic in an industry where “if you’re not willing to work out in the field, you’re kind of limited in what you can do and where you can work.”
One silver lining to the shutdown may be that Quibi shows could find their way to other platforms, where they can attract a larger audience than they did on the mobile-first platform, which struggled to attract subscribers. But while Whitman and Katzenberg are trying to sell the service’s library, there’s no guarantee that projects will have a second life. As one employee on a Quibi show says of the platform’s end and the ensuing scramble for work: “We all knew this was coming. We just didn’t know it was coming this fast.”
Etan Vlessing contributed reporting.
Nov. 3, 4:34 p.m. Updated to clarify that one group of ATTN: contractors were only paid for time worked.
A version of this story appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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