‘Just Ask Us And We Will Do It’: Jere Harris, PRG Chairman And CEO, Talks Combating COVID-19

Courtesy of PRG
– Jere Harris

Jere Harris helms Production Resource Group, LLC, a global leader in virtually all aspects of production, and while his company is undeniably feeling the effects of COVID-19, his message to Pollstar was clear: Production people can be of great assistance in the fight against COVID-19, if they are called upon.

Pollstar reported last week that PRG was dedicating its substantial capacities to fighting COVID-19 in Germany and New York. PRG is also now also offering livestreaming and virtual conference trainings, livestreaming kits that can be delivered and installed for more professional livestream production and is producing livestreaming concerts for artists like YUNGBLUD. 

PRG is also involved in the Live Events Coalition that recently updated its request for aid from the U.S. Federal Government into a four-point plan.

Before helming a company now with more than 40 offices in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, Harris spent years in the trenches as a production professional, starting working with Broadway theatre production in 1970. He founded Harris Production Services in 1982 to provide his production management services to the broader industry and in 1984 founded Scenic Technologies, bringing all of his services under one umbrella. In 1995 he formed PRG, which now does everything under the production sun. PRG merged with VER in 2018 to cement its position as a truly global leader in the event production space.

With all of his years of experience, Harris says he has never seen disruption on the scale caused by COVID-19.

Harris was gracious enough to chat with Pollstar about the effects of COVID-19, PRG’s Pivot toward assisting medical professionals in combatting the disease, and what’s next for the industry.

You have years and years of experience in event production. Have you ever seen anything like what is happening with COVID-19?

Jere Harris: No, this is unique. Obviously 9/11 had [very difficult] connotations and issues connected to it. We have seen strikes. But this is the first time we’ve faced a global event that is affecting our business [at this scale]. We are a global business, and this is affecting people all over the globe, it’s severe.

The other thing that’s unique to this – when 9/11 happened, it was a week of shutdowns. It didn’t really affect television or motion pictures. It did affect hotels and staging. But this [has] affected all the different segments of the industry.

Usually, if one segment slows down for a reason, if you’re a gig employee who lives in the theater, you can do corporate shows for awhile. If you work in TV, maybe there’s a motion picture or commercial, you can always pick up work. There was always something to do, you could pick up work, but now there is no cross-breeding, there is no ability to go from one genre to your home base.

Even sports are shut down. We would be doing the French Open right now. This is unique, but we will get through it. We always plan for the worst, but this is the worst [to the extreme].

How did it come about that you got into these initiatives to help manufacture face-shields and temporary hospitals?

Well, I think this is true of everybody in our industry. We improvise, adapt, and overcome. That is the motto of the Marines, but I think it’s true of production professionals. We are about innovation all across the whole industry, not just PRG.

[In the case of New York and Berlin] people needed certain things. We have flexible manufacturing capability, power distributing, lighting, rigging, trusses, ground structure, we have all those things. We applied ourselves and let people know we are available and can do it.

We are used to reacting at the flick of switch. If someone says they need something, boom we can do it. Everyone can see how bureaucratic the government is, but if  you call me up and say “We need 100 of faceshields,” I’ll say “We can make it.”

And again, this is not just PRG, its everybody in the live events industry.

Is PRG going to do more to assist in fighting COVID-19?

We certainly are making ourselves 100 percent available to do everything we can to help. We’ve reached out at every level, local, federal, and state. We’ve reached out and if someone needs our help, we’ll be there. If we can do it, we’ll do it.

We at Pollstar are starting to hear more and more stories of different companies arising to help in fighting COVID-19. Do you think there are more untapped opportunities to call on production professionals?

Yes. I think if you don’t have bureaucracy and people are willing to waive certain rules in a time of absolute, desperate need, I believe that our industry is uniquely qualified to make or do anything that needs to be done, other than we are not healthcare professionals.

We have sewing machines for face masks. We have machine tools to make ventilators. We have CNC router tables to make plastic face shields. We have a costume shop to make custom clothing and start making more masks. We have machine tools, routers, high-tech equipment, even down 3-D printers. If people need parts, and the government cuts the red tape, we’ll get things there quickly.

Can you talk about the red tape preventing more mobilization of production professionals?

The issues with this pandemic are a result of the local/state/federal governments’ lack of planning and years of not being prepared. That’s the problem here. The problem is not the governments individually, it’s all three.

And [initiative to find solutions] has to start locally. If you have a hospital out in Utah, what is the federal government going do for you from Washington? People cannot call New York or Los Angeles to ask what to do next.

How significant has the disruption caused by the pandemic to PRG’s business been?

It’s obviously very significant at the current moment and time. I think it will continue to be significant through the summer. I think things will start to come back, but I think [we will feel this] for a full year and the thing that will affect us is when they do have a vaccine. I think once the virus is not a threat, people will fly back, rush to restaurants, hotels, sports, concerts, theater, business meetings. Because human beings, we like to be together.

I know you are connected with the Live Events Coalition. Do you have any thoughts in terms of asking for government relief?

We are actively involved [in lobbying the government], I’ve asked everyone at PRG to send letters to their representatives at the federal and state government. The treasury secretary has been around the entertainment business for a large part of his career. One would hope that Trump has now started to speak about restaurants, he understands our situation. He is well-versed in the live television business, he knows that extremely well, and he knows the Broadway theater business, he was married to a Broadway star in Marla Maples. He would come to the theater to pick her up.

There’s nothing firm I can tell you. Everyone can participate in unemployment and apply for relief [small businesses can start here], the government has done a good job in a relatively short amount of time to try to get relief to the average man and woman. That will be helpful. I think they are making it available to the gig economy, freelance people who are self-employed – and I’m not an expert on it, I don’t profess to be the guy to talk to about this – but I understand there will be help available for the middle and small people, whereas relief might be more difficult for a company like PRG because of the way our capital is structured.

So the Live Events Coalition recently gave the figure of $800 billion as the amount required to mitigate the damage being done to the live industry. Is that really the number?

Think of it as a pyramid. People decide they are going to go to a concert in Foxborough or to a Broadway show. They take a train, they book a hotel, they go to a restaurant, they go to the show, they go to another restaurant, then go back to the hotel. The gross on Broadway is about $1.6 billion this year, but it’s probably $10 billion when counting all the other businesses affected. And that’s just one part of one city.

Americans love to be entertained and they like to go to theater and music. As a country, I think we have the most diverse entertainment structure.

Is there anything else you think people should know while facing this COVID-19 shutdown?

I think PRG and our industry as a whole, we are a creative industry. In a time of crisis, we can be creative, whether it’s PRG or XYZ. We are creative people and we respond to crisis. Production is always in crisis. We can adapt to this.

One testimonial we received said the motto of the production industry has always been “The show must go on.” But now, for much of the year, it actually cannot go on.

That’s why we have to bang down the doors in some of these places. You need 3000 masks? We make costumes, we will switch from making costumes to face shields and masks. There is no reason a costume shop couldn’t make protective gowns.

We’re in a creative industry. We are people who can do anything. Just ask us and we will all do it. We are here.