“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” describes L.A.-based camera operator Andrew Brinkhaus. “When the COVID-19 shut down hit, like many, I got online and started reading. One of the things that caught my eye was the different products and designs for face masks and other things.”
Brinkhaus started posting on Instagram, looking for fellow guild members who were similarly handy and wanting to help. What if they could make shields for the over-worked and under-supplied health care workers with their 3D printers? “In the camera department, it’s all about team building,” he adds. “So, I started to get calls.”
Joshua Cote, L.A.-based 1st A.C., was the first guild member on-board.
“I was honestly desperate for a project, and the importance of this one didn’t fully dawn on me that first night,” admits Cote, who immediately brought in his friend, Mike Reyes, to design a tracking system for materials coming in, and shields going out.
“In a few short days, we had 10-plus printers, many of whom are Local 600 members,” adds L.A.-based guild Camera Operator Chris Herr. The core group included Brinkhaus, Herr, Cote, Director of Photography Benji Dell (L.A.), 2nd A.C. Chess Pettengill (L.A.), 1st AC Eric Ugland (L.A.), 1st AC Max Batchelder (N.Y.), and 2nd AC Tristan Chavez (New Mexico). And the list keeps growing.
Cote says the project has been an inspiration, in a time when the industry is virtually shut down. “The donations have been helpful, and we are able to maintain a steady stock of tools and materials,” he offers. And, given the “Safer at Home,” restrictions, volunteers are printing remotely and shipping the shields to Brinkhaus, who says the protective products are comprised of two components. “Commercially used PETG and PET plastic,” he explains. “They’re clear and repurposed from overhead projector slides and laser cut. The shields can be cleaned and sanitized. They’re not single-use products; they can be reused and last for up to two weeks.”
Industry vendors, like Jon Edward Miller, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Hive Lighting, have played a key role, providing tools and financial backing. “I saw Andrew’s call for help and reached out,” Miller recounts. “We started by donating materials, then reached out to Hive team members. We purchased materials and are starting our first build now.”
Miller says the efforts being made by Local 600 members are vital.
“We are part of the L.A. community,” he adds. “These are our hospitals, our healthcare workers, our neighbors, our family, and our friends. Getting them the protective equipment they need and deserve is the least we can do. Film and television technicians are problem solvers; while production is down, and we are all doing our part by staying at home, we’re not letting that energy go to waste.”
Financial donations from guild members like Matthew Libatique, ASC and Shane Hurlbut ASC, have been a big help, as well. And Cote says he’s hoping rental houses that have a lot of 3D printers will join in. “We’ve also set up a GoFundMe account (gf.me/u/xttc5f),” Brinkhaus says.
Other unique aspects include a website where “printers” can sign up, and health care workers needing shields can put in requests. Brinkhaus says the response has been amazing, having recently shipped a “huge order” to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Word of mouth – about the comfort and stability of the shields – has also been amazing.
Nurses use the 3D printed masks designed by 3D Agents of Shield.
“We’re getting calls and orders from healthcare professionals across the country – and shipping as fast as we can,” Brinkhaus describes. “Admittedly [3D printing can be] a slow process,” Herr notes. “But with more printers available, we can do 250-300 shields a day.”
The 3D Agents of Shield group are also enlisting the talents of other IATSE crafts, i.e., repurposed dance floor from Local 80 grips.
“The ¼-inch ABS sheeting is perfect for the frame part that holds the shield onto your head,” Herr explains. “With one 4-foot by 8-foot sheet, we can mill out 120 shields.” [Tana Dubbe and James Coffin of 8 Point Grip were the first to donate materials.] The team also wants to 3D print face masks (like N95 masks), and other simple spare parts for hospitals.
All of the Local 600 members involved with 3D Agents of Shield say they’re getting back as much as they are giving. “Last week, I was all but paralyzed with fear,” Cote admits. “But once I teamed up with Andrew and dove headfirst into this cause, I felt a lot better. Now that I’m doing something to help, I’m far less overwhelmed with anxiety. If anyone else out there is feeling overwhelmed, I highly recommend getting involved.”
And why not? 3D Agents of Shield aren’t just looking for printers – they need runners to pick up and drop off materials – and just about anything or anyone who wants to help.
As Herr concludes: “This is a unique opportunity to re-tool our industry and help to slow the spread of this virus that has brought everything to a screeching halt.”