Like many people in LA’s entertainment industry, prop maker and set designer Rob West hasn’t had a lot of work since the pandemic.
As a freelancer, he’s used to bouncing around from gig to gig.
“I'll be a carpenter building a set one day or for a week,” he says. “And then the following week, I'll be painting something or doing scenic painting. Quite often I'm making ... hand props, costume pieces or special light-up wall decorations for movie premieres, things like that.”
With all of those jobs at a standstill, West has found a new way to use his skills: making face shields for health care workers.
Those bendable, plastic face coverings are designed to prevent infectious droplets from entering medical professionals’ mouths, eyes, and noses.
The idea started from a request on Facebook.
“A fellow art department person said that he has a doctor friend that needs these face shields made,” says West. “It seemed like a really elegant design, simple enough thing. And I said to myself, ‘I could definitely do that.’ Once I finally got some supplies, I made 200 in a day.”
He quickly got some friends together (other out-of-work entertainment freelancers) and started a group called LA Face Shields.
“I've always had a fantasy of working in the medical field in some way as a fabricator, either making prosthetic devices or special mobility vehicles for small children,” says West. “So I feel very fulfilled doing this sort of work, and I'd love to continue feeling this way and not just like I'm helping the giant Hollywood machine.”
In addition to face shields, West is also building reusable, lightweight respiration shields that can be placed over a patient during procedures that require intubation or CPAP.
West knows he can’t survive without a paycheck for long, and may return to prop making once the entertainment industry restarts.
“If there's an opportunity for me to continue on this path or use these skills in a way that benefits my community, I'd really love to continue with it,” he says. “But I know a lot of those things require degrees or special certifications that I may not be able to get, so I guess we’ll just see.”