Let’s talk about the aftermath.
On September 27 and November 9, 2023, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild ended their one hundred-plus day strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. These dates will live in our generational DNA as moments of great relief.
The truth is that these strikes have been devastating and I am keenly aware of the pain and suffering they have caused. As of November 1, 2023, the Motion Picture Industry & Pension Health Plans have lost a total of over 40 million hours or two billion dollars in labor wages. I am appalled by the lack of press regarding the impact on below-the-line talent, such as all members in our Local. We need to start talking about the long-term financial impact of these strikes on our families, our pocketbooks, but also our mental health.
So to that end, I decided to host a virtual discussion with seven Local 695 members in late October. Some were well seasoned with years of experience in our business while others are just starting their career journey. We discussed the strikes and how they had been affected over the last seven months. These seven members were extremely candid in their responses to the topics below.
Here are some of the topics and responses this group talked about:
How have you all been getting on since the start of the WGA strike?
Member 6: I am plowing through savings, like, I mean, just slash and burn. And, you know, the boom operator that’s been working with me for ten years basically had to leave LA. He’s hanging out in another state now because it’s cheaper to hang out there while the strike’s going on. That’s terrible, right?
Member 2: So, I finished a movie the second week of, or maybe the first week of April. And I had another movie lined up for the summer, so I didn’t necessarily fill that time with a ton of work. It wasn’t until maybe a couple weeks after the writers announced that they were on strike that I got an email saying that they’re going to decide to table the movie because it was just too hard. They wanted to make changes to the script, they couldn’t, and so it didn’t make sense to go ahead with prep. That whole movie got shelved. So that was my whole summer … just completely gone. And so I have done, I think, eight union days since the end of that feature that I did at the beginning of April.
How is your family dealing with the effects of the strike?
Member 1: I mean, it was good because I was here [with my kids] and I’m not always able to be here. I’m able to be present and take them to school. But then at the same time, the further we go into this, I’m here, but I’m not resourceful. You know what I mean? I’m here, but I’m dealing with the mental, emotional things of being at home every day and trying to figure out what’s next or what to do or what not to do. So, what I go through directly affects them because I can’t make the same decisions I can make if I’m working.
Member 3: Well, my kids are actually happy I’m home, but then you don’t have money to do a lot of things. So you’re home, but you’re home and you’re broke. At first, it was good. Now, we got to refill the resources, but from where?
Member 1: Yeah, just to jump on what [was said], it went from I was a taxi service for the kids and happy to spend time with them. I was driving my son to school pretty much every day … but you do reach a point where you are the person that’s saying yes to these things, but you’re also saying no to the things that you used to say yes to—can I get this thing, do we have money so I can go here with my friends, can I go do this? …There are times when they say, ‘When is this going to end, when is this going to end?’ And it’s frustrating because you don’t have an end date, because you can’t budget, because you can’t say, yeah it’s fine, you can go do this thing because we have this amount of money that I know that we can put here. But without that end date in sight, you don’t have any way of knowing how to partition that stuff out, you know, you don’t know what resources you can put where. Monday is my wife’s 50th birthday and it went from last year talking about a party to us maybe going out for dinner. It’s like what it’s come down to. You have to be responsible, but you also, I don’t know.
Member 3: When we first started, it was the summer. We had the time and a little bit of savings, or me personally, a little bit of savings. You’re using that because now you’re at home, you got the time with your kids, you’re using it. We’re letting them have their summer experience. Then back to school is a whole other expense. And now I’ve used most of our resources thinking … that it wouldn’t be this long or this serious. I’m not going to make them suffer. I’m still going to let them enjoy their summer and enjoy the back to school. But that was tough because what do we [do to] replace the money?
Member 1: And that’s the thing I think that’s gonna snap a lot of people is that not knowing, not being able to plan, especially going into Christmas and suddenly, it went from maybe we’ll get a couple of episodes before the year’s out, and we won’t lose healthcare, we won’t lose this, we’ll be able to pay for Christmas, to, oh, it’s gonna be January. Okay, I have to find a way of managing everything to get to January now. And the longer it goes on for us, it’s not just like a couple of days, it becomes months, it becomes nine to twelve weeks of leading before you can get onto a film set. So, every day that it goes on, we’re thinking, ”Well, they’re not going to start now because it’s going to be Christmas, and then it’ll be New Year’s, and then we’re going to start. So, what are we doing? Are we going to wait until March? Are we going to go until April? And there’s some people who haven’t worked for a year.”
Member 5: I don’t have kids but … I’m driving, helping my dad with his [limo] business. Just trying to stay afloat, staying positive though… But that’s slowed down too, because he used to have a lot of people in Hollywood that he would take as executives. So, it’s slowed down a lot. The whole city’s been pretty shut down because of this. And people don’t realize that it impacts a lot of small businesses too. Yeah, so right now he’s like looking into people coming from out of town, like doing Bar Mitzvahs. He’s doing a lot of football games now. And he’s doing a lot more like picking people up from the airport, dropping them off to their homes.
How has this affected the vendors we work with daily?
Member 3: This is obviously not my line of business, but I would say in talking to most of the vendors and manufacturers, they’ve definitely been impacted. I know in speaking with one, the owner of a company [who shall remain nameless], who makes equipment that we use in this industry, has taken his employees down to three days a week. He did mention to me that he honestly needed to take them down to one day a week because that’s really all he could afford, but he’s worried that those employees, who he’s had for thirty years, will leave him and that’s too scary to him. I’ve listened to the story on NPR just about dry cleaners to prop houses that are furloughing employees or closing their doors completely. This is damaging, because we are losing something here that we are not going to be able to get back. There’s the financial impact, but there’s also just the impact of just the stories that are being told, the prop houses, the costumes, all of that is just getting tossed and thrown away.
How do you feel about going back to work?
Member 3: It’s even scarier because even when we do go back, I’m already on the bottom of the totem pole. People who haven’t been working, it’s gonna be like, ‘grab my guys that need to pay their mortgage’ … [and] at the same time, there’s people that have been doing it for thirty years, twenty years. So, we’re low [on the totem pole], might not be back for months after that or weeks after that, or I don’t know, you know? So that’s something that concerns me and my position.
Member 2: Just so you know [Member 3], I feel the exact same way. I feel like I’m at a point, I mean, I’ve been fortunate, but I just know that there are so many people that have been doing this for a hell of a lot longer than me that have more name recognition than I have. And I have such, such anxiety about when will I get my first call to go back? Because I do, I think of myself too, as being lower on that ladder than some other names. So just know that you’re not alone in that fear, because I carry that same one with me. That’s my concern too, is that when we come back, the top-tier guys are going to get the first calls. And depending on how many shows come back, there may not be enough shows to then go to the second tier of guys, and then the third tier of guys, you know?
Member 7: For me, as a woman, who doesn’t have children, I found coming out of the pandemic, I was one of the last of my group to get called because everyone was calling people who had families first. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that same fear is in my head. “Am I even going to get a call?” because I know all the men I work with, all have kids, and all those guys stick together.
Have you thought about alternatives to this business?
Member 2: We don’t really have a skill set that’s transferable. Some of us are deep in the hole, metaphorically speaking, because of the investment we’ve made in equipment. It’s not an easy shift to find something else. It’s not like we can just turn around and pick up. And like I said, getting seasonal work is next to impossible unless you are already in the retail world or in the food service industry. No one is going to take you because you’re not going to be able to sign on for any sort of substantial amount of time. They’re going to train you and then you’re going to leave for a job. And retail companies are aware of this. And so that’s not realistic either. And I think you could look in to the gig economy. You could look in to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, all of those, which are miserable. You don’t make a ton of money. From my aspect, “Yes, I own a car. Yes, I can drive. Honestly, I’d be afraid for my safety to be an Uber or Lyft driver in the city.” I don’t want to deal with strange random men in my car. Absolutely not. So that’s not an option either. There really isn’t a lot out there for us other than going on disability and going through unemployment… It is important to note that there is not a wide range of options for us to make money outside of this very niche-specific set of skills we have for this industry.
Member 6: So, we’re one of those dual film households… And now, [my wife’s] unemployment ran out. And so, there’s zero. She’s finding stuff to do, which is great, but not much… I think there’s a real false sense of fallback.
Member 1: I looked. I thought maybe I could do something in the meantime, but it’s hard to get seasonal work or apply for jobs that, frankly, are part time. They pay less than unemployment. So I’m extracting myself from being useful to the family as the taxi service for the kids and cooking and helping out as much as I can at home, where I wouldn’t normally be there… I think some people if you’re at the end or at the very beginning of your career, then you have a little more room to pivot, but when you’re bang in the middle and you have ten years away from getting all the hours that you need to retire, fifteen years away or twenty years away and that finishing line is a lot more distant, but the starting line is nowhere near as well, then it’s a little harder to change at that point.
What do you think the future looks like?
Member 4: I remember when it first started, I thought it was going to last two or three months and then everything would come back. But then once it started getting longer, I started to think like, “oh, maybe I should switch over to something else.” But then just thinking about starting off new somewhere else, I was like sound is what I really wanted to do. I think it was around July, I started to think maybe I should shift into something else. It has been tough during these past few months, for sure. And so, I remembered PAing and then I got into sound a year ago. I just kept thinking about how much fun I had working on set and doing sound. It’s a bit of a pause, but I still want to continue working in sound because that’s what I worked hard to get into and that’s something that I would like to continue and move on up; maybe someday become a sound mixer as well. So that’s still my dream… So in a way, the strike actually reinforced that this is really what you want to do.
Member 6: And these strikes have all been under the guise of we’re helping the next generation through. The problem is we’re wiping them out; wiping them out before they even get a chance. So that next generation I’m talking about isn’t even a writer or an actor now. Because this strike is wiping out a whole level of people. And that includes us. I have incredible anxiety when it comes to work… And yet we’re still resolved. We’re going through this, but we are still strong and will do nothing less than accept a fair contract when our time comes… And just like when we started talking, I think it’s really important [to talk and be heard] because I feel the noise of our pain and suffering, and nobody’s hearing it.
And yet, as Member 6 just stated, we are still resolved.
I sit with you.
President Jillian Arnold