Hollywood actors and writers are striking together for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, for what guild members see as an existential battle against a corporate class they suspect wants to trim labor costs down to zero. Writers’ rooms have shrunk. Residual checks that once provided a living wage amount to a handful of dollars. So how’s everybody feeling? We spoke to 19 workers from every corner of the industry — from actors to writers to camera operators. They shared their salaries, their meager residuals, and what they’ve been doing to survive during the strike. Even those who have ostensibly “made it” are stretching their paychecks as far as they’ll go. Below them, Hollywood’s lower-middle class is doing the uncomfortable math: How much longer until I have to go back to waiting tables? Further down the hierarchy, IATSE guild workers — assistants, editors, and other below-the-line workers, who are not on strike but still not working — face moral decisions around crossing picket lines and wonder if the folks above the line will have their backs when they want a better deal too. The town is more united than ever, but in any work stoppage, it’s still hard not to feel like you’re the one getting fucked the most.
The Commercial Actor Who Came Around on Fran
Location: Los Angeles
Years in industry: 7
I joined SAG via commercials. One McDonald’s commercial, due to residuals, ended up paying me over $40,000. If you do a single national union commercial for a big brand, you’ve made your health insurance. I’m in a lucky position right now. My wife is in the animation guild, and she’s working. And even though SAG is striking TV and film at the moment, our contract with television commercials is still active, so I am still doing some stuff. And because residuals still exist in the commercial world, that is keeping us above water. I make enough where I qualify for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan. Myself, my wife, and my 10-month-old are all on my health insurance. I don’t take going on strike lightly, because this could very adversely affect my own family being able to get medical care if I don’t qualify for next year. This is not a game for me.
I did not vote for Fran to be in charge because I wasn’t fully sold on her. During the covid shutdowns, there were things that were said where I was like, “I don’t know, Fran, I think you might be crazy.” But I will eat those words. Because I thought we were going to cave. I thought the negotiating committee was going to take whatever deal was being thrown at us. So the fact that she and the committee put their foot down and said, ”No, this is terrible.” I was pleasantly surprised.
If my two top issues are not resolved, I won’t vote in favor of a deal. We need to have a workable residual or some kind of revenue share in streaming. If we don’t have either, we can’t live in these expensive cities. Right now, you have to do a survival job so you can act. And given the availability they’re asking of us to do these self-tape auditions, you can’t do both. We get no notice. You are asked to do like a dozen pages in 24 hours. If I have to clock in at six in the morning at my survival job, how am I supposed to do all this accent work and do all this object work and become another human being and really convince you that I’m a Victorian-era chimney sweep, if I also have to be at Subway?
The Assistant-Turned-Writer-Turned-Assistant Thankful for His Car Accident
Location: Los Angeles
Years in industry: 10
I started as a production assistant, and then got to writer’s assistant, script coordinator, and finally, staff writer on a sitcom. Then the pandemic happened. That sitcom ended. After being like, “I’ll never have to be support staff again,” I went back to being a script coordinator for another sitcom. Then I got staffed again on that show’s second season, and then that got canceled. One of the reasons the strike is important to me is because I have been waffling between being an established writer and having to restart every time, because these shows get canceled so quickly and have so few episodes.
Money is tight. Last week, I was in a thankfully only minorly horrible car wreck and the insurance called me the other day to tell me my car was totaled. It was such a bummer. I loved that car. Then they told me I was getting back almost $20,000 for it. I’m in such a financial crunch, I was like, holy shit, that’s amazing! That’s like being a script coordinator for ten weeks! I’m not buying another car with that money, at least not right now. It’s going to help keep me afloat until the strike is over.
The Crew members
More on hollywood on strike
- All the Shows Returning After the Writers’ Strike
- All Your Frantic Questions About the ‘Tentative’ WGA Agreement, Answered
- SAG Is ‘Ready’ to Take on Studios Next