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Home Education The’scary’ ripple effect of the Hollywood writers’ strike has affected hairdressers, camera crews, and caterers, according to The Guardian’s article on the US writers’ strike in 2023.

The’scary’ ripple effect of the Hollywood writers’ strike has affected hairdressers, camera crews, and caterers, according to The Guardian’s article on the US writers’ strike in 2023.

Photo by Robert Shunev on Unsplash

“This struggle is our struggle,” said Cory Hunter, a Los Angeles-based camera operator. “We all have been squeezed in the change to streaming.” Without jobs, he’s planning to get through the next few months by helping a family member do real estate work.

Darrius Peace, an Alabama-based hairstylist who often flies out to work on movie sets, where he specializes in Afro-texture hair, says he’ll have to replace those jobs with more hours at his salon.

Paige Simmons, the owner of Dine With 9, a Los Angeles caterer for production crews, says “it’s a little scary right now”: multiple clients have canceled their orders, and unlike during the height of the pandemic, there’s no federal aid coming for a writers’ strike.

While writers are stopping work with the hope of improving their remuneration, the rest of the film industry is simply waiting to hear when they can go back to work. Nevertheless, there is a remarkable amount of solidarity.

Peace is cheering on the writers: “Right now, it may hurt. But in the long run, it’s worth it. Once the writers succeed, everybody else can demand more.”

Simmons supports the strike because many of her serving staff also work in the entertainment industry. “Everyone understands the importance of solidarity,” she says.

The entertainment business is highly profitable. In recent years, the combined profits of giants like Warner Bros, Netflix, Disney, Comcast and Paramount have reached close to $30bn a year, as their streaming services continue to add subscribers. CEO pay has soared, with the top 12 entertainment bosses receiving about $1bn in total pay in 2021.

Entertainment industry workers say that wealth hasn’t been shared with them, and it’s getting harder to stay afloat. After a long drought of opportunities during the pandemic, workers have been hit by recent layoffs and declining job openings. Studios are cutting positions and experimenting with AI to replace roles.

With talk of the strike looming for months, producers have held back projects in anticipation, “so many of us already were kind of in ‘famine mode’”, Hunter says.

The strike began on Tuesday after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of major studios, failed to reach a new contract agreement. According to the Writers Guild, streaming platforms have upended long-held labor standards by shortening TV seasons and hiring fewer writers for briefer stints – essentially turning them into gig workers.

In the past, entertainment unions have not always agreed on strikes – sometimes even openly feuding during them – but this time there’s a remarkable sense of solidarity, at least for now. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the actors’ union Sag-Aftra, and the Hollywood Teamsters union are among guilds that have expressed support for the strike.

While these unions aren’t on strike, their members may choose not to cross picket lines – a decision protected by some of their contracts. “Teamsters don’t just talk about solidarity, we are contractually protected to walk the walk,” the union said in recent guidance sent to its members.

One big reason for the unity is a pervasive feeling of worsening inequality, says Jonathan Handel, a Los Angeles-based lawyer and entertainment union expert. As streaming companies “spend billions of dollars building out platforms and profit-generation machines”, writers are demanding “a fair share of that and sustainable careers, and that’s a message that resonates with the rest of the workforce as well”.

What’s at stake in the fight is the future of the entertainment business model, says Handel. The last writers’ strike in 2007 was in part a disagreement over the residuals – a type of royalties – that writers could earn from new formats like DVDs and online downloads. Streaming is an even bigger shift. “We haven’t seen such a dramatic and tumultuous period of technological change in the film entertainment industry since after the second world war,” he says, when Americans switched from theaters to watching TV at home.

Scott Leslie, a Studio City, Los Angeles-based prop man and set dresser at Warner Brothers and a member of IATSE, which represents production crews, says his work hours have dropped during the streaming era, and he fears layoffs will be next. His wife, Julie Ganis, a freelance book editor, worries what will happen to them and their son in college if Leslie loses his job, “along with his union paychecks and union benefits, like healthcare”.

With the strike starting, Ganis is trying to renegotiate their son’s financial aid package: “My income is not enough to support the family.” But the couple staunchly backs the writers: “I really want them to hold the line and get what’s right, even though it’ll cost the town lots of money and wages and ancillary things,” Leslie says. His wife agrees: “Our enemy is not the writers, it’s the corporate overlords who are putting skyrocketing profits for Wall Street ahead of everything.”

Hunter, the camera operator and another IATSE member, says he’s been having conversations with other camera operators about how to find side hustles. “We’re supposed to be in this amazing industry with great careers, yet so many of us are having to look elsewhere to make ends meet. Whether that’s unemployment every 18 months, or side hustles, or whatever, the viability of our careers is at stake,” he says. “That’s what really connected with me when the writers say it’s a critical moment for them as the viability of their livelihood hangs in the balance.”

Entertainment workers are hopeful that by staying united, they will be able to push the studios for better conditions. In less than two months, Sag-Aftra’s contract with AMPTP will need to be renegotiated as well, and many actors see their fates as intertwined with writers’.

“Writers are on the frontlines, and we have to make sure we support them, because it’s a domino effect,” says the actor Justin Shenkarow, a Sag-Aftra member. “If they’re able to fight and get their proper wages and working conditions, then hopefully that will trickle over to the rest of the unions as well.”

Shenkarow, who is also the co-founder of ThreePointZero, a small animation studio, says he’s particularly concerned about AI and hopes the unions can win some rules targeting it: “We’ve seen such a huge uptick in AI in the last several months, and we need to make sure AI doesn’t replace the voiceover industry.”

The writer’s strike could even have impacts beyond the United States. Eben Bolter, a UK-based cinematographer who recently worked as a director of photography on HBO’s The Last of Us, says “writers in the UK and everywhere are going to look at what’s happening in the US”, and a win by the Writers Guild “would empower UK writers and everywhere to expect better”. While he’s “stressed” about where his next paycheck will come from, “I still support [the strike], because I think they’re doing the right thing. And what they’re asking for is very reasonable.”

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