Hollywood crew upset with studio greed during SAG-WGA strike

By Lily Hackett July 28, 2023

This editorial delves into the hardships faced by "below-the-line" workers within the Hollywood industry amid the ongoing WGA/SAG strikes while laying bare their concerns about compensation, healthcare, and the perceived apathy of their union representatives and studio executives.

The tectonic shifts in Hollywood recently stirred by the concurrent strikes of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have drawn many A-list Hollywood stars such as Jessica Chastain, Brendan Fraser, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jane Fonda to the picket lines. Yet in the glaring spotlight that these high-profile actors command, the simmering discontent of a group of unsung heroes of the film industry remains understated.

"Below-the-line" workers, the cadre of crew members instrumental in facilitating the nitty-gritty of film shoots, find themselves at the grav end of this upheaval. From hair and makeup artists to custodians of costumes, script supervisors, and the orchestrators of the all-important craft services, these professionals are typically the first to set foot on the set and the last to leave. Their fate, in the wake of the WGA/SAG strikes, has been one of economic deprivation and emotional turmoil.

Madeline Maciag, a key costume designer for prominent TV shows like "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Big Sky," has brought attention to this plight. Maciag, in a candid conversation with the Daily News, elucidated on the economic hardships that this repository of workers endures, exacerbated by the high living costs in Los Angeles and their relatively modest pay scales compared to those of writers and actors.

The coordinated action by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild has taken the industry by storm. Similar movements haven't been witnessed since 1960. Maciag, alongside Jennifer Daranyi, a makeup artist with a repertoire embellished by her association with Grammy-winning singer Tori Amos, voices her criticism of the union negotiations, citing the inadequate wage growth and the decline in affordable healthcare benefits for the members.

Ari Halpern, a veteran script supervisor with a decade-long engagement on the ABC series "The Goldbergs," resonates with the sentiments of Macia and Daranyi. He expressed apprehension about an impending health insurance crisis if the required quota of 400 work hours in six months, a prerequisite for health coverage, is not fulfilled due to this protracted strike.

These worries aren't isolated to monetarily quantifiable issues like paychecks or health benefits. They also extend to the opaque practices of streaming services denying the release of residuals data. According to a Hollywood insider who spoke to the Daily News, the possibility of marquee actors like Tom Cruise or George Clooney joining the picket lines is unlikely. A delicately balanced ecosystem of relationships exists in the industry, with stakes too high to risk public confrontations or finger-pointing.

Reminiscing the leverage of Nielsen ratings in successful salary negotiations for TV shows like "Friends," makeup artist Jennifer Daranyi critically views the opaque practices of Netflix. Despite operating as a streaming service for over a decade, it conveniently retains its newcomer tag while maintaining a hardline stance in negotiations with union members.

The stoic indifference of studio executives towards the predicament of these hardworking crew members exacerbates the industry's tense atmosphere. Despite, California Governor Gavin Newsom's willingness to mediate between the striking unions, the prospect offers little consolation to the beleaguered.

Adding a poignant note to her colleagues' despair, the insightful Dayani draws a parallel between the workers' plight and that of laborious ants. The fruits of the "below-the-line" workers' efforts are rarely savored by them. Instead, they percolate up to the higher echelons of the industry, leaving their futures teetering on uncertainty.