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If you think Hollywood needs to sit down & shut up

Read this please.

By Ariel JosephPublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 33 min read
Top Story - July 2023
If you think Hollywood needs to sit down & shut up
Photo by Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash

There’s probably a high likelihood that if you clicked on this you either A) think Hollywood needs to sit down and shut up, and you’re really over hearing about the whole writers and actors strike.

Or B) you have the opposite take and you clicked into this because you want to confirm that’s not what I think.

So I wanna start this off by just putting out the disclaimer that first of all I agree with the strikes that are currently going on, and also I work in the entertainment industry. Non-union.

I have worked in the production department as a production coordinator/production manager, working my way up from intern and production assistant. I’ve worked as a producer on smaller projects.

I’ve worked both in-house (i.e. as a full time staff member of a production company), as well as a freelancer.

I’ve worked on everything from commercials to little branded content pieces to a television show that aired on major network as well as Netflix. I’ve done docu-series, short films, etc. you get the picture.

I have also worked as an actor. That feels very weird to say because it was only a few background acting gigs, but I did receive income from it, so if you filed it on your taxes I guess that means technically it is a job you’ve done, so yes, I have also worked as an actor. Non-union. I am not part of SAG.

However, back in the day I also had the opinion that Hollywood strikes were kind of bullshit, and the primary reason I thought that, I think is the primary reason that a lot of people are still saying that.

I think a general assumption is that everybody who works in “Hollywood” is rich. Why are they so upset? They should just shut the hell up. They don't have it as bad as everybody else anyways.

And that’s kind of what I used to think too.

Let’s now take a little journey to the days of baby Ariel. And by baby I mean teenager.

Let’s go back to the last time that there was a writers strike in Hollywood, which was at the end of 2007 through early 2008.

I was still in high school at this point, and I actually wrote a pro/con article for my high school newspaper about the writers strike. I wrote this article with another girl in my journalism class. She was pro writers strike and I was con.

The primary reason that I believe I gave for being against the strike was this belief that I thought that every single person who is a writer in Hollywood was probably a millionaire, or at least decently wealthy, not to mention they currently had my dream job. So I felt what are you so upset about? And I did back this up with some numbers I pulled from the WGA website about how much writers could expect to make off various stages of a script.

But I keep finding people online talking about these strikes who sort of have this opinion that they could give a shit about the strikes in Hollywood because they think that everybody who works in the entertainment industry is really rich and we are complaining for nothing.

And the thing is... I kind of get where these comments are coming from.

Because if you’ve never worked in the entertainment industry, or you just live in the middle of middle America, and you’re doing a blue-collar job, you have no idea what is actually happening in the entertainment industry.

You watch these movies and you see A-list actors, and you think, all these people live in California, or they live in New York, and they must be so wealthy in order to do that.

It’s not really the case but I understand why people will have that misconception and that's what I want to shed some light on.

I understand that there’s a high likelihood that there are gonna be people who are just not gonna care regardless.

So please understand I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind. I mean that’s not totally true. I am a little bit trying to change your mind, but even if you still disagree with me after hearing me out that’s fine.

More what I’m trying to do is give a little bit of extra context for people who are maybe just consumers of film and TV, but don’t really actually know anything about the industry or how it works, because like I said, I work in the industry, so I actually do know a little about how it works.

It was my dream to be in this industry since I was basically four years old. Pretty much as soon as I found out that this was a job that people could have it’s the job that I wanted.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a writer. I never really wanted to be a producer, but I ended up doing it anyways. I have some actual knowledge to tell you a little bit about it now.

What it actually looks like to be like a “normal person” in the industry, which so many of us are. The majority, in fact of the people in “Hollywood” are normal. Not A-list celebrities, that’s just not the facts.

And this is pretty obvious if you really think about it. If you’ve ever been to the movies you probably leave when the credits start rolling, and for good reason because they’re often several minutes long.

The top actors who are the people whose faces you recognize are probably the first 5 to 10 names. And then there’s sometimes hundreds of other people who you don’t know.

I can basically guarantee you, none of those other people are millionaires. Unless they do something in addition to their job in the industry obviously, like really lucrative side hustling, or are really good money management. Or were rich, nepo-babies, which yes some of them are.

But most of them probably are not even in the upper or even three figure a year range to be quite honest.

HOW MUCH DOES THE AVERAGE ACTOR/SCREENWRITER ACTUALLY MAKE?

Let's start with the obvious. How much does the average actor and writer actually make?

Now I need to point out here, there are both union and non-union folks pretty much all over the industry. So the people who are striking are SAG, which is the actors union, and WGA, which is the writers union.

Regardless of if you belong to a union or not, union strikes kind of affect us all. For example, I said I’ve done background work as a non-union actress. A SAG strike will still affect me because most major films and TV shows cast SAG talent as their principal or lead actors. They then will fill in smaller roles and background roles with SAG actors and eventually will start pulling non-union actors as well, especially for much larger scenes because non-union actors are cheaper.

So if a production goes down because the lead talent is part of SAG, and SAG is striking, obviously work for non-union also becomes scarce.

I use primarily 2 companies that are free to find background work and get calls, and it’s been radio silent from them for weeks now. In peak times I hear from them multiple times a day. So for reference it does affect everyone, union or not.

And then obviously as with any union the idea is the union is there to protect the laborer. SAG actors get paid better. They get generally better treatment on set, they get to eat first, they are more strict with breaking them at the correct times, etc.

I even was on a set once where lunch was happening about a 10 minute walk away from set. The SAG actors, (background SAG actors, not even principals), asked for a PA (production assistant) to be sent to drive them to and from lunch, and they got that. Non-union, we walked. So aside from money, it's things like that.

WGA it gets even a little more tricky. Because technically you can be a Hollywood writer without being part of the WGA, but it’s unlikely to happen. Not in major studios anyways.

The actual way you get into these unions is a little confusing so I’m going to link sources below in case you’re interested in learning. But I’m going to avoid diving into that in detail because it’s kind of confusing both for SAG and WGA, especially if you have 0% starting knowledge of the industry.

But let’s just say first of all, it takes work. In both cases you have to already be working without union protection before you will ever be eligible for the union. And this shouldn’t be a huge shocker but there’s also a cost involved in getting into a union, and not a cheap one.

So this isn’t just "oh you want to be a Hollywood writer, give us $500 and you can be in the WGA" or go on set once and you can be a SAG actor. That’s not the case.

The other day I was watching this video of Fran Drescher, who is the president of SAG, and iconically The Nanny, giving this passionate speech about the strike.

And basically there were some people in the comments saying “oh I don’t give a shit, all these millionaires whining.”

And I get it because you see Fran Drescher and maybe you know that when she was filming The Nanny she made a reported 1.5 million dollars per episode from 1998-1999 for the final season.

And so maybe it seems to you absurd that she would be complaining and leading this labor strike. But the first thing everyone needs to realize is that Fran Drescher and 1.5 million per episode is the exception and not the rule.

There is a reason why Fran Drescher is the president of SAG. There’s a reason why when it comes to speaking up on these topics it’s always an actor or writer who is already successful. It’s not because they actually represent the majority of people in this profession. It’s because they hold more weight than the rest of us.

To the studios, and to the public.

Meanwhile, while people are bitching about her being rich, if I went up there and complained about shitty pay in Hollywood no one would give a shit. When my PA’s complain, no one listens to them or gives a shit. You see what I’m saying?

When you need to make a point you put forth the person who is going to get the most attention and whose words have some real weight to them.

If our society as a whole was more considerate and empathetic than you would know the stories of completely normal people making average to lower than average amounts of money in these professions, but most people don’t care about us. They care about the faces they know.

And when I say most people again I mean you the person who consumes content, as well as the people who have the power to make adjustments and make these strikes end.

I’m a threat to no one. Fran Drescher is a threat to the whole system as we know it.

So let’s look at some numbers.

Heyyyyyy google, what’s the average salary of a SAG actor?

According to Indeed - $40,000/yr

According to Glassdoor - between $52,000-$95,000/yr

According to Zip Recruiter - national average is $69,063/yr or about $33/hr.

What’s the average salary of a WGA writer?

According to Salary.com - Low end $44,007/yr with the high being $63,423/yr and the average being $53,148/yr

That’s right, our parents were right about art school. These jobs don’t pay shit.

Let’s first talk about how much money that actually is, cause some of y’all might be thinking that’s not not a lot. But it’s not.

In general I think with inflation and how much the cost of living has gone up, I think it’s pretty shitty that anyone who works anything that could be considered full time makes under $45,000 a year, regardless of the job or where you are in the country. I just do.

If Congress has written into law that they get a pay raise yearly to keep up with the cost of living unless they vote against it, why shouldn’t the American people who pay their salaries have the same? (And yes, I know they do vote against it, especially in times of economic uncertainty, but the protection is still there, and I think it's a good idea that should exist for everyone in the country who labors.)

But specifically in this case important to keep in mind actors and writers for the most part don’t live just anywhere. If you want to be busy and make a living doing this, 9 times out of 10 you live in or around Los Angeles, or in New York City. Two of the most expensive places to live in our entire country.

I live in the latter, New York City, and my last apartment that I moved out of in 2021 was $1,700 a month, in Queens, and that was considered cheap. I paid the least expensive rent of most of my friends. I also lived with my husband so that was split two ways, but most people I know, and we’re mostly in our 30s, have a roommate if they don’t live with a partner.

For more salary context, Zip recruiter gives an average of about $33/hr for a SAG actor. New York City’s minmum wage is $15/hr. There are already plans to raise this a dollar a year until at least 2026, so it’s pretty clear that we all acknowledge this is way too low to live here on.

I made $30/hr in NYC as a personal assistant working from home and I didn’t even really work 8 hours a day. I was around in case I was needed from 9-5p, but I wasn’t constantly needed.

So this is not wild money and I really think anything under $100K in NYC is still pretty moderate and you aren’t going to be living in buildings with doormen, or in the “nicest” neighborhoods.

Especially if you have other bills, like you’re paying for your own school/student loans, like me. Or you have a family, or whatever the case may be. The neighborhood I moved out of that I mentioned I paid $1,700 for my apartment in, within a year of me moving is now a "cool neighborhood," and I can’t find shit there for less $2,500/mo.

Now obviously these numbers give a pretty wide range, and there’s good reason for that. Acting, you probably know, but let’s talk it out anyways is not like a job that you are hired for, and then you have until you’re fired or quit. You essentially have to find yourself hired multiple times a year to make a living. You might get a job that lasts one day and pays a couple hundred or more, which I know sounds amazing, but then you hear from no one for 6 months.

Kind of like with MLM numbers these numbers are also going to be skewed slightly high because of the fact that some actors and writers do make literally millions per project. Every project varies. Some pay at scale, which just means like the minimum they can pay per union rules, and some pay way more.

But most actors in fact do not make a full living acting. The ones I have known for the most part have what we call "survival jobs". And they are exactly what they sound like. They’re a job that you need to survive. It’s a job that pays the bills but often times is usually on the lesser end of the pay scale because in order to also pursue acting or writing for that matter, you need flexibility.

So it’s very difficult for example if I was going to get a job at a major network working as an executive assistant, because it's good M-F 9-5 hours and pays enough to survive, but if I also want to be an actress I am now unavailable for work or auditions M-F 9-5.

So obviously most of these survival jobs are things like front of house in a restaurant, working in retail, dog walking, etc. Something flexible, that doesn't necessarily have to become a whole career in itself, and probably doesn’t pay as well as committing to something else as a career.

So the sort of token idea of the “struggling actor or writer” is really the reality for, I would be bold enough to say most actors and writers. There are more actors than there are lead roles. That is just a fact. There are more writers than there are projects hiring writers. So not saying Hollywood is an MLM, just pointing that similarly there’s going to be a handful at the top and a lot of people barely scraping by on the bottom.

And additionally, just to add in quickly, these are union numbers we’re talking. So like I said there’s also non-union people working in entertainment because we don’t yet qualify for a union. Everytime that the union settles for less, non-union gets even less than that.

So keep in mind as well that the absolute bare minimum shitty things they can do to union members, when those things are allowed to happen, it just makes life significantly worse for anyone non-union because we essentially get table scraps compared to people who are unionized. So if they can take advantage of them, they will absolutely destroy the rest of us.

Another thing to discuss more is that pay scales in the industry are constantly changing per project and per your experience.

One job might be a cute little indie movie that you take pay at scale because it’s really a passion project, and one might be a huge studio number and might say they have to pay the same as the little indie movie because they're putting all their money into post. That’s just an example, but my point is you can’t tell just by the budget of a movie where that money actually went.

In order to survive in this industry you in some respects have to be somewhat good with money, because you don’t always know when it’s coming. A director I’ve worked with many times used to always say "feast or famine". And I’ve heard other people who work freelance say this too, but it just means you might have a lot or you might have nothing.

I know commercial directors who made $20,000 on 1 project that took us less than a month to make and then there was nothing, and I didn’t see them the entirety of the rest of the year. So most of us have side projects or other ways to make money, and if you want to continue pursuing creative dreams you have to get a little good with saving where you can, and being prepared for the times you have to go without.

Similarly for writers, and I’m probably neglecting their bit a little, I just know more about how it works for actors. I’ve only worked with a couple WGA writers and never been paid to write anything myself. Though I would love too. Literally my dream.

But similarly for writers you could spend literally years of your life working on a script so even if you get the higher end of say the median studio amount paid for a first draft which is $293,750 according to WGA’s website. You may have spent years on that idea and it may have taken you years to get the idea sold, in all this time you were not getting paid. And it may be the last script you sell for years to come.

I am not a paid writer, but obviously this being my dream I have a lot of work I'm sitting on. Screenplays, novels, show concepts that I’ve written pilots for, etc.

I have this one idea that I really visualize as a show, but I’ve been writing it as a novel. At this point I’ve been playing with and working on this idea for over 10 years. If I ever sold it I would obviously be ecstatic, but there is no amount of money that would make sense for the amount of time I’ve invested in this idea.

Similarly for actors. You might pay for acting classes, and headshots. Every audition you go on you aren’t paid to be there. You might have to pay for a manager or an agent to help even get you in the room for good auditions. None of this is lucrative until you land a gig and again, once that gig is over the process starts again.

In these creative jobs there’s a ton of upfront investment both in terms of time and money with no guarantee of a payoff. Certainly no guarantee of a payoff that will even out how much you spent getting your foot in the door in the first place.

So why do I do it?

Because I love it. Which brings me to my next point.

IF IT PAYS SO SHITTY WHY WOULD ANYONE DO IT?

Well because we love it. Because we enjoy it, and because aren’t many of us chasing a career that we don’t totally hate?

So then you might say “well if you love it, then why does it matter how much you get paid? Can’t you just be satisfied you get paid at all for something you love?”

But here’s the thing and I feel like this is very important for people to understand - even if it’s fun or enjoyable, it’s still labor.

Just because you like your job, doesn’t make it not a job.

And in the entertainment industry, similarly to any other industry in existence, your results may vary depending on the specific project and position you’re in.

I have been on sets, both producing and acting, that were so fun and fulfilling and enjoyable that I thought I can’t believe I get paid to do this, I’m so lucky.

And then I’ve been on sets where I was working for over 16 hours, awake for 24 or more, and didn’t get so much as a snack much less a meal.

By the way, if you are working in, or trying to work in the industry I don’t care what position you’re doing, don’t let them do that to you. That’s not cool. I’m not bragging about being in shitty situations, I’m saying that they have happened.

But point here being like with any job results are going to vary on how shitty or how amazing it was, and how much you really feel like I earned the hell out of that money. So even in the times when you enjoy it it’s still labor, and one of these days you will be on a set that will remind you of how true that is.

I think I feel strongly about this point specifically because I’ve worked more in the production department, and the production department is really the shit show of my nightmares. Sorry to diss my own profession, but it really is.

And this is no shade to any specific job or company I’ve worked with, more just in general working in production is a situation where every freaking problem can and will happen, and it’s your job to figure out how to fix it.

And it’s stressful. I have often been on set, first in and last out, just completely exhausted, gave my all to absolutely everyone in every department, from our director, to the actors, to the crew, memorized 50+ people’s first names, and got them to feel comfortable with me because that’s how you run a good set, and at the end of it, this project goes up and no one out there in the world will even know I was there.

So from that perspective I feel this point so strongly because from a production department perspective even when I was proud of what we made, it always felt like labor to me, and I really gave every piece of myself to every project I did. Which eventually lead to burnout, and the very long break I’ve been on.

Now additionally, just in general, this is not the nicest industry. I think everyone on some level should know that, but this isn’t a 9-5 job where you show up and do your work smoothly and then you go home at a reasonable hour, and nothing weird or uncomfortable is going to happen to you.

We work crazy hours. Most rates, that I do anyway, are set on a 10, which is 10 hours, so say when I do non-union background work it usually will look like $165/10 which really means $165 for 10 hours worth of work.

Now when you set a rate you get paid that rate even if you go under that time, and if you go over you should be getting overtime, but point being we set rates by the 10 hours because crew at least, we will be there at least that long.

Never listen to a producer who tells you it will be a short day. I have said that to so many people, and I have regretted it every single time to the point where I just stopped saying it, even if I thought there was a chance it would actually be true this time.

So these are kinda ridiculous schedules. I’ve had jobs where I had a call time of 3:30AM. Call time is your reporting time, i.e. when you are scheduled to be there.

If you agree to a job on a set, no matter what it is, it’s commonly known make no other plans, because until you get the call sheet (the schedule) you don’t know when you will be needed.

You can’t make other plans. You might be needed at 5A. You might be needed at 5P. And if we are assuming a 10 hour day that has you wrapping at significantly different times. And this is pretty common.

In New York for example, in the winter often you film early, especially if you’re on location because you have to make the most of the natural light. In the summer, slightly later, and if you want a night scene you might be there all night.

There’s a million little things that go into scheduling shoots but just know the hours are wild and constantly changing.

And then from an acting perspective, as well as I guess other departments too in a way, sometimes the things you’re asked to do are wild. And nothing like you will ever be asked for on any other job.

I’ve had gigs I applied to where I had to send photos of myself in a bikini because it was going to be a pool scene. And that’s really nothing. Just a day in the life of an aspiring actress.

I once got sent a casting call for background for a scene that I think was essentially in a brothel, so it was mostly scantily clad but, "let us know how comfortable you are with partial or full nudity, there will be simulated drug use. Let us know if you are comfortable snorting a candy powder meant to resemble cocaine up your nose."

I wish I was kidding, but this is how great movies and tv are made.

And these are calls I’ve gotten as a non-union actress, no union to save me if this went sketchy.

Or commonly things like this is a couples scene. Are you comfortable portraying a couple? Straight, gay, etc? You may be asked to kiss. There’s a $25 bump for that. A whopping $25 to kiss on command someone you’ve never met.

So obviously as an actor you expect this, it’s not weird or crazy. I’m just saying it’s not like a regular job in that sense.

Working at my office job, my boss would’ve never asked me to take my top off, hop in my co-workers lap, and make out with them to earn an extra $25 that day.

On a film set, they might.

All this to say I can’t hammer in enough the point that it’s labor. All work is labor.

If someone is telling me where I have to be, and when, and what I need to do, and when, it’s some kind of labor. Just like any other job, on shoots we have a schedule, we have tasks we are responsible for, and we have someone we’re answering too. We can be fired. It’s a job. It’s labor.

THE EXPLOITATIVE NATURE OF THE INDUSTRY/COMPANIES DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR SHIT

I kind of maybe already started in on this, but next I want to talk about the exploitative nature of the industry in general.

And obviously you’ve probably heard the horror stories. We’re going to mostly stay away from the stories regarding treatment. Sketchy/illegal things people have been through with major names in Hollywood, the dangers on set, etc. We are going to stay away from those for now.

Not because they aren’t important, but rather because they are pretty well known at this point, and I want to talk about an exploitative part of the industry that’s less well known.

Money.

A lot of money flows through here. By here I mean the entertainment industry, and by a lot I mean, like a lot, a lot of money. More than you can even imagine.

And I’m speaking on this topic more from a producer's perspective than an actor because I’ve seen budgets. The producers control the money so I have literally seen the money. I’ve seen the numbers. I’ve seen how major companies who want something created for them freak out, and don’t want to pay to have these things to be done the way they want them done, and just assume that everyone should take a loss for them.

And this happens pretty much in every part of the industry from commercials (big shocker I know), to your favorite tv shows and movies.

The problems that are happening with budgets are rarely because of the actors or writers.

Back to the Fran Drescher, The Nanny example. She got this reported 1.5 million per episode for the last season, which means she didn’t make that every one of the 6 seasons and 145 episodes that show ran.

She was also a producer on that show, and was a large part of the creative development, and the title character. The Nanny doesn’t exist without Fran. We could get into a discourse about if 1.5 million is too much per episode for any one person but they agreed to it. Someone else saw that value in her too. And her audience, those of us who love The Nanny, also feel that show would be nothing with Fran.

But if they agreed to this much money. They had enough money.

Now if you also work in production, and you’ve had a much different experience I’d love to hear about it. But from my experience and the shoots I’ve been on, places where I said “oh gosh we really need to save money” usually those had nothing or very little to do with how much the actors or the writers were being paid.

Usually the money is being sucked up by some other area; post, art, rights to things, like music or art, etc.

And often I find that in the first place the budget was already too small for the ask.

Just like in every other aspect of business, major companies will try to save money wherever they can. So they will ask for something to be done just expecting people to make it happen for less money than it should reasonably be happening for.

Without giving too much away because I have been NDA’d a zillion times, and I don’t want to expose anything I wasn’t meant to. I have worked a lot of jobs pre-pandemic and have seen the budgets for those.

Then comes along the panorama, and because of things like covid testing, and needing to provide masks, and extra medics to do testing on set, and covid compliance officers the budgets obviously had to go up.

Well logically you’d think three years later with the cost of living going up too, and Hollywood still largely expecting a lot of these covid protocols to be in place up until recently, you’d expect that the budgets would’ve stayed up right?

Well they didn’t.

At least in a few cases I have seen there are already places trying to pull back on how much they spend to create something, whether that’s a show, or movie, or commercial, they want it to be for the amount they paid pre-pandemic. Which obviously makes zero sense.

Even if we did no covid protocols on set period anymore (which some sets still do by the way), the cost of everything has still gone up. The caterers are more expensive. The trucks are more expensive. Locations are more expensive.

You see where I’m going with this? And in turn the labor is more expensive. The budgets however are lagging behind. Some of these places are hanging on for dear life to the idea that they can get things done for cheaper than they actually cost.

Which brings me to the crux of this whole conversation.

BLAME COMPANIES & PRODUCERS

In a way, I’m kind of thinking we’re heading for a crash and burn scenario, and sort of feeling like okay, let’s just do it.

Let’s f**king go.

And it’s easy for me to say this because it’s just me and my husband and I don’t have kids. I just have cats.

It’s easy for me to just want to let society collapse in on itself, and let this industry tear itself apart because I don’t have a ton left to lose.

I haven’t yet reached my dream point in the industry. I didn’t have money, or nepotism to help me in in the first place, or help me along while I’ve been here. And I am really not above saying f you to the industry, and going back to another job, like the many I’ve had before. When I was really badly burnt out after about 6 years of doing this constantly, I almost really did give up.

So at the end of the day I have a lot less to lose. But in general I’m just getting so sick of this happening again, and again.

I keep seeing people saying things like screw the actors, actors aren’t good anymore anyways. Or screw the writers, the stuff coming out lately is shit.

But even these points there is someone else to blame. Even more to blame in fact.

I hear what you’re saying. There has been some really shitty stuff released in recent years.

Personally I can’t stand a remake which it feels like there’s a new one announced daily at this point. And I hate it. Mainly because I think it’s incredibly lazy. It’s rarely better than the original and even in the few cases where it is, it still makes me mourn for what original ideas were passed over so someone could give millions, if not billions of dollars, to an idea that was already done once perfectly fine.

So I am empathetic to a lot of those who express that opinion, like yeah, the industry kinda sucks right now.

And are there times when an actor's performance isn’t great because of them or a writer’s work isn’t great because of them? Sure. Because it’s art. And it’s both subjective and imperfect. I’ve seen movies, read books, heard music, and seen artwork that I loved and found brilliant, and other people I was with hated them. And vice versa. This is just the nature of art.

And in an ideal world, because this is art, and we’re trying to create art, the only people who would be on set or involved at all would be the directors, and the actors, and the writers, and whatever crew you need to physically make it happen.

Including maybe even a producer, a real producer. And what I mean by real producer is the person who’s actually dealing with the money and the schedule, and all the very real logistics that go along with making content. Not just somebody who called themselves an executive producer for the title because they want clout and have a lot of money.

I’m talking maybe you’d also have a producer to be the person organizing things, and again ideally because we’re making art this is someone who is also creative, just not doing it right now.

I consider myself a creative, and I think this actually makes me better and worse at production. Better because I care so damn much about making it good. Worse because I want to do whatever it takes to make it happen, and hate saying no.

But what you wouldn’t have in this ideal world of creatives is dozens of freaking executives from the studio who have a say in every freaking step of the way from pre through post production.

But without them, you also might not have the money.

These executives are usually not creatives. They are business minded, money minded people.

This is not an ideal world. This is capitalist America.

So the people who are funding the things, and the people designated by those funding the things, to make sure it becomes profitable and not a total waste of time and money for their company, they have a lot more say in the process than I think most people realize.

I would be so bold as to say the final say even. Because if they won’t sign off on it, it won’t be funded, ergo, it won’t happen.

And again most of the time these people are not themselves creatives. They are the executives. They took the other route I mentioned earlier when I was doing my little how to survive as an actor tutorial. They were the executive assistant with the M-F 9-5 hours, no time for creative endeavors, and they were the ones who it served them well, because now they have control over all of us.

The first script you see in its sort of raw form is very rarely where you end up. And there are obviously creative reasons for this. But there’s also reasons that serve no creative purpose whatsoever, and are essentially studio notes for other reasons.

Other reasons sometimes suck, and make the project worse. They might be legal, or otherwise moral, or branding concerns. Can’t say that, can’t do that. We want to stay within this rating, or we want to not be off putting to this specific audience.

And while I don’t always think these notes are bad, sometimes when you’re making art, the things you see are uncomfortable, and they’re meant to be. Suppressing uncomfortable things in art for business motivated reasons, to borrow a little turn of phrase from gen z, it’s not giving.

Am I using that right? I’m honestly not even old enough to fudge that up so please tell me I used it right.

Point being I think a lot of the reason why many audiences, both younger and older generations, feel so meh about content today is that so much of it is tiptoeing around things. It’s like you can feel the studio notes in the movies or shows.

You can feel the moment where a character whose shitty was about to say something shitty, and then some studio exec said - "hold it, back that up a little, they can’t be THAT shitty."

But actually they can. And maybe even should if we want this to be good, and entertaining, and say what we want it to.

That’s just one example but maybe you can see where I’m going with this. So much of what we create in this industry is ultimately at the mercy of what the people who are paying for it will say about it. And a lot of really good stuff will hit the cutting room floor or never even make it to filming because a studio executive was afraid of how people would react.

Which is pretty much the exact opposite of how you make art that is pushing the envelope and moving society forward.

And often they will try to convince everyone that this is a collaborative and creative process, and that you can “push back” on anything that you think will destroy the integrity of the project, but really that’s just kinda lip service I find.

Because at the end of the day what they say goes, and no matter how much the writers, directors, actors, or showrunners cry about it, and fight for their art, inevitably sometimes you are going to lose and the content might suffer.

And I just think in general it would be useful to this whole discussion if more people realized this was a factor. That when you’re a writer or an actor, or hell even the director, you don’t have full control. Not even full creative control.

Unless you yourself are self funding the whole shabang. But usually those projects, the self-funded ones, are not the problem, or the reason strikes happen.

So next time you want to talk about how shitty the content coming out of Hollywood is nowadays remember who gets the final say, and who greenlit the project in the first place. It probably wasn’t the writers or the actors.

MONEY=CREATIVE CONTROL

To wrap this up, as I said, think what you will, if you disagree that’s fine. I just wanted to share a touch more insight into things that are going on behind the scenes that the average audience member might not be aware of.

And I know I didn’t even get into the AI issue, or the issue with residuals in streaming, but honestly those issues are a whole can of worms within themselves, but I think something Fran said in her speech basically hit the nail on the head for me. She said something to the effect of "you can’t expect the business model to change and not expect the contracts around that business model to change", and bingo!

They know exactly what they’re doing. If this was any other business this would’ve been addressed years ago. If the roles were reversed and the executives were the actors and writers, they would’ve insisted this was addressed years ago.

The minute streaming came on the scene this should’ve been much more seriously addressed, and the same goes for AI. This is an ever-changing world, and technology is changing rapidly, on the daily.

This is normal and part of the world we live in, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is expecting your business to not have to change along with it, and these people do know that, because again they’re business people, they just don’t want to have to deal with it and pay for it.

But guess what?

That’s too damn bad.

Every reasonable human understands that when a major change is thrown your way you have to adjust to it and makes changes too. This is in a nutshell what’s happening. Things are changing and actors and writers are saying we can’t just go on as if this isn’t happening anymore, and we need to talk about how this is going to affect us in the future. And these companies are saying no we will do what we damn well please, and you will deal with it with, no further protections or compensation, and that’s just bananas.

Those of us who work in “Hollywood” are real people, with families, and hopes, and dreams, and all that jazz, hoping to feed ourselves at the job that we dedicate roughly a third (or more sometimes in our case because the hours are irregularly long) of our lives to.

Even on a fun set, working in this industry is labor. All work is labor.

Those who work, those who labor, we all deserve to get paid in a way that keeps up with the economy and inflation and lets us be able to pay our bills. And we all deserve the chance to reassess our employment contracts when something significant in the way business is being run changes.

And if you still don’t care about Hollywood strikes, okay.

You could though care about other labor strikes that have been happening, threatened, or we’ve heard the whispers of.

To wrap up our time with the flashy girl from Flushing, Fran Drescher herself actually touches on this in her speech. That this whole thing isn’t just about SAG. It’s not even just about Hollywood. It’s about American workers in general.

Now results for this are going to vary based on what exactly we’re measuring by and where you look, but generally it’s accepted that America is one of the richest countries in the world, by GDP, which stands for Gross Domestic Product, i.e. the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production.

There’s a whole lot of things we could talk about with the US and how they have failed the average Joe or Jane, but labor rights are something we can change here and now, and they need us to be on board for.

We are the producers of these goods and services. We are the employees. We are the people creating. We have every right to expect to be paid in a way that makes living in this country possible and happy. Yes, even happy. What the hell does it matter if we’re a rich country if a large portion of our citizens say they hate being here?

Labor is something we do have some control over, because without us there is no labor, there is no product, there are no services. We can demand better for ourselves because we deserve it. And because our country and the companies based here can afford it, no matter what stupid lies they spin to try to convince you they can’t.

____________________________________________________

I originally wrote this as a script for a little youtube channel I keep as a hobby, but I felt the message was so important I wanted to get it out multiple places.

Sources for the information presented are linked below & obviously some of it is just per my personal experience working in the industry, which can vary person to person. This is my experience based on what I've seen and heard. I hope this was interesting or enlightening information for someone.

How do you join the WGA?

How do you join SAG?

Fran Drescher's speech

The Nanny IMDB

How much did Fran Drescher make per episode for The Nanny?

How much does the average SAG actor make? (Indeed)

How much does the average SAG actor make? (Glassdoor)

How much does the average SAG actor make? (Zip Recruiter)

How much does the average WGA writer make? (Salary.com)

WGA Screen Compensation Guide

The Essential Guide to SAG rates (2023)

industryentertainment

About the Creator

Ariel Joseph

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Comments (12)

  • Sarah Smith9 months ago

    One more thought: you wrote this 3 months ago, and as of today, there was another setback to negotiations between SAG AFTRA and the studios. The actors once again walked away from the negotiating table. Which means union actors are still not back to work. Wow. This means everyone else involved on a production is also NOT BACK TO WORK. Unemployed, Ariel. How long does that unemployment last, anyway? I know there are some established actors that have donated money, started a pool for all of the less successful actors that are striking. Perhaps more than a few of the super stars have decided to forgo their personal needs and give a fraction of their wealth to help out their more diminutive, poorer actor ilk. A real show of strength and unity between actors, right? Oh no! What’s that I read? Only a small percentage of successful actors have done this? And a whopping million each, between 20 or so stars? Well, big shocker there: actors are selfish and greedy. And hypocritical, apparently. I guess those megastars that walked in those picket lines, in the first few days, felt their hands blister against their cheap protest sign’s plywood handle, and they bounced, forever. Meanwhile, what ARE all those other crew members, pre/post production staff, musicians, costumers, electricians, sound engineers, scenics, designers, caterers, drivers, assistants, runners et al doing? NOT WORKING. Thanks to actors and their demands. My friends in film industry all the way over here in Louisiana feel it, big time. They are trying to stand in unity, but just how long do we give the baby its bottle? How long is too long, for an actor to hold up Hollywood? When does it just become another role they’re playing? It’s pretty disgraceful. The actual real employers of these actors are US, the viewers. We stand in unity when saying: ACTORS! GET BACK TO WORK. Only question I have now, Ariel: do you still hold the same opinions as you did 3 months ago, and would you care more about resolution if you were union?

  • Sarah Smith9 months ago

    Hello Ariel, I read this. I’m an expat of Hollywood, I ran screaming from its clutches in the late 90’s, happily regrouped in another state where I still live. I have extensive experience in the film industry, and so my perspective is a relatively informed one. So, I will point out the elephant in the room here: it’s not that I think Hollywood is rich, I know it is. The issue I have with this strike is simple: acting is in no way similar to any other profession. An actor memorizes lines and evokes emotions to perform a scene. Sometimes there’s singing and dancing. An actor is a performer. Compared to any other industry (except music), there is NOTHING about it that seems very difficult or life-threatening. There is an understanding, spoken or not, that the person who has the “dream” to perform is going to have to work their way up. As in ANY career. You get in line and put your head down and GET TO WORK. Is acting work? I personally don’t use that word, but apparently actors think so. Unlike any other profession, if an actor “makes it”, they get better pay and, as an added benefit, fame, which generally leads to even more money. What other profession has craft services? What other profession allows unemployment to be doled out between gigs? It’s how actors perceive their “work” as infuriating to me. I’m not saying the choice to be a performer comes with ease, but in the grand scheme of things, performing is fun and fantastical. You think an actor deserves MORE than getting paid to pretend? I’ll remind you that this profession began with people akin to court jesters, making royalty laugh. I’ll also remind you that NO ONE owes an actor more money, just because they decided to move to L.A., where the cost of living has been driven up partially by exactly that demographic. So, a struggling actor needs a second job while they’re getting established? BooHoo. Join the rest of America.

  • J. S. Wade10 months ago

    Very informative and enlightening. I am one of those, the few, that actually view the credits of a production. A task, a name, is a real person and they do deserve those seconds of credit. Your personal narrative and professional content makes me think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon. Thank you for sharing. Scott

  • Jay Kantor11 months ago

    Dear Ms. Ariel - So glad that I've just discovered your work from a comment that you made on our StepMoms' story "Gray Mornings." I'm just a retired legal prospectus (Labor Relations-Franchise writer) - morphed into a self described Goof-Writer; nothing more. I do not enter contests or count stats; just fun for me. *As I scroll through your gorgeous presentations I've subscribed to you with pleasure. We live close-by to the 'HollyWeird' writer's strike; such a Shame (Shanda)  Jay Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Author Community -

  • Rui Alves12 months ago

    Thanks for raising awareness!

  • Scott Christenson12 months ago

    They def need to spread the salaries in entertainment and sports away from it all going to the top 3-4 people (who can't even spend that much) Thanks for explaining about your job too. Last year, I was helping a friend search for jobs in podcasting, and 90% of the positions are for 'producers'.. the people who do all the work of making things actually happen. I can only imagine how much work needs to be done on a tv set to have a million things working together. (guess i have a hint, as they shoot tv shows in my neighborhood sometimes, and there's about 100 people working when they are filming two ppl having conversation in the street)

  • Jazzy 12 months ago

    I didn’t even know this was happening! I’m so glad you brought this to my attention!!! 🖤

  • Chloe Gilholy12 months ago

    I resonated with this even though i’m not an actress. People still think I am rolling in money and that I can just get an agent with the whip of my fingers and sell a million copies of books just like that. They only see the 1% of Hollywood.

  • Kendall Defoe 12 months ago

    I teach a media course in the winter, and everything you have mentioned here are issues I have shared with my students. I just hope they get the message, and I may have to share your page with them. Everything is connected, and no one should assume there won't be any blowback to the actions of WGA and SAG-AFTRA. They deserve better.

  • Cheryl E Preston12 months ago

    This is veery informative and gives the behind the scenes stories. Thank you so much

  • Heather Lunsford12 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I hope for the sake of all the non rich people doing all the jobs it takes to make content a fair agreement is reached.

  • Suze Kay12 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your nuanced take on this complex issue! I've done a lot of reading on the topic, but am really glad I took the time to read your piece, too. If I understand you correctly, I'm with you - if the system isn't working, burn it down. Amazing art is suffering right now from the strike, but it was already suffering in the face of big-money executives trusting algorithms over creatives. I hope that you're able to make it through the next few weeks/months/however long the industry is on pause well!

Ariel JosephWritten by Ariel Joseph

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