Working in Hollywood may appear glamorous, but the great majority of entry-level jobs, assistant, and support staff employees are subjected to widespread terrible working conditions that result in low pay and safety hazards. Low earnings pay inequities between men and women, long hours, greater workloads due to Covid-19 safety measures without additional remuneration, and intimidation from management that limit prospects for promotion and success in the entertainment sector are just a few of the issues.
Workers in these positions, from script coordinators to writers and production assistant jobs, are typically paid little more than the minimum wage of $15 an hour in Los Angeles, according to Marisa Shipley, vice-president of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 871 and an art department coordinator in the industry. The union is now in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to boost the industry’s wage level.
Shorter seasons for TV series have limited prospects for promotion and made it more difficult for workers to piece together employment throughout the year to make a living, which has exacerbated the impact of low salaries on workers.
“It’s leaving people in these positions for much longer than people used to work in them and keeping them at very suppressed low wages,” said Shipley. ‘It’s absurd that an industry of billion-dollar corporations continuing to make profits during a global pandemic based off of our work and our work contributions are not paying people wages to live on in Los Angeles.”
According to a survey commissioned by IATSE Local 871, members in jobs such as art department coordinators, art production coordinators, script supervisors, and writer’s assistants, which women mostly hold, are paid between $16 and $17 per hour. Shipley used the example of an art department coordinator, who starts at $16 an hour while the next lowest-paying position in these departments pays $44 an hour. In addition to low compensation, there have been reports of huge gender pay inequalities in the entertainment industry, ranging from famous actors to support personnel. “The industry has done nothing to address it. They continue to ignore it,” added Shipley.
Noah Van Sykes, who has worked as a production assistant in the business since 2018, was instrumental in forming the Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles Hollywood Labor organization, which aims to organize employees in the sector around concerns such as low pay, fairness, and poor working conditions.
The group holds events all over Los Angeles, ranging from social gatherings to protests supporting other local unions, such as a boycott of the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood earlier this year after hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 complained of widespread mistreatment and discrimination on the job.
Van Sykes noted the culture of fear and revenge in Hollywood that discourages labor organizations, such as the wide range of job assignments assigned to entry-level and assistant positions, and the culture of fear and punishment that encourages poor labor practices, such as forced unpaid labor.
“There is an industry-wide problem of making people work overtime they’re not paid for,” said Van Sykes. “You kind of knuckle under and accept this condition that you’re going to do unpaid work, you can get called to work on weekends, you can be asked to do things late into the evening and outside of work hours.”
Many workers in assistant and entry-level roles lost their employment during the epidemic, according to Van Sykes. While Hollywood activities have restarted, they are frequently performed with fewer people, putting greater workloads and strain on those still working.
“Employers are trying to concentrate more labor on fewer people. So overall, assistants are getting the full brunt of the pandemic,” added Van Sykes. “It’s going to get worse for Hollywood workers unless assistants start recognizing the problems and we start working to fix it.”
The #PayUpHollywood movement surveyed 1,014 assistants in the entertainment industry in February 2021, finding that over 79 percent of respondents earn $50,000 or less per year, with yearly income in Los Angeles under $53,600 categorizing an individual as rent-burdened. More than 37% of those polled said they relied on income from family or friends.
“I’ve always had to have a lot of side hustles,” said Helen Silverstein, a writer’s assistant and member of the DSA-LA Hollywood Labor group. She described the issue of having to navigate gaining experience through internships, often having to turn many down that are unpaid.
“Everyone in Hollywood is trading on the currency that these are your dreams, that everyone wants to be in this industry, and this shows the bosses that if someone isn’t willing to work for minimum wage, they can find someone else who’s willing to work for minimum wage, and it leads to the quality of working conditions going down.”
“Because of the glitz and glam image that people have of Hollywood, a lot of things are swept under the rug in service of preserving that image,” said Neda Davarpanah, a writer’s assistant and leadership board member of DSA-LA Hollywood Labor. “There’s a coercive nature of work in this industry, that we’re all kind of living under this fear that if we cross the wrong person, we will never work again, so we don’t demand better.”
Alex Wolinetz, a screenwriter and co-founder of DSA-Hollywood LA’s Labor organization, said that the entertainment business is becoming increasingly divided along wealth lines like the rest of the economy. “We’re living in an economic situation where we are making less and less money for more and more work. And I think one of the worst things about working in the film industry is that it’s classically defined that you do a lot of unpaid work to prove yourself, improve your credit, everything,” said Wolinetz. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Source: The Guardian