Portraits of IATSE: Medical Scares and Car Crashes — Why Members Voted Yes on Strike Authorization

·14-min read

An overwhelming majority of film and TV workers have given the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees permission to strike if the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers doesn’t offer them a better deal.

The 60,000 crew members representing 13 Locals who often work 16-18 hour days are seeking shorter hours, wage scales and better health and pension benefits. But those are just a few of the issues on the negotiating table.

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It is the first time in the 128-year history of the union that a strike has been authorized, but crew members are ready for what lies ahead. Here they share their stories, why they voted yes and why they stand in solidarity with their fellow crew members.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Mandi Line
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Mandi Line

Mandi Line
Local 892
Costume Designer

The thing that I love the most in life, has to stop being the thing that causes me to have no personal life.

The strike scares the shit out of me. I just got a pilot, feeling good about my hours with that pilot, amazing crew, amazing producers. On the flip side, I have massive migraine issues (bills over 29k without insurance) and pre-cancerous breast surgery coming up that I will not be able to do if I lose my insurance hours. These are the risks you take when changes need to be made. For some of us not working can be life-threatening. But so can working your life away.

The pandemic across all industries brought out the need to find mental stability. We all felt what sitting with our fragile human selves looked like. Then to take those slowed down fragile minds and bodies right back to the normal we have all known — we are breaking. The pandemic has reminded us we have a voice. If we don’t say what we need we will keep breaking.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Zak Arnold-2
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Zak Arnold-2

Zack Arnold
MPEG Local #700
Editor & Associate Producer

I’ve attended multiple colleagues’ funerals who technically didn’t die on the job, but there’s no question the stress of the job killed them slowly over time.

And I’ve worked so many 16-hour days straight without a single day off that I no longer wanted to live. I may not have been actively planning my own suicide, but I have found myself curled up in the fetal position for days at a time reciting to myself, “My family would be better off without me.”

All of this for the sake of creating entertainment? Sorry Hollywood, we’re not curing cancer here. Hollywood has indoctrinated us to believe we’re lucky to be here, but nope. Not anymore. Hollywood is lucky to have us.

I voted yes to authorize a strike because we are not expendable widgets, we are highly educated, experienced, and skilled craftspeople who deserve to be treated like human beings and valued for our expertise.

I voted yes because a studio or executive producer’s inability to properly budget a realistic delivery schedule that factors in the value of their crew is not my problem to solve anymore (or my misery to endure).

I voted yes not just for my sake, but for the sake of every single person in this industry who’s forced to miss once-in-a-lifetime memories like weddings, funerals, recitals, births, and anything in between that frankly are more important than getting a couple extra takes in the can.

I voted yes to protect the underrepresented and underpaid entry-level crew working tirelessly to build their careers in Hollywood who even with extensive overtime cannot cover basic living expenses.

I voted yes to make it clear this version of “normal” is no longer acceptable, and we must redefine a new status quo not with small, incremental changes but instead transformational shifts in ideology about how we do business in the 21st century.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Reiko Porter
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Reiko Porter

Reiko Porter
Local 705
Costumer

We have become so accustomed to pushing ourselves to our limits that we often don’t realize the mental and physical toll it takes on us. Years ago, I was driving back to Los Angeles from a film shoot and fell asleep for a second behind the wheel. My car veered off the road and rolled three times, crashing into a large highway sign. I landed upside down, and other drivers helped me get out of the car. I had been working long hours for seven months straight, and I think the physical and mental exhaustion finally caught up with me. Luckily, I wasn’t seriously injured, but I never really took the time off to process what happened or how devastating it could have been.

Over the last month, I have been learning about other IATSE members who have also fallen asleep or been in accidents and realized just how common it is.

After decades of unsustainable hours, unreasonable requests, and very little time off in between workdays, our bodies and minds are telling us something has to change. Members of IATSE are connecting with each other, and I have realized we are all treading water trying to maintain any semblance of a balanced healthy life. The current pace and schedule do not allow enough time to sleep, attend to family needs or just shut out the stress of the workday or week.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Susanna Boney
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Susanna Boney

Susanna Boney
Local 871
Art Department Coordinator

This is the only chance most of us will see in our entire careers to try and change the way this industry works, so why not try to change things for the better for the future generations of TV and filmmakers? Why not try to get reasonable hours so that we can be a part of our family’s lives? Why not try to get a pay rate that is not demoralizing and insulting? Why not try to make things better?

It is unfathomable to anyone in my life who does not work in the industry that yes, I am working 12 hours a day, not including the commute. I sometimes do not see my baby awake at all. I cry a lot on my morning commutes, I miss my son.

Not only can we not afford daycare with my paycheck, but with COVID and a recent hospital stay, we just don’t have options for my husband NOT to be the full-time caregiver.

This strike is about lifting our union-kin. Even if the wages are fine for your craft, they are not for others.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Zach Knight
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Zach Knight

Zak Knight
Local 44
Special Effects

I’ve driven home unsafe from the extended hours. Like every other member I’ve lost time with my wife and extended family and friends. I have missed important events and had to prioritize our financial security over my personal well-being. I have lost friends well before their time. Just this year I lost a good guy that was in Local 44 and 80, he died of an “undiagnosed heart condition” at age 42, and in my bones, it was due to the insane hours of work he put in, and the lack of time to get checked out by a doctor.

We work until we drop. So many of my mentors never picked up their first retirement check for this reason. It has to stop.

As a 22-year veteran of the film industry, I’ve been through strikes. Strikes are damaging for everyone. They are not easy and certainly this will hit my bottom line, but not nearly as much as it will impact me if we don’t fight for these things right now. The goal of every employer is to get more for less, so sacrifices for our longevity need to happen now.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Shannon Kenny
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Shannon Kenny

Shannon Kenny
Local 871
Script Supervisor

I’m not afraid of a strike, there’s no fear in that for me, we will take care of each other to get through it financially. We have the support of the DGA, WGA and SAG/AFTRA. We have the support of political leaders, we have each other and we have a cause that cannot be argued. There aren’t two sides to this.

Getting home at 7 a.m. on a Saturday is not okay. We were asked to do it once and it was the exception… until we were asked again and the frequency grew until it was every weekend. Getting home at 7 a.m., taking a shower and getting to your kids’ 8:30 a.m. ball game. Awake since noon the day before. We push ourselves to stay awake until that evening so we can turn around and be up at 5:30 a.m., or earlier, on Monday. Week in. Week out. Jet-lagged constantly. I had to vote yes.

I have worked on shows that pay everyone well and get the work scheduled properly so you’re out in nine to 11 hours. I know it can be done because I’ve done it. Everyone knows it can be done, not doing it properly is a choice. Overtime pay is meant to be a deterrent, a fine. Meal penalties are just that, penalties for not breaking at the latest possible time, six hours after call time. But these things are just built into the budget… well, I don’t want penalties or fines, I want my time. I need my lunch break, not just to eat but to stop being in a hyper-focused state. I need to sit alone, no distractions and use the quiet time to catch up on my ever-increasing workload of five handheld cameras, changing shots every take with no warning, actors needing line or matching notes, reading the near-daily script revisions or calling home to check how everyone is. If I miss a lunch break I’m up for hours after wrap because it’s just a non-stop job. We made the mistake of allowing an exception to be made to shoot through lunch and now it’s the norm. We have to say no more!

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Sara Escamilia
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Sara Escamilia

Sara Escamilla
Local 800
Art Department

Just because we are “below the line” doesn’t mean we are beneath respectful working conditions.

A strike will be scary. I will be out of work with no ability to collect unemployment. I risk losing my house and my savings, everything really. On the upside, it may be the only time I get a break from work.

Because you go from job to job, show to show, there is inherent insecurity to the work. You never know if a pilot will get canceled or if a show may not be picked up. It means that I rarely say “no” to work that comes my way because there isn’t job security. This, along with the 10 to 12-hour days means I hardly have time to devote to my personal life. I have found myself putting off starting a family of my own because, how would I be able to balance raising a child along with work?

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Nickolous Brown
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Nickolous Brown

Nickolaus Brown
Local 705 & Local 892
Costume Department

It’s unsustainable. I’ve been in departments twice where somebody walks in and they are in tears. They’re like ‘I haven’t seen my child for four days. I wake up before they get up and I get home after they’re asleep.’ If we can make a change that will benefit people who will follow us, then that’s the goal.

I’m single and that is a huge problem with the people who have been in the industry, there’s no time to have a meaningful relationship.

We have great health insurance, but you can’t make an appointment. I made one for a colonoscopy, will I get to go, I don’t know? Everybody on the crew is in such a specialized job and you can’t leave because there’s nobody to step in.

It will be hard for a lot of people in this town, but I think that if we don’t strike, then it will only get worse.

If a producer would follow me around for the day and understand all the challenges that I face, my talent, expertise, knowledge and experience, and that is worth more money than they get – nobody understands. They have absolutely no idea.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Amy Hartman
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Amy Hartman

Amy Hartman
Local 871
Script Coordinator

Even as a union member, I still make less an hour than I made babysitting in 2005.

If we strike, I lose my paycheck. But honestly, I’m so underpaid it’s nothing I can’t handle. Those of us who make these low rates are unfortunately all too familiar with the struggle to make ends meet when a show is canceled, and a job suddenly ends. The difference is at least this time I’ll be out of work for a terrific reason. And there’s the bonus of making new friends on the picket line.

Script coordinators are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will fix hundreds of spelling errors, correct day and night scene heading mistakes, work with clearances, legal, and standards and practices to make sure the scripts won’t get the network sued, issue drafts to every single person who works on the show in any capacity, track revision sets, manage writer payments, and about a million other things I either can’t remember or don’t know about. It is truly department head work at an assistant salary. I explain all this at length because what needs to change about my workplace is pay for writer’s room support staff needs to start reflecting the time, effort, and skilled labor that it takes to do our jobs. These are not entry-level positions. Like any other union job, it takes years of training and experience to master these crafts, and we deserve to be paid as such.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Ali Noyes
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Ali Noyes

Ali Noyes
Local 871
Production Coordinator

If we strike, I will stand with my fellow brothers and sisters in the picket line while we fight the good fight. I am ready and willing to “wait it out” if it means a better future for everyone in the industry.

The world is changing for the better. We are at a crossroads. As a society we are no longer willing to put up with the status quo. With being pushed down or getting less than we deserve. The pandemic put a lot into perspective for many of us, including how our lives could be if we simply had time to rest our minds, repair our bodies, and replenish our energy. We thought things would change for the better because of COVID, but it’s only shed a harsh light on the reality of the industry. Something that most of us have been too exhausted to even realize until we stopped going 100 miles per hour all the time.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Ananda Darouie
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Ananda Darouie

Amanda Darouie
Local 600
2nd AC

I vote yes because we went back to work in the middle of a pandemic. Now more than ever, I am acutely aware that working at the whim of these schedules costs everything — I have been sacrificing meaningful time with my friends, my family, and my real life to do this work. On top of that — we just witnessed studios throwing money at new health and safety standards. I am willing to strike because I know it can be better and what we are asking for is entirely reasonable.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Shay'la Banks
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Shay'la Banks

Shay’La Banks
Local 705
Costume Supervisor

We need the proper amount of crew for each project.

We need 10 to 12-hour turnarounds.

We need our health and pension to remain great because we wear and tear our bodies daily.

We need raises.

We need to be able to take uninterrupted lunches and breaks.

We need to be able to put every minute we work on our timecards.

We need to be respected as an asset to the production.

IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Jason McCann
IATSE Portrait Essay Variety Jason McCann

Jason B. McCann
Local 80
Key Grip

It is about changing the status quo and enforcing the idea that as union members and the driving labor force, we have the power to make lasting changes to the film industry.

I think people know what to expect and are ready for it. I think that’s why there was such a resounding yes to the authorization. We want to work, just under more sustainable conditions.

I want crew members to have the ability to find that work/life balance. I want to see the lowest paid person on crews making a sustainable wage for the cost of living in Los Angeles. I want to know that people are getting home safely. Is that too much to ask for?

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