Is anyone else feeling the crushing boot of techno-capitalism on their necks more than usual this work week? I know I am. I started my career as a production assistant, prompted by the fierce love of documentaries I developed in college — obsessed with the weird tragic comedy of “Grizzly Man,” the gripping editing and narrative thrust of “Hoop Dreams,” the colorful, poetic whisperings of Agnes Varda. I hustled to get jobs with local filmmakers, trying not to care if I had to water their plants, drive in the middle of the night, do their jobs for them, and make less than minimum wage (or nothing, ‘for exposure,’ of course).
But I couldn’t keep working sweaty 18-hour days, juggling side jobs to make ends meet, getting yelled at by egomaniac producers. I developed chronic pain from endometriosis and needed healthcare, remote work, and a living wage. So I turned to another love of mine — writing. And while I love this gig, the experience of my past life is what makes the latest news from the writers’ strike so galling.
The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in its ongoing strike, a significant boost for the WGA, which has been holding steadfast since the strike began in May. But Hollywood bosses are equally unwavering in their refusal to negotiate, and last week, anonymous sources (probably industry-planted fear-mongers) told Deadline that studio bosses are planning to wait for artists to go broke before resuming negotiations in the fall. The strike is going to get messier as this drags out, and it’s workers who are going to struggle to put food on the table.
It’s brutal out here. But what I loved about working in film was being there when that magical movie moment took place — when an interviewer finally asked the right question that ushered in catharsis, serendipity allowed for something astounding to unfold on screen, or light shined on some unseen heartache, some unspoken truth. And notably, when some company or government responded with a policy change because what you did helped push the final straw, and the story you helped tell was too true and powerful to ignore.
Stories have an impact, and what else are creators known for if not storytelling? Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine” led Kmart to stop selling gun ammunition in stores. Errol Morris’s “A Thin Blue Line” helped overturn an innocent man’s death sentence. And just last Tuesday, creator John Green released a compelling video essay that led pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to make tuberculosis medication more accessible.
Even those of us who some might deem too young and too small to make an impact truly do — I still remember when my one of my first stories, a Daily Dot piece about workers being surveilled by a tech company through their webcams, led Klarna to stop employee webcam monitoring.
So this is my love letter to my younger movie-loving self, someone who should have been paid fairly for their time and whose work should have been respected. And to the creators out there who have struggled to make ends meet while big tech (I’m looking at you this week, Twitter) and entertainment companies profit off your labor: you deserve better, too.
Change is still possible, and it’s always stronger when we tell our stories, call for change, and of course, never cross the picket line. Although, as Steven Asarch explains this week, it’s not always easy to know how to show solidarity.
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