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Anonymous strike diary: the ‘Eastside Warrior’ on stretching those last paychecks


This is part of a series of accounts of the Hollywood writers’ strike at various levels in their careers. The diarists have been given anonymity to encourage candor. You can read past contributions ‘East Side Warrior’ and others here.

Memorial Day must be the new Labor Day — at least judging by the ocean of unions that flooded downtown to end Week 5. While Disney tried to revive Ariel’s summer box office, we had Lindsey Dougherty sing “Union Town.” Nothing against mermaids, but if I’m in a knife fight I’ll take a Teamster with a Hoffa tattoo on her arm any day of the week.

No, it’s not easy. At this point, everyone begins to think more about practicalities. Which places in the city give discounts for WGA members. (Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank is Hollywood Labor’s new commissioner courtesy of Drew Carey.) Which shoes are best for taking 20,000 steps a day? (As every waitress and nurse already knows, Hokas apparently.) Most importantly, how do I stretch out those last paychecks as long as they’re supposed to last?

And when school is out, more than a few of us will combine daycare with picket schedules. The volunteer captains of the WGA work their asses daily. People are calling every actor they knew to help SAG-AFTRA pass the strike approval vote. And everyone is holding their breath to see how deep the DGA is cutting into our collective bargaining this time.

But until that Brutus moment, it’s nose to the grindstone – well, heel to the curb – and stock up on sunscreen for summer. Is there fear? Yes. Is there penny pinching? Sure. Is there an overwhelming wish, given the existential dread that hangs over this entire industry, that someone could get informed and intelligent people in a room to make a functional deal? A way to keep this an industry where people can make a living, instead of making it a hobby for all the trust fund babies and tech bros who cash in on their useless app start-ups and suddenly want to get in touch with their creative side?

Damn, yes.

But there is also support. Not just from the usual Hollywood types, but from everyone. You’re wearing your WGA shirt around town and suddenly everyone wants to talk. Teachers, grocers, cops. A traffic cop at Universal asked me, “Are they really trying to replace you with robots?” “They won’t promise they won’t,” I told him. “That sucks,” he said, shaking his head as he had a Tesla wait for our picket lines. Then the butcher at my grocery store chatted to me for 15 minutes, empathizing with the fact that no one can afford a house in LA anymore.

It is moving and surprising. Every time a possible WGA strike comes along, someone inevitably harasses that studio flacks will caricature us as “out of touch”. But with the disappearance of the middle class in this country, it feels like we’re all in the same boat for once. You’re in the 0.01 percent, or you’re the rest.

Still, we writers are lucky and we know it. We are going to work on our dream. Traditionally, writing – especially TV writing – has always been the steady job in Hollywood. When I first started as an assistant, a boss said to me: if you want to last here, you have to watch TV. So you always wonder if others will sympathize. What about the freelancer, what about the aspiring actor, what about the overworked crew whose families take the hit all those 14-hour days?

Honestly, I’m amazed at their support. And I can’t help wondering what’s driving it. Perhaps it’s the fact that if writers can’t do this as a profession, what hope is there for someone else’s dream? Maybe it’s because we make the noise and our fight is so visible that it shows everyone else’s struggle.

If we can’t get health care and a decent wage, then the only ones who can tell their story are the 0.01 percent. And those who already have so much just don’t dream as hard or intensely as the rest of us, i.e. we who have clawed and crawled our way through years without health insurance, endless requests for “mentoring” programs, sleepless nights sweating under mountains of debt, trying to earn something, something work so that we can tell a story. (And if there’s one industry whose dreams are so dull and devoid of humanity, it’s Silicon Valley. If we have nothing to look forward to but a future of TV shows written by “founders” who AI startups have sold, God help us all.)

See, the most moving support I’ve seen in these five weeks came at Disney. A Valley Mexican restaurant offered the writers free tacos and aguas frescas by far the tastiest food on any picket line. Everyone wanted to know which actor, agency or celebrity paid for it: Verve, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert? But nobody knew.

Finally we went up and asked the abuela manning the tacos. It was her restaurant. No one had paid for it, she said. “It’s ours.” If there’s anyone who dreams bigger and better than all of Hollywood put together, it’s her. Thank God she’s behind us.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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