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How an auction for the benefit of the Hollywood crew became a viral, meme-generating phenomenon


The Union Solidarity Coalition — founded last summer by a group of writer-directors tasked with supporting crew members during the strike — launched an eBay auction last week with many so unique they look like they were dreamed up in a writers’ room. And the bids are coming in fast and thick.

A selection of what is on offer and current bids (as of press time) includes dinner with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross ($10,200); the cast of Bob’s Burgers sing a custom song ($7,200); Natasha Lyonne helps solve the New York Times Sunday Crossword via Zoom ($6,100); Lena Dunham paints a mural in your home ($5,100); John Lithgow paints a watercolor portrait of your dog ($4,450); a pottery class with Busy Philipps in New York ($3,500); Adam Scott walks your dog for an hour in LA ($2,500); a Zoom with Barry Jenkins and Nicholas Britell ($1,250); and a relationship advice row over Zoom with Rosemarie Dewitt and Ron Livingston ($1,136).

The above lots served to introduce the initiative, and due to high demand and creative offerings from other celebrity volunteers, TUSC updated the eBay site on Friday with a new batch. The final round includes a Zoom with Nicole Kidman and Lulu Wang; an “exquisite obituary Zoom” with Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis ($2,025); an LA gay bar hop with Triangle of sadness star Dolly De Leon ($610); a personal David Krumholtz serenade via Zoom ($510); and one hour Deadly battle gaming session with Kumail Nanjiani while his wife and creative partner Emily V. Gordon adds commentary ($1,025). “The crew works harder than any actor on set, so we want to support them during this time when they can’t work. We also like to play video games,” says Nanjiani.

“People came out of the woodwork and got really creative because it was a strike,” writer-producer Liz Benjamin, a founding member of TUSC, explained during a Zoom interview alongside cohorts Amy Seimetz and Susanna Fogel. “People didn’t want to promote a movie or a project they were involved in, they wanted to do something different, so it forced people to think outside the box.” Once they did, the offers started pouring in. “It snowballed, the way everything happens in Hollywood once you get the train moving,” Seimetz adds. “Everyone wants to participate.”

The auction is TUSC’s latest initiative to raise money and support the crew during Hollywood’s double strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. The organization previously organized Solidarity Night! in Los Angeles on July 15. Along with other efforts, that event raised an initial $315,000, and the auction’s next round of money will go toward the same goal: helping crew members, through the TUSC Motion Picture & Television Fund, who are losing or at risk of losing health care due to premiums. pay to ensure access to high-quality health care. (TUSC also partners with Entertainment Health Insurance Solutions.)

The story goes that the idea for an organization started as a brainstorm in a WGA-DGA WhatsApp thread. The full list of founding TUSC members includes Benjamin, Fogel, Seimetz, Dunham, Rachel Lee Goldenberg, Tara Miele, Alex Winter, Frankie Shaw, Josh Locy, Justine Bateman, Antonio Campos, Malik Vitthal, Paul Scheer, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Savage, Tony Phelan, Julie Plec, Crystal Moselle and Sarah Adina Smith. Many of them went out of their way to contact friends, colleagues and former employees to see if and what they could contribute to the auction.

“TUSC as an organization has two missions,” says Fogel, writer-director-producer. “The first is fundraising to directly help crew members who are struggling; the second is community building events that can give us that family feeling we experience on set when we work together. This auction is a summary of both: it’s a way to raise money, but it’s also a way to show that we care for each other. Our plan is to continue this type of outreach and fundraising, not only until the end of the strikes, but beyond. Crew unions have their own negotiations ahead, and the more we can stand together the better, as we collectively fight for fair contracts – whatever that means for our individual unions.”

The auction – now running live through Friday, September 22 at 4pm PT – attracted so much attention that countless social media users borrowed the unique items as inspiration to create fake lots. On Other posts offered Toni Collette yelling at you from across a dinner table for $10,000; a “relegation session” with Succession star J. Smith-Cameron; Jesse Williams will save you from a home invasion for $620; a five-hour ASMR session with Patrick Stewart impersonating Borat for $6,350; and Steve Zahn helps you remember what you saw him in without getting impatient for $9,128,083, just to name a few.

TUSC’s auction is part of a larger trend of creative fundraising amid Hollywood’s double strike. Insiders hosted a WGA Garage Sale benefiting the Entertainment Community Fund and included items such as a crystal clear consultation with Spencer Pratt, a custom speech written by WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chairman Chris Keyser, and getting “pooped” by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog via custom video. Pay Up Hollywood sells yard signs to support WGA and SAG members. More recently, Better things creator Pamela Adlon took to Instagram to show off the contents of a storage locker, which she plans to sell through a custom website to benefit ECF.

Next month, a team of contributors including Marta Kauffman, Paul McCrane and Paul Scheer will host a live telethon-style fundraiser at LA’s Orpheum Theater titled “The Give Back-ular Spectacular.” That event will take place on October 25 as a benefit intended to “raise awareness that this strike is negatively impacting not only writers and actors, but the entire community of artists, artisans, technicians, production assistants and support staff.” It will raise money to cover COBRA and health care premiums for members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America and other employees financially affected by the work stoppage.

TUSC insiders say it is no surprise to see how their colleagues have reacted. “We’re a bunch of self-starters who love working in film and TV, where it’s all about collaboration and being creative. We (keep asking ourselves), “Okay, how can we expand this and keep going and going?” Seimetz explained. “We continue to grow because we have so many people willing to jump in, like at this auction Liz jumped in and said she knew how to do it, and then people just take the lead and help others. It’s very inspiring to be part of this divisive time.”

Benjamin said Seimetz “hit the nail on the head” with that statement. “(TUSC) is a leaderless organization. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s a group of people who are all willing to jump in and say, “Yes, how can I help?” It brings a lot of positivity at a very scary time for people during an endless strike. It’s about us lifting each other up.”

As for their reaction to seeing the auction online and in dozens of news reports, Fogel says it was both shocking and exciting. “We didn’t expect this. This is wild and so much fun. You can never predict what will go viral or catch fire online, but seeing the memes that are generated is endlessly entertaining and so encouraging. It’s so crazy and wild too. Hopefully that translates into the money raised, but it also just gives us a big boost of adrenaline.”

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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