James Costello isn’t an actor or a writer, but he’s feeling intense effects of the Hollywood strike. He’s a prop master and studio driver living in Torrance, California.
Production of movies and television has virtually come to a standstill since the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America strike began in May. Actors and writers are certainly hurting from the lack of work. But according to Bob Beitcher, CEO of the nonprofit Motion Picture & Television Fund supporting striking workers, the majority of calls for help come from crew members like Costello.
Costello isn’t a member of SAG-AFTRA or WGA, but he is part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union and the Teamsters 399. With production shut down on many projects during the strike, Costello says he’s been out of work for months, which has been weighing heavily on his spouse and three teenage children. When his children went back to school, Costello says the family couldn’t afford new clothing and school supplies for them.
“I'm the sole source of income for my family,” he says. “So we have zero income other than what we can get from unemployment or what we have in our savings.”
As a gig worker, Costello says his income and employment are often unstable based on the availability of work. Costello and his family have tried to keep a good amount of money in savings as a buffer, but COVID-19 wiped out part of it. The strike has only exacerbated it.
Unions like IATSE have been working to support affected workers by donating to fundraising efforts including the Motion Picture & Television Fund Entertainment Community Fund. Through those channels, striking workers gain access to groceries and money for bills. But Costello says that losing medical insurance is one of the harshest realities of the strike.
“Your medical insurance is tied to how many hours you work per quarter,” he says. “When there is no work, you can't work those hours to get your medical insurance.”
Even in the face of these hardships, Costello says he wholeheartedly supports the striking writers and actors and supports their demands of studios.
“All work deserves dignity, and they deserve to have a piece of the profits that they create for these companies. It wasn't very long ago when the COVID pandemic struck America. Everybody was out of work and we were really dealing with life-and-death situations. They called us essential workers. They said that what we did was so important that even at the risk of our health and our lives, we could continue doing it,” Costello says. “That's the same fight that SAG and the writers are going through now.”
This segment aired on September 12, 2023.