NEW YORK — Lighting for the entertainment industry is Ryan Meyer’s lifeblood.
Before the Hollywood strike, he worked 40 hours or more a week as a lighting man or cinematographer. He also owns a company that often makes more than a million dollars a year in production support.
For now, most of that has dried up in contract disputes that have led to writers and actors picketing for months. One recent day, Meyer, 50, who lives in Los Angeles, lit up the entrance of an actor’s home, “so when he opens the door,” he said, “it looks good.”
From Trader Joe’s to teaching to finding friends to write gigs, Meyer and thousands of others in the industry are making the most of the wages they can while waiting for the strikes to end. Some turn their hobbies into money. Mostly anything to pay the bills.
“We have become mechanics,” Meyer said. “My neighbor needed help with the hot tub, so we turned it on for him. Someone else bought a trailer with a saw and is chopping people’s firewood.”
Side hustles are nothing new for many actors and writers. Now it’s a matter of turning them into life support. This includes industrial workers who did not strike but were fired.
Jesse McLaren in Los Angeles on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” He is the staff writer of the program. He wrote for the Oscars and Emmy awards. During the pandemic, he bought a 3D printer as a hobby and started making special snow globes featuring the homes of his loved ones. He distributed these as gifts.
“They basically became my full-time life,” he said.
McLaren has sold about 40 custom snow globes for $299 each through its Etsy shop since the writers’ strike.
“So far this month I’ve paid the equivalent of one full mortgage payment,” he said. “I’m totally committed to snow globes right now. “It’s not a joke,” he said.
As strikes approach historic records, sector funds offering aid are struggling with intense demand.
“Last month our counselors have been reporting an increase in the number of applicants facing eviction notices, utility shutoffs and mortgage foreclosures. We know that even a quick end to the current strikes will not put an end to people’s financial hardship for a long time,” Keith McNutt, the Leisure Community Fund’s western regional general manager, said in a statement on Friday.
As of Sept. 1, the fund had distributed approximately $6.5 million to approximately 3,100 film and TV employees. The company distributed between $400,000 and $700,000 per week during the strikes, and distributed an average of $75,000 per week in the first half of 2023.
Cameo, a site where celebrities record personalized video messages for their fans, saw 156% growth from July 15 to September 1 compared to the same period last year. The company said 3,124 people have joined or reactivated Cameo accounts since the writers’ strike began.
With most of its six staff members and some 70 satellite crew members on leave, Meyer faces a double whammy. His company was once routinely busy with advertising, which was unaffected by the strike. It can no longer compete as the market is flooded with new competition offering very small budget offerings.
“Now it’s ‘Which bills are getting paid this month and which ones aren’t?’” he said.
It’s been nearly five months since members of the Writers Guild of America stopped working, and just over two months since the actors’ union joined them in their fight against studios and publishers.
The use of artificial intelligence has emerged as one of the key issues in disputes, alongside better pay, benefits and more traditional job protections. Actors fear they will lose control of their likenesses if artificial intelligence comes into play. Unknown actors are afraid that they will be completely replaced. Writers worry that they will have to share or lose credit for the technology.
Actor Autumn Monroe divides her time between Atlanta and New York. While walking a picket line in midtown Manhattan recently, she said she had her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority to thank for helping her stay afloat during the attacks.
“He called and I was able to get some counseling and writing. For his research as part of the scholarship. I have a doctorate. Thank God he pays me,” Monroe said.
Monroe appeared in reshoots of the recently canceled “The Wonder Years” and completed a new movie starring Vince Vaughn. He’s been at this job for 13 years, maintains his union health insurance, and has enough bank hours to maintain his insurance for a while longer.
With her sister’s help, Monroe won’t need to touch her savings.
Shadi Petosky, who has been based in Los Angeles for 16 years as showrunner, writer, producer and story editor, has worked on “Parks & Recreation” and the Netflix hit “The Sandman,” among many other projects. She was busy with a development deal when the strikes occurred.
Last year Petosky earned $220,000. He is now an hourly worker.
“I do whatever job I can find,” he said. “A lot of accounting and administrative assistant type jobs. “I was repairing some devices.”
Petosky also helped people liquidate storage units and helped a retired professor catalog his work. Keeping up with her $5,000-plus monthly expenses has been a terrible struggle. He recently owed rent, alimony, and was behind on car payments.
“About two months after the strike, I was completely out of money,” Petosky said. “My landlord was kind enough to defer half of my rent for the duration of the strike.”
Sometimes it’s about those affected helping those affected.
New York actor Bethany Layla Johnson, on a recent picket line in New York, said she had become friends with photographers on set over the years. When the players’ strike began, she signed on to help photo agencies sell pictures, including pickets at celebrity-supported rallies and strikes. He charges 8 percent.
“I’m thinking of hiring my notary,” he said. “New York City is a real estate city. It would be great if I could be the notary that real estate agents turn to.”
Briza Covarrubias’ acting and modeling work had increased significantly since 2019, when the pandemic hindered her livelihood. Her husband’s salary as an engineer helps her, but she cannot fully convince them to pay their bills.
“There’s nothing right now. Social media has really changed the modeling industry,” she said. “My sister works at Trader Joe’s. She offered to help or I’d go back to bartending.
Covarrubias, 30, did some unpaid stage work during the strikes, which fed his hunger for acting. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she and her husband had moved into their parents’ converted garage with their dog during the pandemic and were in the process of moving when the strikes began.
“We had some great auditions coming up, then in March things started to slow down and my agent said, ‘There might be a strike.’ “Then the WGA strike happened, and by June weekly auditions were inconclusive,” he said.
Covarrubias considers himself lucky. Her French husband, whom she supported while getting a work visa, now has the job and can earn money. His annual salary is around $50,000. They pay about $1,500 a month in rent to their parents.
“It reminds me every day that you are there for me. I’m here for you now. But you know, we’re still struggling,” he said.