As an art department coordinator, Marisa Shipley notes that most of her department takes breaks between shows to recuperate, go on vacation, or go to medical appointments. That’s not the case for those in her position.
“I jump from job to job all year long, because I just cannot afford not to be working all the time,” she told Variety. “And working 60 hours a week, all year long, is just unsustainable. The industry sells this life that you’re working really hard when you’re working. But there’s downtime between jobs and there’s this ebb and flow [to work], but if you’re not paying people wages to be able to do that, that’s not their reality. And people just absolutely burn themselves out.”
Ahead of talks between IATSE and the AMPTP for a new film and TV contract agreement — which expires at the end of the month, and which spans 13 IATSE locals — script coordinators, writers’ assistants and others like Shipley are speaking out for the need for higher wages. (IATSE and AMPTP declined to comment on the matter during the period ahead of the negotiations.)
The minimums in the current Basic Agreement are $16.82 an hour for art department coordinators, $15.66 an hour for assistant production coordinators, $17.64 hourly for script coordinators and $16 hourly for writers’ assistants, according to Shipley, who is also vice president of IATSE Local 871, which represents 3,000 members whose crafts include production coordinators, script coordinators, payroll accountants, writers’ assistants and script supervisors.
The “Living Wage” effort, which is circulating on Twitter under the hashtags #IALivingWage, has been bolstered by showrunners and producers alike. “Lucifer” co-showrunner Joe Henderson, for instance, recently tweeted: “Fellow showrunners — have you written your executives to let them know that you champion a living wage for support staff? If not, please do — it gives them the ammo to argue internally and help do the right thing!”
“The pathway to become a writer should be easier we cannot make content without them …. And we should want them to be able to learn and grow without fear,” tweeted “Grey’s Anatomy” star and executive producer in support of the effort in late June.
“People are living in bad living situations because they can’t afford to move out,” said Shipley. “The industry has talked a lot about abuse, whether that’s sexual harassment or these explosive angry personalities. But if you are afraid for making your next rent check, you are much less likely to leave a bad situation because you just cannot afford not to jump immediately into another job.”
And Local 871 member Amy Thurlow notes that a lack of pay equity contributes to a lack of diversity in the workplace. “You can’t get equity without paying higher rates,” she said. “Because wages are so low, they create huge barriers of entry.”
The growing chorus of writers and showrunners has been heartening to those in support of the effort, which follows #PayUpHollywood, a rallying cry on social media to improve the compensation and quality of life of assistants and support staffers, 80% of whom were earning less than $50,000 in 2020 and were hard hit during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We really appreciate and are so emboldened to have especially showrunners who we work day to day with, and are often our bosses, come out and support us,” said Thurlow. “But we will say that the power is not just in the showrunners, the power is in the studios. And even though the showrunners are our bosses, they can’t make this change. They can certainly advocate for us, and we definitely appreciate their support. But at the end of the day, this is truly up to the studios.”