Monday, May 06, 2013

Five Hundred Bucks A Week

... and no benefits.

Eliza Skinner has spent the past year writing jokes for the E! television show Fashion Police. Skinner pens about 200 jokes per episode (almost a full work week’s as far as ‘hours worked’), pitching them at a weekly meeting with the host, Joan Rivers, and the show’s producers. For this, she is paid roughly $500 a week.

What is unique about this arrangement, in comparison with Hollywood norms, is the intensity of the work (the 30-40 hours of work are usually compressed into 3 days), and the meagerness of the compensation. Fashion Police writers’ paychecks say: “Hours worked: 8” every week, regardless of the actual time spent on crafting their contributions to the show. This exploitation is especially galling because the tempo of TV production often requires marathon stretches on the writer’s part: as long as 17 hours in a row, in the case of awards specials. “8 hours. $500,” Skinner marvels. “To write a hit TV show–– one of the top rated shows on the network.”

So on April 13, Skinner and her fellow writers at Fashion Police went on strike.

Some time ago (1988, to be precise) I was a teacher at Stoneridge Prep, a private school in Tarzana, that paid the princely sum of $350 per week. I was an English teacher handling five classes at three different grade levels, and usually put in a fifty-hour week.

Like Ms. Skinner, I had no benefits. And though I didn't write jokes for Joan Rivers, I did get to grade Drew Barrymore's English papers.

So I can identify.

You never know how shitty "white collar" jobs can be until you've worked some of the shittier ones. I hope Ms. Skinner is on the winning side of the strike; she more than deserves union benefits and more respect. (In 1988, I didn't have the balls to do what she is doing. I simply quit the teaching gig at the end of the school year and got a writing job at Filmation -- which was A) union, and B) paid a lot more money WITH benefits.)


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