In the shadow of Hollywood’s striking actors and writers, the untold stories of U.S. and Canadian film and television crew members emerge—a tale of hardship, evictions, and mental health crises. As Hollywood faced strikes that spanned up to 10 months, crew workers battled unemployment, lost benefits, and grappled with the collateral damage of family disintegration.
The silent casualties of these strikes found themselves in dire straits, with health insurance gone, retirement funds depleted, and relationships shattered. Hundreds of thousands endured months without pay, facing the harsh reality of isolation and depression. Behind the scenes, a support network among crew members and charities emerged, offering aid during the writers’ strike from May to September, followed by the actors’ strike that concluded in late September.
Lori Rubinstein, executive director of mental health charity Behind the Scenes, emphasized the toll on crews, stating, “The actors and writers are getting a lot of publicity but the crews are the collateral damage of the strikes.” Crew members, dealing with substance abuse, workaholism, and bullying, faced a mental health crisis exacerbated by the extended absence of work.
Mental health first aid training became crucial in preventing suicides, with around 1,000 industry members undergoing the program in the last 18 months. The struggles culminated tragically for some, like Joe Bufalino, New Mexico’s youngest first assistant director, who took his life on August 17. His mother, Pam Rosen, shared the heartbreaking sentiment that “he saw no future” at the time of his death.
Jennifer Jorge, head of social services with the Motion Picture Television Fund (MPTF), detailed the psychological distress faced by crew members dealing with financial struggles. The MPTF provided approximately $3.75 million in assistance, while Canada’s AFC charity temporarily halted new aid applications due to overwhelming demand. The Entertainment Community Fund distributed over $11.2 million in grants, underscoring the magnitude of the crisis.
Personal stories unfolded, from a Toronto production assistant finding refuge with a fellow crew member to New York set dresser Norvin Van Dunk grappling with depression and anxiety amid the strikes. The struggles extended to New York props master Gwen Roach, who, along with her husband, depleted their life savings, forsaking dreams of homeownership.
As the strikes took a toll on mental health and financial stability, the film and TV industry witnessed the unseen battles fought by the unsung heroes behind the scenes. The aftershocks of these strikes continue to reverberate, exposing vulnerabilities that demand attention and support for the often-overlooked crew members.