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Encore: Strikes kick Hollywood side hustles into high gear

NATHAN ROTT, HOST:

The double strikes by screenwriters and actors against major Hollywood studios have been going on for months, with no end in sight. As the strikers wait for new contracts to be made, NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports on how some are getting by financially.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Late-night TV writer Jesse McLaren spends his days at home watching old episodes of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" on YouTube. And instead of writing jokes for "Jimmy Kimmel Live," he now handcrafts snow globes, which he sells on Etsy for $299 a pop.

JESSE MCLAREN: I had made snow globes as a hobby before this all started. I used to give people snow globes as gifts. Once the strike started, I decided maybe I should monetize this. So these are, like, custom snow globes of people's houses.

DEL BARCO: McLaren makes the miniature houses with a small 3D printer.

(SOUNDBITE OF 3D PRINTER)

DEL BARCO: He hand paints each house, then glues it onto a rubber stopper, which he then stuffs into a glass globe filled with distilled water, glycerin and snow globe flakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUISHING)

MCLAREN: And it is incredibly frustrating. If you push it a little too hard, the whole thing gets sucked into the snow globe and makes a huge mess. And this is what I'm doing instead of - I was writing on the Oscars a few months ago, and now I'm doing this.

DEL BARCO: With most TV and film production shut down during the strike, nearly everyone in Hollywood has lost work whether or not they're in one of the striking unions. Now they're hustling.

BECKY PORTMAN: (Speaking Hebrew).

DEL BARCO: Becky Portman has been giving Hebrew lessons to kids preparing for bar and bat mitzvahs. She also substitute teaches at a preschool. When the writers strike began in May, she was furloughed as a showrunner's assistant for the Peacock series "Killing It."

PORTMAN: It is scary to have this gig economy and word-of-mouth job just trying to figure out how to make kind of an income in a temporary way 'cause we're not really sure how long this is going to last.

DEL BARCO: Side hustles are nothing new for those trying to make it in Hollywood, says actor Michelle Allaire. She's a striking SAG-AFTRA member and the owner of the S&W Country Diner in Culver City.

MICHELLE ALLAIRE: Actors and writers, we know how to live poor. We know how to eat noodles. We know how to, like, scale down and live on basically nothing for months. We all know how to wait tables. We all know how to scrap and do other jobs. And, you know, half the people are Uber drivers, and they - we know how to fill in the gaps.

DEL BARCO: Even so, on the picket lines outside the major studios these days, you find writers and actors like Taylor Orsi (ph) and Briza Covarrubias.

TAYLOR ORSI: I've been living in my parents' garage for the time being, you know?

BRIZA COVARRUBIAS: My spouse and I are currently on food stamps. You know, sometimes it's Cheez-Its for lunch, but it's something.

KEITH MCNUTT: We generally try not to believe in starving artists (laughter). But one of our strategies is to truly help people learn how to manage their money.

DEL BARCO: Keith McNutt is executive director of the Entertainment Community Fund's Western region. Since the strike began, they've given more than $5 million to 2,600 film and TV workers in need of emergency financial assistance.

MCNUTT: People are coming to us now with three-day evict notices, and that's serious. You have to, like, prioritize that immediately.

DEL BARCO: The fund also provides career counseling and mental health services for those anxious or depressed about supporting themselves. SAG-AFTRA announced it's extending its health care coverage for members who would otherwise lose it in October. And legislators in California have proposed a bill to extend unemployment benefits to any worker in the state who's on strike. Meanwhile, some Hollywood strikers are discovering more ways to use their talents for money. On the website Cameo, celebrities record personalized birthday greetings and other messages for people - sort of an updated version of signing autographs. Even the president of SAG-AFTRA is in on the act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAN DRESCHER: Hi, Theo (ph). It's me, Fran Drescher. Chase (ph) told me that you were feeling a little down in the dumps.

DEL BARCO: Cameo CEO Steven Galanis says last month, there were 137% more performers signing up to record videos.

STEVEN GALANIS: Some of them are actually joining for charity. Some are even putting their funds towards the SAG strike fund. Others are using this as a way to connect with their fans and not seen as crossing the picket lines.

DEL BARCO: Quite a few are still hamming it up during the strike. Actor Evan Sloan had bit parts in "Fear The Walking Dead" and "S.W.A.T." Now he works full time for the company DappzSports, where he gets paid to open packages of trading cards on a livestream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVAN SLOAN: Ah.

You open these things for these people, and it's pure entertainment. I'm having just as much fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SLOAN: Dude.

If you had told my 5-year-old self that I would one day support myself opening up trading cards, I probably would have laughed in your face. I stumbled into something that fuels the inner child in me. So I feel like learning something new during this time and honing in on a different skill has been awesome for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SLOAN: Oh, my God.

DEL BARCO: And now more people in Hollywood are starting their own podcasts. There's one by late-night TV hosts Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Meyers and the two Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STRIKE FORCE FIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL: We are the Strike Force Five.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDERCLAP)

JIMMY FALLON: You want to explain what this is?

SETH MEYERS: What is "Strike Force Five"?

KIMMEL: Hey, the reason we're doing this is because we are financially supporting members of our staff. There are hundreds of members of our staffs - writers, you name it. Everyone that works on the TV show is out of work right now. And so all the money we make for this show goes to them.

DEL BARCO: Besides kibitzing with one another on the podcast, a few of the hosts are back on the stand-up comedy circuit. So are Kimmel's writers, like Devin Field.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVIN FIELD: Thanks for coming out. We are on strike.

(APPLAUSE)

FIELD: Yeah. We're very brave.

DEL BARCO: That's Field at Comedy Works in Denver in June. He performed with fellow Kimmel writer Troy Walker, who's now working on a comedy album. Walker says he couldn't wait for the studios to come up with a fair contract.

TROY WALKER: I've only been at the show for two years. I'm still in my studio apartment. I drive an Accord. It's not new. So you're not going to squeeze me, really. This is somebody who, like, was driving Postmates in the Hollywood Hills with a law degree (laughter). Like, I'll figure it out.

DEL BARCO: Another of Kimmel's writers, Jesse Joyce, is joining Walker and Field in Las Vegas next month to perform at Kimmel's comedy club. Joyce has also written a book about two guys connected to Abraham Lincoln's killer, John Wilkes Booth. And, of course, there's Jesse McLaren and his snow globes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: One globe in his collection plays the theme of "The Colbert Report," where McLaren was a field associate producer. During the strike, he's also worked on some animation projects. He made an Instagram filter for a country star and wrote TikTok ideas for a rapper.

MCLAREN: I want to make jokes again, and I want snow globes to become just a weird niche hobby again. If you want to ask me how the snow globe business is...

DEL BARCO: Oh, yeah? How is the snow globe business?

MCLAREN: Shaky.

DEL BARCO: Ah, well, there's no business like snow globe business.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.