As Hollywood Strikes, PEN America Lends a Hand
As the writers’ strike stretches on and many film and television writers struggle to pay their bills, PEN America is creating a Screenwriters Emergency Financial Assistance Fund to address the acute strain.
The new fund, a short-term program within the ongoing PEN America U.S. Writers Aid Initiative, will provide grants to early career or emergent screenwriters with demonstrated financial need. (Potential applicants can find out more on the submission form here.)
Since the writers’ strike began in May, PEN America has seen a sevenfold increase in applications to the U.S. Writers Aid Initiative from screenwriters. As in other moments where PEN America has recognized a particular need, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters, the short-term fund will provide one-time grants to help screenwriters pay for housing, food, utilities, and health care.
PEN — originally an acronym for Poets, Essayists, and Novelists — has long embraced screenwriters and other artists as Members and members of its board of directors. PEN America President Ayad Akhtar is among the WGA members currently serving the organization.
“We know that many screenwriters — especially those early in their careers — are facing extreme economic hardship in the face of the ongoing work stoppage in Hollywood,” Akhtar said in announcing the new fund. “As both a WGA member and President of PEN America, it is my hope that this fund will help to provide an emergency backstop to ensure that talented creatives aren’t forced to leave the industry due to financial necessity during the current work stoppage.”
The community’s acute need has been among the topics discussed at two meetings with PEN America’s Los Angeles office, where screenwriters discussed their concerns and the future of their profession, with writers describing an “existential crisis” in the industry. Many wondered if they could afford to be creative or make a living as a writer in the current climate.
They also worried about the implications of artificial intelligence in Hollywood and beyond. PEN America’s white paper, Speech in the Machine: Generative AI’s Implications for Free Expression, called the technology a threat to free expression and offers principles to guide policymakers and others wrestling with the possible impacts on society.
In an op-ed for The New Republic, CEO Suzanne Nossel said Hollywood’s fight against A.I. affects creators and consumers of any kind of artistic expression.
“The changes wrought by A.I. may have existential implications not just for scriptwriters and actors but also for audiences—namely all of us,” she wrote.
PEN America has also hosted events, including a recent panel co-presented with the Skirball Center with Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, and documentarian Eddie Muller, Hollywood Screenwriters from the Blacklist to Today’s WGA Strike.
Allison Lee, managing director of the PEN America Los Angeles office, said she hopes the grants can relieve the financial hardship that so many are experiencing due to the work stoppage.
“We know that early career writers are especially hard hit by financial need and we want to do whatever we are able to relieve the acute stress they face,” she said.
To find out more about PEN America’s events in the Los Angeles area, sign up to receive updates.