TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE: A Quirky Auction to Support Crew Members Affected By the Writers Strike
A typical Hollywood charity auction, like the Baby2Baby Gala, might consist of beauty sessions with sought-after dermatologists, autographed books and set memorabilia, and the occasional five-minute photo op. It might also be closed to the public, available only to those connected individuals who can afford to bid richly.
The charity auction organized by the Union Solidarity Collective, a group of writers and directors who came together this year to help crew members affected by the Writers Guild strike, is trying something different: It offers dozens of quirky experiences, many featuring hidden talents of celebrities that have little to nothing to do with their current career paths. (For example: The “Oppenheimer” actor David Krumholtz has pledged to donate a three-song Zoom serenade to the highest bidder.)
The strike, now in its fourth month, has left writers and crews without paychecks and health care coverage. All of the net proceeds from the T.U.S.C. charity auction will go to the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s crew health care fund. Qualifying crew members (those with less than $10,000 in assets) can enroll for a $350 grant, which — depending on their income — can help cover most if not all of their monthly insurance costs.
“Right now the W.G.A. is on strike, and SAG is on strike. At the end of the day we’re going to get a better contract that’s going to give us different levels of money,” said the actor and comedian Paul Scheer, who donated a meet-and-greet for his popular podcast “How Did This Get Made?” “But the crew members who are not negotiating with us because they’re on a different cycle — they’re just losing work and there’s no benefit there.”
Many of the listings have bids of thousands of dollars. Ms. Dunham’s mural, which must be painted in Los Angeles, New York or London, is currently going for $5,100. “I really hope whoever wins my mural is prepared to give me a lot of coffee, tell me about their life in detail so I can translate that into colors and shapes — and that it can be its own new bonding experience,” Ms. Dunham said in an email.
John Lithgow, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor who donated an original watercolor dog painting, said he’d painted numerous pet portraits for other silent auctions. “I was going to be an artist until I heard too much applause, and then I became an actor,” he joked.
The set crews, he said, “work harder than we do: They’re two hours before we arrive and they leave an hour or two after we’re finished, and they don’t have a trailer to retire to 20 times a day.”
The auction, which started on Sept. 13 and runs for 10 days, is one of the many ways in which the members of T.U.S.C. have tried to help their projects’ crew members stave off financial hardship. In July, the group organized a fund-raiser in Los Angeles featuring a performance by the band Fishbone, which, coupled with another small celebrity auction on the website Give Butter, raised $315,000. .
T.U.S.C. is a “scrappy, very democratic organization” with “no hierarchy and nobody in charge” said the writer and producer Liz Benjamin, whose credits include “Dead to Me,” “Bridgerton” and “The Black List.”
Ms. Benjamin, the actress and filmmaker Amy Seimetz the writer Aviva Yael and the filmmaker Moira Fett have been helping to plan, organize and advertise the T.U.S.C. auction, courting celebrity contributions and working with Matchfire, an auction management service, to get each item up and running.
Other items and experiences up for bidding include having Mr. Lithgow paint a watercolor of your dog, a half-hour visual story basics lesson from Ms. Dunham and Spike Jonze, and an in-person dinner with the “Mr. Show” creators David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, which is currently going for more than $9,000. “I cannot believe how unique and special each item is,” Ms. Benjamin said.
Ms. Benjamin said T.U.S.C. is planning to continue to add listings in the coming days, including an “online experience” with the actress Nicole Kidman and the director Lulu Wang, and the chance to play 30 minutes of online Mortal Kombat I with the Hollywood couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.
Having the auction be uncharacteristically open to the public is part of T.U.S.C.’s marketing strategy. “The fan base of a Brit Marling sweatshirt goes so far beyond people who work in Hollywood,” said the director Susanna Fogel. “They’re probably just big fans of the show who live anywhere, and now they can have access to information about what our work force is striking for.”
As with anything celebrity related, the listings come with plenty of fine print: “The winner may invite up to two additional friends and the session can be recorded but please no questions about personal lives,” reads the listing for Ms. Dunham and Mr. Jonze’s master class.
“Respect for talent and their staff will be expected at all times,” all of the listings warn. “Inappropriate behavior or solicitation for personal gain by the winner could result in the immediate conclusion of the experience with no refund. The talent has the right to end the experience at any time, for any reason, with no refund. A background check for the winner may be required.” Bidders willing to spend more than $2,000 must also undergo a prequalification process run by Matchfire.
Of course, the auction has spawned plenty of reactions (and memes); some featured Photoshopped listings people wished would be auctioned off.
Even the T.U.S.C. members participating in the auction have their own dream listings. “I know that I suggested this: Would Nicole Kidman walk through an AMC theater with someone?” Mr. Scheer said, referring to Ms. Kidman’s widely beloved (and oft-imitated) AMC movie monologue. “And maybe we’ll get her to do it. But if you could walk through that theater and just take a couple pictures with her — that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The auction has been up for about 48 hours, and it has already raised more than $93,000. “Our goal was $150,000,” Ms. Benjamin said. “I think we’re going to go well past that.”