When Delaney Sears, a 24-year-old aspiring film and TV development executive, wakes up each morning, she's in a race against the clock.
Her first task is to check LinkedIn for any new job listings. Then it's a scramble to upload her CV — there's not a moment to lose.
"If a job has been posted for over an hour," she told Insider, "there's already 200 people in line in front of you."
Sears, who is currently unemployed, graduated this year with a master's degree in entertainment industry management from Carnegie Mellon University. Now, she's attempting what feels like a herculean feat: getting her career off the ground in the midst of a months-long Hollywood writers' strike, the first labor stoppage to grind the industry to a halt in 15 years.
While there's no clear end in sight to the stalemate between the Writers Guild of America and the Hollywood studios and streamers, the landscape could shift dramatically if the actors' union joins the fight — negotiations over SAG-AFTRA's contract with the studios have been extended to July 12. But most Hollywood observers expect the writers' walkout, which began May 2, to outlast the previous WGA strike, a 100-day work stoppage from late 2007 to spring 2008 that cost the California economy roughly $2 billion.
Already, TV shows, films, and award ceremonies have been disrupted or shut down, leaving a vast cross section of industry participants — from crew members to costume designers to craft service workers — without a paycheck.
Between the disorienting years of the coronavirus pandemic and the strike, young people striving to join the industry told Insider they've been dealt a one-two punch. Some are losing faith that opportunities are really on the horizon as they confront relentless professional setbacks and financial pain.
Amid a writers' strike and wide layoffs, Hollywood job hunters 'can't fully catch a break'
"It just kind of feels like we can't fully catch a break," said Sears, who spends a few hours each day creating content for her TikTok page, earning in the neighborhood of $1,000 per month to help make ends meet. In the meantime, her family and roommate have agreed to help cover rent and other short-term needs.
A recent lunch with friends in Los Angeles morphed into an impromptu job application frenzy, Sears recalled, as the group spent more time submitting résumés than talking to one another. "I think it's normal if you see a group of young 20-somethings at a table," she said. "Imagine if that table of 20-somethings were all on their phones, and they're all just doom-scrolling LinkedIn."
This wasn't the life Sears envisaged when she moved to LA. But her experience has become increasingly common for would-be members of Hollywood's next generation of creative workers, according to interviews with more than a dozen people ranging from interns and recent grads, to entry-level employees at streamers and studios, to academic and career experts.
Most of these people told Insider they're in solidarity with the writers — some had even joined them on the picket lines — and that an onerous few months would be worth it if the WGA ultimately wins concessions on issues like wages, working conditions, and artificial intelligence.
But some still fear the damage this period could do to their long-term ambitions. One grad seeking a role as a set designer worries that, without an entertainment industry job, her visa application to stay in the US could be upended. Another said he was applying for food stamps as credit card bills surged. And an intern at a large streaming organization said some of his friends had seen their summer internships canceled.
Making matters worse, studios and streamers from Amazon and Disney to Warner Bros. Discovery have been hit with deep layoffs over the past year that have intensified competition for the few roles still available. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement and career counseling firm, shared data with Insider showing that entertainment companies slashed more than 15,000 positions since the start of 2023.
To be sure, there's still hiring in some pockets of the industry — but mostly in the "operational arena," according to Joanna Sucherman, owner of JLS Media, a recruiting firm that has worked with companies like Disney, Fox, and Fremantle. Sucherman said she sees open roles across the industry in HR, sales, and business and legal affairs, but hiring for roles directly interfacing with new creative IP is mostly on ice.
Faltering faith in Hollywood careers: 'Once people leave, it's hard to get them back'
Trevor Romero, a former agent trainee and assistant at United Talent Agency and the founder of Young Entertainment Professionals, a networking group counting more than 10,000 members, is spending a lot of time lately persuading peers not to give up on Hollywood.
"I'm having so many phone calls each day trying to talk people off of ledges and be like, 'You should stay for just a couple more months. See what happens,'" said Romero, 26, who eventually hopes to become a director and editor. "Once people leave, it's hard to get them back."
According to Dan Green, the director of the master's program in entertainment industry management at Carnegie Mellon's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, more than 20 of the 38 students who graduated with the degree in May have already landed jobs. That puts this year's cohort on track with past grads, he said.
But some of this year's grads landed jobs in the music industry, a sector largely insulated from the WGA strike, he added. For those pursuing TV and film, Green didn't discount the pain in the hiring market, and said some of his program's most recent grads have told him the waiting game had chipped away at their mental well-being.
This summer, two students currently enrolled in the program secured internships at a Los Angeles-based production company run by a "high-profile actor," Green said, but their hours were cut in half a few weeks into the strike. The company said it had fewer new projects and scripts for the interns to read and summarize.
"I really worry about them staying, about their livelihood, because how do you pay your bills?" Green said. "They're coming to me going, 'I really want to hold this out, but I'm starting to apply to restaurant positions.'"
For the past few weeks, Nabha Purohit — a 23-year-old production design graduate who moved to Brooklyn from Georgia after earning her master's from the Savannah College of Art and Design — has been working as an interior designer at a West Elm furniture showroom.
It's a far cry from Purohit's dream of working on a soundstage or live production. She's been applying for hundreds of design-related jobs, she told Insider, but nothing's panned out so far, and her hunt isn't just about launching her career. If she doesn't find work in film or TV soon, she might have to return to her native Mumbai, India, as early as next year.
Purohit said she'd need an entertainment job by at least September or October to have enough time to prepare her application package for an O-1 visa, generally reserved for artists and people with "extraordinary ability or achievement." But that may be impossible if the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade association representing the Hollywood companies, don't reach an agreement soon.
"I definitely don't regret getting my master's done, but it's just unfair," she said of opportunities lost from the halt in production. "Hope is all we have."
Internship offers rescinded and opportunities for professional growth dashed
Even those lucky enough to have planted their flag in the industry are feeling the strike's effects.
At Paramount Pictures' sprawling studio lot on Melrose Avenue, soundstages have gone quiet, but tours are ongoing as visitors try to get a look at the spots where parts of famous movie and TV franchises like "The Godfather" and "Star Trek" were filmed. Some of the guides — members of Paramount's 18- to 24-month page program — were crestfallen when managers informed them in late June that they'd be moved from so-called "desk" assignments back to leading studio tours.
That's according to two current members of the page program who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. Their identities are known to Insider. While guiding tours is a key element of pages' duties, these two sources said that desk assignments — which could entail filling in as assistants, answering phones, helping organize execs' schedules, or lending their hands on projects — give members of the program vital face time with execs who could one day become their bosses. The more substantive work is also applicable to most pages' future ambitions, and simply more enjoyable.
"Morale is pretty low among pages," said one of the two sources, adding that losing out on the desk assignments has "really impacted our career prospects."
A separate person familiar with the page program said up to 65% of its members are hired annually as full-time Paramount employees. Pages step into "business support roles on an as-needed basis," the person added, noting that they are "brand ambassadors for the studio, and their primary responsibility is providing on-lot tours."
Insider spoke with a separate LA-based intern in the business affairs department of a large streamer, who also insisted on anonymity for fear of professional reprisal. After his workflow slowed early on in the strike, he's stayed busy making Excel spreadsheets at the office and arranging coffee chats with execs, thanks to their newly freed-up schedules.
But some of his friends haven't had the same opportunities. One who attends the University of Southern California scored an internship at an LA production company, only for the offer to be rescinded because of the strike, the streaming intern said.
"It's sad because, even if you go to the USCs and NYUs, you still can have your offer rescinded," said the intern. "I was even scared, because I was like, I went through this whole interview and recruiting process and, if my internship got rescinded, where was I going to go?"
Food stamps and 'skyrocketing' credit card debt: 'I wouldn't be in this position without the strike'
When Kody Proctor finished graduate school in May, he never imagined having to apply for food stamps just a few months later.
The 24-year-old North Dakota native also graduated from Carnegie Mellon's entertainment industry management program, and hopes to one day work as a producer on unscripted shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race." As a student, he interned for E! News and companies in talent management, production, and film sales.
But in spite of those credentials, he still can't land work, even in unscripted TV, a sector that was expected to be somewhat shielded from the strike, since it doesn't rely on union writers.
Proctor estimated he's applied to 70 entertainment jobs but only heard back from five, all of which fizzled after an interview or two. Recently, he lost out on one of those full-time opportunities — which he'd been pursuing for months — to one of the two roommates with whom he shares a three-bedroom in North Hollywood.
Meanwhile, his financial situation is growing dire. To combat "skyrocketing" credit card bills, he took on part-time work in June, including a minimum-wage job as a server at Bruxie, a chicken-and-waffles chain; and a 10-day, short-term stint with a nonprofit in the music industry. Beyond that, he's applied for food stamps and said he planned to seek government assistance to help pay rent.
"I wouldn't be in this position without the strike," he said. "I fully believe that, if the strike didn't happen, I would already be in a full-time, salaried position."
The headwinds young people are experiencing now, in many respects, reflect those that have faced newcomers to the business for generations. Hollywood has never been renowned for its hospitality to outsiders, beckoning them with the entertainment industry's trademark glamour but leaving many with broken dreams and empty bank accounts.
Still, even some who have been burned by the industry aren't ready to give up on it.
Victoria Cheyenne, 24, a former comedy producer at Paramount, was part of the company's 25% layoff in early May. At first, she said, the layoff was devastating. But it paved the way for other passions to take center stage, like nonprofit work and spending a few weeks in Bolivia filming a documentary about her family's indigenous roots.
Throughout the strike, the outpouring of energy Cheyenne has witnessed from early-career professionals has reinforced her convictions that Hollywood's future is still intact and will include people like her — thanks in part to the writers' movement.
"We've been fighting for these things for a long time," she said. "I don't lose optimism, because I'm watching everyone come together."