How an Auction to Benefit Hollywood Crew Turned Into a Viral, Meme-Generating Phenomenon

The Union Solidarity Coalition — founded over the summer by a group of writer-directors moved to support crewmembers amid the strike — launched an eBay auction last week with lots so unique, it seems they were dreamed up in a writers room. And the bids have been rolling in fast and thick.

A sampling of the offerings and current bids (as of publication time) include dinner with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross ($10,200); the cast of Bob’s Burgers singing a custom song ($7,200); Natasha Lyonne helping solve the New York Times Sunday crossword via Zoom ($6,100); Lena Dunham painting a mural in your home ($5,100); John Lithgow painting a watercolor portrait of your dog ($4,450); a pottery class with Busy Philipps in New York ($3,500); Adam Scott walking your dog in L.A. for one hour ($2,500); a Zoom with Barry Jenkins and Nicholas Britell ($1,250); and a relationship advice squabble over Zoom with Rosemarie Dewitt and Ron Livingston ($1,136).

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The above lots served to introduce the initiative, and due to popular demand and the creative offerings of other celebrity volunteers, TUSC updated the eBay site Friday with another batch. The latest round features a Zoom with Nicole Kidman and Lulu Wang; an “exquisite corpse drawing Zoom” with Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis ($2,025); an L.A. gay bar hop with Triangle of Sadness star Dolly De Leon ($610); a personal David Krumholtz serenade via Zoom ($510); and a one-hour Mortal Kombat gaming session with Kumail Nanjiani while his wife and creative partner Emily V. Gordon adds commentary ($1,025). “The crew works harder than any actor on set so we want to support them during this time when they are unable to work. Also, we love playing video games,” offers Nanjiani.

“People started coming out of the woodwork and being really creative because it’s a strike,” explained writer-producer Liz Benjamin, one of TUSC’s founding members, during a Zoom interview alongside cohorts Amy Seimetz and Susanna Fogel. “People didn’t want to promote a movie or a project they’ve been in, they wanted to do something different, so it forced people to think outside the box.” Once they did, the offers started rolling in. “It kind of just snowballed, like everything in Hollywood does once you get the train moving,” Seimetz adds. “Everyone wants to get involved.”

The auction is the latest push by TUSC to raise funds and support crew during Hollywood’s dual strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. The organization previously hosted Solidarity Night! in Los Angeles on July 15. That event, along with other efforts, raised an initial $315,000, and the next batch of funds from the auction will go to the same cause — helping crewmembers, via the TUSC Motion Picture & Television Fund, who have lost or are at risk of losing health care by covering premiums to ensure access to high-quality health care. (TUSC is also partnered with Entertainment Health Insurance Solutions.)

As the story goes, the idea for an organization started as a brainstorm in a WGA-DGA WhatsApp thread. The full list of founding TUSC members includes Benjamin, Fogel, Seimetz, Dunham, Rachel Lee Goldenberg, Tara Miele, Alex Winter, Frankie Shaw, Josh Locy, Justine Bateman, Antonio Campos, Malik Vitthal, Paul Scheer, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Savage, Tony Phelan, Julie Plec, Crystal Moselle and Sarah Adina Smith. Many of those chipped in to contact friends, peers and onetime collaborators to see if and what they could contribute to the auction.

“TUSC as an organization has two missions,” says Fogel, a writer-director-producer. “The first is fundraising to directly help crew who are suffering; the second is community-building events that can help give us that family feeling we experience on set when we’re working together. This auction is an encapsulation of both: It’s a way to raise money, but it’s also a way to demonstrate that we take care of each other. Our plan is to continue this type of outreach and fundraising not just through the end of the strikes but beyond. Crew unions have their own negotiations coming up, and the more we can stand together the better, as we collectively fight for fair contracts — whatever that means to our individual unions.”

The auction — now live through Friday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. PT — snagged so much attention out of the gate that countless social media users borrowed the unique items as inspiration to create faux lots. On X (formerly Twitter), a user teased “varnish a cabinet with David Lynch for $10,000,” and it even caught Lyonne’s eye as she replied, “Were it real, I’d bid on it all day.” Other posts offered Toni Collette screaming at you from across a dinner table for $10,000; a “degradation session” with Succession star J. Smith-Cameron; Jesse Williams saving you from a home invasion for $620; a five-hour ASMR session with Patrick Stewart impersonating Borat for $6,350; and Steve Zahn helping you remember what you’ve seen him in without getting impatient for $9,128,083, to name a few.

TUSC’s auction is part of a larger trend of creative fundraising amid Hollywood’s dual strike. Insiders mounted a WGA Garage Sale that benefited the Entertainment Community Fund and featured items like a crystal consultation with Spencer Pratt, a custom speech penned by WGA negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser, and getting “pooped on” by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog via custom video. Pay Up Hollywood is selling lawn signs to support WGA and SAG members. More recently, Better Things creator Pamela Adlon took to Instagram to show off the contents of a storage locker, which she plans to sell via custom website to benefit ECF.

Coming up next month, a team of collaborators that includes Marta Kauffman, Paul McCrane and Paul Scheer are mounting a live telethon-style fundraiser at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater titled “The Give Back-ular Spectacular.” That event is set to take place Oct. 25 as a benefit designed “to raise awareness that this strike is adversely affecting not just writers and actors, but the entire community of artists, craftspeople, technicians, production assistants and support staff.” It will raise funds to cover COBRA and health care premiums for members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America and other workers who are being financially impacted by the work stoppage.

The TUSC insiders say it’s not a surprise to see how their peers have responded. “We’re a bunch of self-starters who love working in film and TV, which is all about collaboration and being creative. We [keep asking ourselves], “OK, how can we expand this and keep going and keep going?” Seimetz explained. “We keep growing because we have so many people who are willing to jump in, like with this auction Liz jumped in and said she knew how to do it and then people just take the lead and others help out. It’s a really inspiring thing to be a part of during this time when it feels divided.”

Benjamin said Seimetz “hit the nail on the head” with that statement. “[TUSC] is a leaderless organization. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s a group made up of people who are all willing to jump in and say, ‘Yes, how can I help?’ It’s delivering a lot of positivity to a very scary time for people during an interminable strike. We’re all about lifting each other up.”

As for their response to seeing their auction lifted up online and in dozens of news reports, Fogel says it’s been both shocking and thrilling. “We did not anticipate this. This is wild and so fun. You can never predict what will go viral or catch fire online, but seeing the memes that have been generated is endlessly entertaining and so encouraging. It’s also so insane and wild. Hopefully, that translates into money raised, but it’s also just kind of giving us a nice boost of adrenaline.”

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