Illustration by Jennie Edwards

Guild & Industry

Help is Their Business

The Entertainment Community Fund (ECF) continues to offer assistance and relief.

When the pandemic shut down the film and television industry in 2020, thousands of industry workers at all levels turned to the Entertainment Community Fund (ECF) for assistance. The organization remained an anchor to industry workers in need as the “Peak TV” era began its descent in 2022, and it was flooded with requests—as well as grassroots donations—during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. In 2024, as the contraction that began in 2022 continues, the ECF’s services are very much in demand. 

How much in demand?

WGAW member David Rambo and former WGAW Executive Director David Young at the Cicely Tyson Residential Building at the Hollywood Arts Collective.

From May 2, 2023 to May 3, 2024, the ECF distributed $18.8 million to more than 8,500 people in the broader performing arts and entertainment industry, including $15.9 million to more than 7,200 film and TV workers. So far in 2024, the ECF has given out $4.4 million in aid, according to Tina Hookom, LCSW, the Fund’s director of social services. Between the pandemic and the work stoppages, the ECF has provided more than $51 million in emergency financial assistance to people in the industry. Pre-COVID, the ECF typically distributed $2 million annually in assistance.

“We actually did not see a dip in demand in the last quarter or 2023 or the first quarter of 2024,” said Hookom. “A lot of what we’re seeing and hearing is that the work isn’t as robust as everyone had hoped, so people are really struggling because they were already managing a high level of debt and had used their savings because of the pandemic years. They haven’t had the chance to refill their coffers for the lean times.”

ECF resources go beyond emergency cash assistance, ranging from social services and financial help to career enrichment to housing assistance and health care resources. 

“We’re in a joint venture right now with the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF) where we’re trying to get every artist insured, so people who didn’t quite make the minimum for their guild coverage can come to this program and find coverage that they can afford and, in some cases, coverage that is paid for,” said David Rambo a WGAW member who chairs the ECF’s Western Council and also serves on the organization’s Board of Trustees. “We also have a tremendous online program, and some in-person workshops, the most popular of which, I believe, is financial wellness—how to plan for times like 2023 or 2024 and not run out of money.” 

“Bottom line, the fund provides a level of something that is very difficult to attain in this business, and that is security,” he continued. “It helps you find that baseline security so you can do the thing that you’re good at and that you love.”

When I’m on a show, there isn’t anybody on my call sheet who could not go to the fund for help when they need it, including myself or any writer. I just think it’s a terrific organization.

- David Rambo

A volunteer with the fund for more than 30 years, Rambo’s involvement dates back to the late 1980s when he attended a Tony Awards watch party. He offered a suggestion for who the organization might honor the following year, and wound up joining the awards party committee. Eventually he was invited to join the Western Council, which works to increase financial support and help fundraising efforts in the Western Region. 

“It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously,” he said. “This is an organization that, over the last few years, has received over $40 million in donor funds. The trustees feel a very strong fiduciary responsibility to the donors as well as to the clients. Every major expenditure is debated and voted upon with transparency.”

The newly opened Cicely Tyson Residential Building at the Hollywood Art Collective offers affordable housing for arts and entertainment professionals.

Rambo has referred many people to the fund and collected many success stories. 

“When I’m on a show, there isn’t anybody on my call sheet who could not go to the fund for help when they need it, including myself or any writer,” Rambo said. “I just think it’s a terrific organization.”

The year 2024 has already been eventful for the ECF. In Summer 2023, the nonprofit opened the 151-apartment Cicely Tyson residence at the Hollywood Arts Collective, an affordable housing complex. The ECF has also announced its $160 million ESSENTIAL campaign at its annual gala and marked the 20th anniversary of the ECF’s Looking Ahead program which was created to help child actors and their families. 

In June of 2023, not long after taking over as Chair of the ECF, actress Annette Bening joined longtime fellow ECF trustee—and WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair—Chris Keyser at a rally at Paramount Studios during the strike. The Guild has a lengthy history of supporting the work of the ECF including donations of more than $7 million in unclaimed foreign levies. The ECF has dedicated a garden at the Hollywood Arts Collective in the Guild’s name.

WGAW President Meredith Stiehm, actor and ECF board chair Annette Bening, and WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser at Paramount Studios on June 16, 2023. Photo by Evan Henerson

“I’m really proud of that,” Rambo said of the WGAW’s ongoing support of the ECF. “First of all, it’s my Guild, but it also shows a relationship. We helped 480 WGA members last year, but it’s thousands over the years. That means a great deal to me personally.”

Rambo encourages people in need to explore the range of ECF offerings and, for those who have the means, to become ECF donors.

“Nothing can stop an artist from fulfilling their potential like despair,” Rambo said. “Here’s this organization that exists solely to alleviate that for those of us working in this industry, and we owe it to the industry as much as owe it to ourselves to be generous, to give when we can.”

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