EXCLUSIVE… FINDINGS INCLUDED: The major findings of the newly released 2011 WGA Screenwriter Survey (click here for full report) are that “screenwriters believe their status in the Writers Guild of Americaindustry has significantly deteriorated over the past several years. The most flagrant studio practices contributing to this decline, ranked in order of frequency, are: free rewrites, sweepstakes pitching or bake-offs, late payment, free prewrites, and idea theft.” The Writers Guild findings included:

— One-in-four screenwriters reported leaving prepared materials behind as part of their pitch

— Three-quarters were asked to revise those pitch materials for the major studios, while requests at the smaller studios happened half of the time

— Producers were more likely to ask for revisions, but three-in-ten reported major studio representatives requested revisions to pitch materials

— A majority were asked by the major studios to work before being paid for commencement

— Most screenwriters received only 1 or 2 guaranteed steps in their deals from the studios

— Optional steps were common in these deals

— Nearly two-thirds say the major studios and over half say the smaller studios never exercised any optional steps in their deals

— Almost half were asked to do uncompensated rewrites at a major studio, with four-in-ten saying the studio representative made the request

— Smaller studios were somewhat less likely to ask for uncompensated rewrites, but a greater share of the requests came from studio representatives

— A majority of those working at major studios did the uncompensated rewrites because they felt it necessary to keep their current job or get hired in the future

— Nearly a quarter believe they were paid late by the major studios in 2011

According to a statement from WGAW Board Member David S. Goyer to me on the declining business conditions screenwriters face:

“Less movies are being made and that means fewer jobs. This means more competition between writers and the pressures become enormous. In this type of environment screenwriters rightly feel like they are being exploited. I’ve had to do free rewrites, often been expected to start work before any type of payment is made, and I’ve frequently been paid late by major studios. I think those qualify as symptoms of business conditions in decline.”

On the issue of one-step deals, WGA Board Member Bill Ray made this statement to me:

“One-step deals are a danger on several fronts. First, they are a fairly blatant means of getting writers to do several steps for free. Second, they artificially empower producers who can now convince writers to do a ‘producer’s draft’ by claiming to be speaking for the studio when that producer may in fact have no idea what the studio wants. Third, one-step deals yield timid scripts. Writers aren’t going to be very likely to take chances with material if they’re writing with a sword hanging over their heads. Good scripts take time. They also require some experimentation – the drafts that help you find your story. Contracts ought to reflect that, just as they used to. Lastly, perhaps most practically: would you really want your project written by a writer who’s so anxious about being fired that he or she is spending all their time booking their next job instead of throwing themselves into the one you’ve hired them for?”

Here is the email that went out today:

Dear WGAW Member,

Earlier this year, the WGAW, in conjunction with WGAE, undertook a survey of screenwriters in order to assess the current state of the theatrical business. The Guild has been increasingly concerned, based on anecdotal evidence from our members, about deteriorating conditions in screen employment and the rise of certain industry practices that harm both screenwriters and the overall quality of films produced. Screenwriters were invited to complete a series of questions that detailed their theatrical pitching and employment experiences during 2011. The respected independent research firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3) conducted the survey.

The major findings of the survey are: Screenwriters believe their status in the industry has significantly deteriorated over the past several years. The most flagrant studio practices contributing to this decline, ranked in order of frequency, are: free rewrites, sweepstakes pitching, late payment, free prewrites, and idea theft.

Ultimately we want to change those behaviors. How we achieve that goal is the question, and your continued engagement will be needed to help find answers.

To view a summary of the report click here.

Thank you to the screenwriters who took the survey. If you have any questions about it or the results, please email screensurvey@wga.org.

Chris Keyser, President
David Young, Executive Director