The WGA East and its supporters in the New York state Legislature are taking another crack at a bill that would allocate $5 million in tax incentives to TV shows shot in the state that hire women and minority writers and directors. Unlike the bill that was vetoed in December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this incentive would be separate and apart from the state’s $420 million a year film incentives program.
Cuomo vetoed that last bill after finding that the current program is “extremely oversubscribed” and that the proposed legislation contained “technical difficulties which make the bill fatally defective.”
WGA East leaders say they are confident that the new bill, introduced by the same sponsors of the vetoed one, “addresses the issues raised in Governor Cuomo’s veto memo.”
The new bill is supported by writers from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Rundown with Robin Thede, Law & Order: SVU and Sesame Street, who met today met with state legislators to support its passage.
“The television and movie industry creates tens of thousands of great jobs in New York, largely because of the state’s very successful production tax credit,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said. “The problem is that the industry is simply not diverse, despite the state’s vital support. The legislation would go a long way towards making real change by offering an incentive to hire women and people of color. The only effective way to diversify TV storytelling is to put money at the point of hire, to ensure that women and people of color can break through the longstanding barriers and build sustainable careers in this important industry.”
Said former Full Frontal showrunner Jo Miller: “Over the past decade, I’ve been in all-white, mostly male writing rooms, and I’ve been in rooms where white men are the minority. The difference is clear: gender-balanced, racially diverse rooms make better comedy. They’re also a more joyous, rewarding, intellectually stimulating place for a writer to spend 14 hours of his or her day. People with different voices and perspectives collaborating and learning from one another create richer art with more depth, resonance and originality. It’s the difference between a symphony and a pan-flute quartet.”
Added Thede: “Now, more than ever, it is critical that the opportunities for women and people of color – and especially women of color – are proactively made available in the entertainment industry. With all the talk of progress in the news, the film and television industries are still overwhelmingly white and male, particularly in writers rooms and behind the camera. This bill made it through to the governor’s desk last year, and we must ensure that it passes this year if the state of New York is going to show that we support all citizens in their fight to make a fair living.”
Said Law & Order: SVU writer Celine Robinson: “This bill makes financial, moral and creative sense. Financially it incentivizes studios and networks to build their writers rooms in New York, creating jobs for New York based writers; morally it levels the vastly uneven playing field in writers rooms; creatively it invites more varied experiences at the table to create broader more representative storytelling. If our state government isn’t pushing to do the right thing economically for New Yorkers, morally for workers, and creatively for our platform, the New York State government is falling short.”
The guild said that in neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy plans to revive the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act pending inclusion of an additional tax incentive for diverse hiring, including writers. The Legislature is expected to vote on that bill Thursday.