Pay for television writers is not keeping up with industry profits, the WGA told its members Thursday in the guild’s latest update on its proposals for a new film and TV contract. The talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers got underway May 18 after the guild’s current contract, which had been set to expire May 1, was extended to June 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“TV series on television and streaming platforms provide the majority of employment opportunities for our members,” the guild’s negotiating committee said. “Still, certain trends in television production and consumption, particularly on the streaming platforms, continue to place downward pressure on writer income. These include the move toward short seasons, uncertain release schedules, and the separation of writing from production itself. The perverse effect of this is that, while the content we create, now distributed worldwide to hundreds of millions of viewers, has spurred an explosion in industry profits, writers continue to fall behind. In 2014 and 2017, we began to address these issues. That work continues in this negotiation.”
The guild said that its proposals “would help ensure that TV writers secure the gains and protections they need in our booming and ever-evolving business.” These are some of the gains the guild says it’s seeking at the bargaining table:
“SPAN PROTECTION: In 2017, we negotiated safeguards to protect writers on short order series from having their episodic fees amortized over an unlimited number of weeks. But the salary cap on those provisions means that too many writers are still seeing their weekly compensation pushed toward minimum. We propose eliminating the earnings cap on span protection.
“MINI ROOMS: Increasingly, writers are being asked to break an entire season of story in rooms that meet for brief periods of time and pay them only scale. In these rooms, writers often forego their episodic fees. Weekly compensation needs to be adjusted to reflect that more work is being done in a condensed period of time and to reward the value of the content that mini room writers create. We propose to extend the highest weekly minimums – the week-to-week rate – to all writers working 24 weeks or less on short order shows. We also proposed increasing the weekly minimums for orders of 25 weeks or more.
“OPTIONS & EXCLUSIVITY: Short orders and uncertain production schedules, both for series and pilots, have resulted in too many writers being held for extended periods of time, even after limited terms of employment. In today’s television market, writers need to be able to move on to the next job to make our year. Protections that were put in place over the last two negotiation cycles were a start, but they have too many exceptions. We propose that limits on options and exclusivity now extend to all writers who are not on overall deals, without regard to earnings, and that the option period not exceed 30 days. This would apply both to writers of series and pilots. Pilot writers, in particular, often find themselves in extended, impossibly burdensome holds as the gap between writing and production widens. Lastly, we propose that no writer working for fewer than 12 weeks be subject to a unilateral option.
“TEAMS: The fact that TV writers working as a team are paid the same amount as individual writers does not make sense. Teams may split scripts, but they do not split time in the room. They contribute two separate voices. They work as individuals. And now, with the growing prevalence of short order series, the arbitrary penalty of working for half of minimum has become unsustainable for many teams of two. We propose a higher minimum for writers working as a team. In addition, we propose that the current pension and health benefit caps apply, not to the team as a whole, but to each writer, individually.
“SCRIPT PARITY: The value of a script does not vary based on the network or service for which it is produced. The network prime time rate is affordable and easily absorbed into any episodic budget. Simply put, a script is a script is a script. We propose standardizing the value of a script at the network prime time rate.
“STAFF WRITERS: A script is not worth zero because a staff writer writes it, rather than a story editor or a writer-producer. Yet, if a staff writer writes a script, they are paid nothing beyond the weekly Article 13 rate. This is an arbitrary relic of the past. Staff writers contribute both their time and their writing to the success of a show. They should be paid for both. We propose that script fees must be paid for every script, to staff writers, just like any other writer. And we propose that staff writers get on-screen credit, like all other writers on the series and, for that matter, everyone else who works on the show.”
In previous communiques, the guild’s negotiating committee has said it’s advocating for an across-the-board increase in minimum salaries; tiered bonuses for streaming residuals; greater protections for its pension plan; first-ever residuals for theatrical films shown in foreign markets; paid parental leave; and better terms and conditions for comedy-variety writers on subscriber-based streaming shows.
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