The WGA West says it has collected “tens of thousands of dollars” in interest payments in the past few months from companies that were late in paying their writers, including several interest payments in excess of $10,000 for individual writers.
The guild says much of its success in this area is attributable to its requirement that franchised agents turn over their writer-clients’ contracts, invoices, deal memos, writer compensation and commission information.
“Late pay is so pervasive that many writers have a story about waiting weeks, or even months, for a paycheck,” the guild told its members Friday. “It is one of the problems the Guild is working to address in the agency campaign.” The guild said that with the information the agencies are required to provide, “the Guild can now see when payment is due, then check with writers to see if they’ve been paid on time and, if payment is overdue, pursue both late pay and interest.”
“Already, writers have seen tangible results from the agency–Guild information sharing,” the WGA said.
This information sharing, however, has been one of the roadblocks to a WGA deal for a new franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents, and with Hollywood’s four biggest agencies, who have rejected the guild’s terms, saying they won’t give the guild their client’s contracts and invoices without their permission.
In April 2019, when the ATA was still in talks with the guild, the ATA said: “The WGA has requested access to client contracts and invoices so they can intervene directly with studios/employers to rectify situations on behalf of writers. While WGA already has authority to collect that information from its Guild members. and studios are also required to submit to the Guild, collection has been problematic. Agencies have agreed to provide the Guild with copies of writers’ executed contracts and financial information for writing services within the Guild’s jurisdiction – with the writer’s ability to opt out of sharing his/her confidential information.”
To further make its case for the need to get this information from agents, the guild cited stories penned by seven members who received “tangible results” as a result of this information-sharing program. Here are there stories:
Terri Kopp writes:
“I received an email from the Guild informing me that, under the new agency franchise agreement with Kaplan Stahler, they had started to receive contracts and invoices and recently received one of my invoices for an episode fee. They wanted to know if I had been paid on time, so I told them the date I delivered and the date I was paid, which was two months later. (I got interest on that, which was great!) Then I thought, now that you mention it, I have another project with the studio and they are also two months late paying me for that. So, the Guild pursued interest on that as well. And I just got a check for $1,400 in interest on that particular project. What was great about that is that I didn’t have to do anything. The Guild reached out to me.
“I had an experience prior to the agency campaign in which one of the other writers on staff called the Guild and said, ‘Hey we got these residual payments but it seems like they’re late.’ The Guild got us interest—quite a lot of interest—but it had to be initiated by the writer because the Guild otherwise had no way of knowing about it. So, the difference is pretty great. We don’t have to do anything about it.
“Under the Minimum Basic Agreement, the signatory company is required to pay you within seven days of commencement and delivery. But few writers know that. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and that is the first time I’ve known that they’re supposed to pay me within seven days! Even if I knew that before, what’s my enforcement mechanism? Am I going to be the pain in the ass that calls the studio and demands that I get paid? They kind of pay when they pay, is what people think. You don’t want to be the squeaky wheel or have your rep be the squeaky wheel.
When people hear we want agencies to hand over contracts and invoices, I don’t think that they understand the significance of it. I certainly didn’t understand before the agency campaign how financially significant the issue of late pay was to me personally. It’s a lot of money we’re talking about. It’s not the 27-cent residual check that shows up every now and then.”
E. Nicholas Mariani writes:
“I noticed a drastic change the moment the new rules went into effect. As a feature writer, I’ve sometimes had to wait as long as six months before getting paid. But now that the Guild is copied on every single invoice and has a more robust mechanism for enforcement, the checks are arriving promptly, usually within seven business days. It’s honestly a night and day difference and the best part is I don’t have to be the bad guy or risk being seen as a ‘difficult writer’ for complaining. It’s just automatic now. I love it.”
Tripper Clancy writes:
“I knew the payment from the studio was late right when it happened. I had worked hard on the draft, I met the deadline, and I fully expected the studio to hold up their end of the bargain and cut a check as outlined by the contract. Late payment happens all the time from nearly every studio and as a writer, you almost start to expect it. The Guild’s Agency Department emailed within a few weeks after the draft went in, asking if I had been paid. I told them I had not, but that I was sure the studio was working on it (at least, that’s what the studio conveyed to my agents). The Guild followed up with me again several more times over the next few months. When I was finally paid, the Guild calculated the late penalty and notified the studio. I’m not sure what happened at that point in the process, but a few months later, I received an email letting me know that the studio would be paying me about $1,700 as a penalty for the late payment.
“I’ve experienced late payment at least a dozen times, typically on feature projects more so than TV, but this was my first experience receiving any form of payment. The process worked exactly as it should. My agents looped in the Guild when they invoiced the studio for delivery, which allowed the Guild to track the amount of time between that invoice and my actual payment. Prior to the [Franchise Agreement], the agencies wouldn’t loop in the Guild on anything contractual, so it would be up to individual writers to either use the Start Button or to notify the Guild when they haven’t been paid on time. Agents typically aren’t fans of going after late payment because they don’t want to risk souring their relationships with studios, which is why it’s so helpful to have the Guild stepping in and handling it. Writers do the work. We should be paid on time. End of story.”
Jonathan Fernandez writes:
“This is a huge change for writers. Now, the agencies tell the Guild when they’ve invoiced the studio so the Guild can play the bad guy and go after the late pay that agents never ask for. For the first time in my 20-plus years as a WGA member, I received interest for late pay. And it’s real money. Credit card rates. In our favor.”
Victoria Strouse writes:
“It was pretty hard not to notice the late payment—it was four months late. The Guild contacted me (not the other way around) and asked if I’d been paid. I shared the facts with them, and very shortly thereafter, I received a check for four months of interest on the amount I was due. I was utterly shocked and utterly pleased. I’ve asked companies about late payments in the past, and it’s yielded nothing. The answer I’ve always been given is that the contract is not completed…. It goes without saying that that’s both an absurd and a maddening answer (why would the clock start on one end and not the other?) but the truth is, I have never had the time, energy, or bravery to take it on.”
John Whittington writes:
“I always knew the payment was late, but pretty much all payments are late. It’s just a question of how egregious the lateness is. The Guild contacted the studio and informed them that they owed me interest after failing to pay within two weeks of commencement. Then I got a call from the WGA one day and was told that they had secured an interest payment from the studio and a check would be coming my way. Soon after, I got the interest check from the studio. I was simultaneously shocked, delighted, and grateful!
“It was night and day from my prior experiences. For years, late pay was just part of the job. Something writers had no choice but to live with. Now it feels like studios will have the motivation to pay us on time or compensate us for dragging their feet. It’s great news for writers and an excellent step made by the Guild.”
Meg LeFauve writes:
“The Guild contacted the production company who had the funds and helped push for the payment. Even with an understanding exec trying to help us, still the check didn’t arrive. The Guild called to let the production company know that interest was accruing and then we got paid. I deeply appreciate the Guild being there for me and my writing partner. I didn’t want the interest for the cash (though that was nice). I wanted the interest as a piece of leverage to get the company to do what they contractually agreed to. I understand COVID-19 makes it a challenging time for companies, but I’ve been hearing the excuse of ‘overwhelmed accounting departments’ for years. It felt so empowering to have the Guild in the fight with me.”