The WGA West says it’s seen an “uptick” in violations of its series TV contracts during the pandemic by companies trying to cut costs at the expense of their writers.
“As the industry adapts to production during the pandemic, some employers have tried to circumvent key aspects of writers’ pilot and series services deals,” the guild told its members Friday, urging them to “beware of these company practices” and to contact the guild’s legal department if they experience any of these “questionable practices.”
“Covid-19 has disrupted the entertainment industry and increased the time that it takes to produce a season of television,” the guild said. “To save money, and to protect themselves against future Covid-19-related disruptions, some companies are withholding writers’ over-scale producer fees even after production has begun or resumed. As a result, mid- and upper-level writers who negotiated for substantial episodic fees prior to the pandemic have been earning scale for weeks on end.”
The guild noted that its contract also requires that television writers be paid weekly compensation for all weeks during which they provide writing services. “Despite this, the guild has witnessed an uptick in instances in which writers are being paid below scale before a writers’ room opens or during post-production.”
The guild said that writers also have reported that some companies try to get “a head start on an upcoming season” by asking them to write story outlines or scripts before the writers room officially opens. “These writers are paid script fees but not the corresponding weekly compensation they are owed under their contracts or the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA).”
The guild added: “Some companies have also tried to undercut writers by paying them below scale during post-production, claiming that the MBA minimums don’t apply. However, if you’ve been hired as a writer, the company shouldn’t be separating writing from production work to underpay you and avoid paying your benefits. Writing and re-writing during post-production are exceedingly common, and you should continue to receive your weeklies even if you only performed minor script editing sometimes done by non-writers – such as cutting for time or adding bridging material – because those are writing services when performed by someone hired as a writer.”
Writers also have reported that some companies are “increasingly assigning scripts during a hiatus or room suspension, after the writers room has closed, or after a writer’s contract term has expired,” the guild told its members. “During these periods, companies sometimes fail to pay writers their weekly compensation. This is the companies’ way of having their cake and eating it too. They get the benefit of your uninterrupted writing services while paying you substantially less than they would if the writers’ room was ‘officially’ open.
“Similarly, if you are being told the writers’ room is closed or that a term in your employment agreement has expired, but you’re being asked to perform the same kind of services you were when the writers’ room was open, the terms of your weekly series services agreement may nevertheless continue to apply. In these instances, you may be owed additional weekly compensation, even if the company classifies your script writing services as purely ‘freelance.’” The guild noted that even if scriptwriting services qualify as freelance employment, its contract requires payment for each rewrite and polish.