The WGA is holding a membership referendum on a proposed change to its credit rules that if approved could give screen credits to hundreds of feature film writers who currently aren’t eligible to receive them. The referendum would authorize the use of an “Additional Literary Material” credit for all participating writers who do not otherwise receive writing credits on motion pictures.
“Currently, many screenwriters who have worked for weeks or months on a project do not receive any on-screen credit, nor are they listed in online databases,” the guild’s Screen Credits Review Committee, which proposed the rules change, said in a letter to members Tuesday. “By comparison, every crew member – even someone who works for only one day – will see their names in the end credits and on IMDb. In television, writers’ names appear on all episodes on which they are employed. The more exclusionary standard for feature writers often results in ‘résumé gaps’ and empty IMDb pages that may not accurately reflect a screenwriter’s career.”
The WGA said that it determined credits for 213 films in 2020. “On 69 of these films – roughly 1 in 3 – at least one participating writer received no credit. In total, 185 participating writers wrote on features for which they ultimately received no credit. These are the writers who would be eligible for a new credit.”
The guild noted that “This new credit would denote employment or sale of material, not authorship.”
The committee said that in crafting the proposed change, it “worked diligently to preserve the distinction between authorship and participation and to protect the primacy of the traditional writing credits (e.g., ‘screenplay by,’ ‘written by’) in the following ways:
• The words ‘writer’ and ‘written’ would not appear in the new end credit.
• The traditionally credited writer(s) – the ‘by’ writers – would continue to receive all the residuals.
• The placement of the new end credit would be distanced from the main writing credit.
• Only traditionally credited writers would have their names appear in advertising and publicity, participate in publicity events, and be eligible for awards and script publication fees.
In determining how eligibility for this new credit would work, the committee said that the starting point was “Participating Writers,” which is defined in the Screen Credits Manual as “a writer who has participated in the writing of the screenplay, or a writer who has been employed by the Company on the story and/or screenplay, or a ‘professional writer’ who has sold or licensed literary material subject to the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA).
“When determining credits, the WGA begins with the list of participating writers. There are established procedures for verifying who is or is not eligible, including writing under contract and delivering written material. The committee considered a range of possibilities for what to call this new credit. There was a strong preference for avoiding the terms ‘writer’ and ‘writing’ so as not to diminish the established credits.
“In the end, ‘Additional Literary Material’ was chosen to reflect the submission of literary material as opposed to mere participation in a roundtable or mini-room. Consistent with other end credits, there is no ‘by’ at the end of the ‘Additional Literary Material’ credit. It denotes employment or sale of material, not authorship.
“The committee confirmed with staff and legal that the Guild could determine and publish the ‘Additional Literary Material’ credit without approval from employers/studios or the AMPTP. Staff also confirmed that IMDb would follow the WGA’s guidance.”
The WGA noted that “Studios control the end credits of their films. Without changes to the MBA, the Guild cannot require that ‘Additional Literary Material’ be added to the end crawl of films. However, there’s a useful precedent to follow from television: staff writers. The Staff Writer credit was not established in the MBA but instead added through waivers. The Guild began permitting it in 2000, following codified language. It quickly became standard. Following this precedent, Screen Credits 2021 includes draft waiver contract language detailing how and where the ‘Additional Literary Material’ credit is to be listed. This contract language would serve as the template for individual negotiation with employers.”
If approved by the membership, the “Additional Literary Material” credit would apply to credits determined after December 31, 2021. It is not retroactive on films for which credits have already been determined.