WGA West Board Candidates Address Wide Range Of Issues Ahead Of Next Year’s Contract Talks And Possible StrikeAugust 13, 2022
Next year’s contract talks and a possible writers strike are looming large over the WGA West’s ongoing board election, in which 17 candidates are vying for eight open seats. The WGA’s current contract doesn’t expire until May 1, but in their campaign statements, many of the candidates are making it clear that they’re prepared to strike if the guild can’t get a fair deal at the bargaining table.
And there’s considerable pent-up demand for major gains, in no small part because in 2020, when the WGA’s previous contract was set to expire, contractual advances the guild had hoped to make became all but impossible to achieve because the threat of a strike was all but off the table as the industry was already shut down by the first wave of the Covid pandemic.
Several candidates observed that the guild’s historic victory last year in reshaping the talent agency business – banning packaging fees and limiting agency ownership of production entities to 20% – also has strengthened the WGA’s hand going into the 2023 contract talks. Still others pointed to the 100-day strike of 2007-08 and how the major gains it achieved in New Media could not have been won without a walkout. Two of the candidates – Ashley Gable and Rich Talarico – even served as strike captains during the industry’s last major strike.
“I don’t want to go on strike,” board candidate Van Robichaux wrote in his campaign statement. “Nobody wants to go on strike. I think we are probably going to have to go on strike.”
“Inflation is at 40-year highs. If we accept the contract the companies are likely going to propose as their final offer (3% raises at best – and a few ‘rollbacks’), it will mean that while media companies make record profits, professional writers will end up working for the lowest real wages in 40 years.
“But I can hear the companies claiming there’s a looming recession and they simply can’t afford to pay us. It won’t matter if that recession means people are going out less so spending more money on their streaming platforms or that profits (even accounting for inflation) will be at 40-year highs. They are still gonna claim they can’t afford to pay us what we deserve, and they are going to try to frighten us into believing them.
“I’m ready to stand up to them and also to clearly communicate with the concerned parts of our membership that may want to give in and accept what the companies want to give us. We will need solidarity and that is going to take patience and lots of dialogue with the membership. If I’m elected, it will also probably mean me thanklessly taking a lot of shit from certain angry members. I’m ready and willing to take that shit for you! If you don’t think it’s worth threatening a strike – and quite possibly going on strike – to get what we deserve, please don’t vote for me. But, if like me, you want to keep the jobs of screen and television writer jobs people who aren’t already wealthy can survive in Los Angeles doing, I hope you do vote for me.”
Brimming with ideas for change, the candidates are offering a wide range of proposals on everything from higher minimum pay rates, bigger streaming residuals, more secure pension and health benefits, greater equity & inclusion, the elimination of free work, and the curbing of mini-rooms, where groups of underpaid writers are gathered in advance of the production of a television series to break stories and write scripts.
To read all the candidates’ full statements, click here.
Eric Haywood, an incumbent seeking reelection, wrote:
“As writers, we face a host of issues that require our immediate, collective attention: a pushback against the industry’s increasing reliance on mini-rooms, a drastic overhaul of streaming pay and residuals, an end to demands for free work, and the return to a system that allows lower- and mid-level writers the opportunity to be on set and in post to produce their scripts.
“In the upcoming MBA negotiations, we can’t afford to hope that the multi-million-dollar corporations that produce and distribute TV shows and movies will suddenly come to their senses, realize they have ‘enough’ money in their bank accounts, and share the wealth with writers out of the goodness of their hearts. To the contrary, we should expect absolutely no gains for which we aren’t prepared to fight tooth and nail. Hopefully, this won’t require a strike, but if the success of the agency campaign has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish with a unified membership that empowers its leadership to show no fear at the negotiating table.”
Former board member Angelina Burnett wrote: “As we head into what may be a conflict negotiation, the board needs as many skilled and experienced leaders as are willing to serve.” She then listed a number of gains the members need, and for which they’ll be willing to strike.
One of those potential strike issues is better minimum and over-scale compensation. “There seem to be more writers than ever working at or near minimum,” she wrote. “While the majority of members continue to work above minimum (aka scale), that ‘over-scale’ ceiling has lowered for all but our most successful. This downward pressure has been evident in the data for some time, but now we’re also dealing with inflation. A dollar buys less than a year ago.
“Traditionally, the Guild bargains a 3% increase in minimums every contract cycle, but we do not have a direct mechanism to raise the over-scale ceiling. We delegate that responsibility to agencies. What the Guild can do is create favorable conditions for agents to raise it as high as possible. The 2014 and 2017 MBA negotiations created some of those conditions through option and exclusivity provisions, and span protection in tv. We then spent three years properly aligning agency incentives.
“With incentives aligned, the Guild can now make a powerful move to create the conditions for a higher ceiling. We can dramatically lift the floor and double minimums across the board.”
“Will it take a strike?” she asks. “Yes.”
“Should we consider striking for this? Yes.”
Residuals and profit participation are also worth striking for, she said. “Ensuring we are fairly compensated for the value we create is a fundamental requirement of the MBA but the streamers’ black box handling of data makes it difficult, if not impossible. Whether in collectively negotiated residuals (which fund health and pension funds across the guilds/ crafts), or individually negotiated back end points, every creator and unionized person employed in film and television is cheated by this secrecy…While it is worth noting that the streaming residual gains we made in the 2020 MBA haven’t kicked in yet due to a grandfathering clause baked into the negotiating ‘pattern’ (agreements made by other unions that take power and leverage to depart from), incrementally improving the residuals formula we currently have can only get us so far.
“At some point, the companies must be forced to open the black box and share data with unions and profit participants. Will it take a strike? Almost Certainly. I hold a smidge of hope there are nuances here that would lead them to concede with only the threat of a strike. I wouldn’t bet on it, though. Should we consider striking for this? Yes.”
E. Nicholas Mariani, an incumbent, stressed that the strength and unity the guild achieved in the agency campaign and the 2007-08 strike should be brought to bear at the upcoming contract negotiations. “We’ve got some big fights ahead of us as we prepare for next year’s MBA negotiation,” he wrote. “Chief among them: streaming residuals, viewership transparency, dwindling backend, an epidemic of free work in both features and television, a decades-long downward trend pushing writer pay further and further towards minimums, the companies’ constant pressure for rollbacks on pension and health, the rise of mini-rooms, script parity across platforms, unfair compensation for writing teams, script fees for staff writers. The list goes on and on.
“As I said when I first ran, I sincerely believe that many of these issues – most notably streaming residuals – represent existential threats to our guild. We have a narrow and increasingly diminishing window of opportunity to tackle them head on, much like we did in 2007 with domain over the Internet, and my greatest hope is that everyone who serves on the next board will approach these issues with the same tenacity and fighting spirit with which we waged the agency campaign.”
Ashley Gable, an incumbent who was a named plaintiff in the guild’s epic legal battle against the Big Three talent agencies, wrote that when she first ran for the board in 2018, “two major concerns were the then-upcoming agency campaign and the 2020 MBA negotiation. I worked my behind off on the agency campaign, and I am proud of our win. But the MBA negotiation, which was going to be so important, ended up being circumscribed by the pandemic and our subsequent inability to mount a credible strike threat. Although what we were able to gain from the companies was substantial given the circumstances (paid parental leave!), it turns out that our most critical issues were left unaddressed until next year’s negotiation. I am asking for your vote so that I can tend to this unfinished business and fight for more gains for writers.”
“The agency campaign showed the immense strength of writers’ collective power. I believe that power was crucial in giving us what leverage we had in the 2020 MBA negotiation. Although it was rage-inducing not to make gains specific to screenwriters and other groups increasingly disrespected by the companies, it was not surprising given the position we were in. As a wise person once told me, in any negotiation you don’t get what is fair, or reasonable, or right. You get what your power merits.
“In the upcoming negotiation, we must apply our power to put more money in writers’ pockets. We must negotiate responses to the effects of vertically integrated streaming, mega-mergers, the convergence of theatrical and SVOD (subscription video on demand), shorter TV seasons, the increasingly common scourge of the mini-room and subsequent assault on TV producing fees. Writers’ pay across all platforms is being driven down to scale. We need a richer streaming residuals formula. We need script parity across all platforms. We need minimums for comedy/variety content on SVOD.
“We need a lot of things, and we will have to marshal all our power to get them. The 2020 negotiation in a pandemic was unlike any before it. In 2023, it’s possible things won’t be entirely ‘back to normal’ either. How we communicate with members, how we maintain solidarity, how we demonstrate power, even how we conduct a negotiation – all these things may be different. I have faced new and unknown challenges in the agency campaign, which also was unlike anything before it. I think I can be of use to writers in 2023. I ask for your vote.”
Danny Tolli, co-chair of the Latinx Writers Committee, wrote that streaming residuals and compensation “should be one of our top priorities in the coming negotiation. Corporations make billions – record profits – off our stories, while we get the short end of the stick. With our current reality of nonexistent backend, low-budget provisions, companies fudging their subscriber numbers, and straight-to-VOD releases, we cannot sustain ourselves under the present residual formula.”
“The proliferation of mini-rooms across all platforms is eviscerating the mid-level and stripping our power as on-set producers. Tied to this, free work in development (both features & TV) must be curbed, whether through the MBA or engaging with producers on a proactive campaign. And with recent mergers & acquisitions downsizing the industry and limiting our opportunities for employment, we must achieve pay & credit parity across networks, raise the minimums for writing teams, and finally compensate staff writers for their scripts.
“But there’s more work that needs to be done outside the negotiating table, particularly when it comes to creating a more unified and equitable Guild for all writers. As a gay Latino writer, I’ve seen gains in the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) space, but the needle has not moved enough towards equitable justice. BIPOC creators continue to be held back from running their own shows. Roughly 26% of Americans are disabled but only account for 0.7% of the Guild. Latinx people are disproportionately underrepresented in a city where we make up almost 50% of the population.
“Ageism runs rampant and older writers are actively marginalized and erased from the conversation. Harassment, discrimination, and abuse continue despite the collective reckoning with these issues in the last few years. I applaud the Guild’s recent efforts to protect our members from toxic work environments and discriminatory hiring practices — and if elected, I will work towards an industry that is an inclusive, equitable, and accountable space for all writers.”
Deric A. Hughes, an incumbent, wrote that during his four years on the board, “We took on and won an agency campaign, we’ve negotiated an MBA (in the middle of a pandemic) that created meaningful gains for writers (sigh, in the middle of a pandemic). But even though the 2020 MBA negotiation was considered a success during very trying times (I did mention the word ‘pandemic,’ right?), there were multiple important issues that were taken off the table/ left unaddressed… until the 2023 negotiations (yes, next year). And it’s this reason and this reason alone, that I am asking for your vote so I can help continue to tackle the many problems so many of us find ourselves experiencing at this upcoming crucial juncture in our union’s history. Because one of the most important things I’ve learned since serving on the Board, there’s always more work to be done.”
“And now, with the upcoming 2023 MBA negotiations, there are many more important issues that still need to be addressed. And as a BIPOC writer (Black and Japanese, for those wondering and or like myself, have brain fog), my goal is to continue to find ways to help better address/solve multiple issues: such as the ever-growing income disparity and complete disregard for the welfare and healthcare burdens for writing teams (of which I continue to be half of one). The out-of-control abuse of mini-rooms – which have now become writers’ rooms at a super-premium discount – that is decimating most writers’ abilities to have any chance at developing/maintaining a successful and thriving career. Script parity – a script is a script, no matter the platform. The endless amount of excessive free work found in both television and film. Finding even more ways to support/push for inclusion and equity for all marginalized writers of any age. And finally, to help ensure our important health and pension continues to remain solvent, in the years to come.”
Ryan Walls wrote in his campaign statement:
“We’re going into a major negotiation, and I’d like to be there to fight on your behalf. I believe we deserve a much better deal than what we’ve received in the past from studios making billions of dollars off our creativity. To see a fall in writer employment and earnings in recent years is absolutely unacceptable. Whether you’re an upper level writer effected by the limits of span protection or a staff writer who isn’t being paid for writing a script (Really? Still?), we need to see improvements for all guild members.
“As the studios seek out new revenue streams, like bringing advertising onto their platforms, it’s clear the cost-plus model, which was already hurting writer profits, is not sustainable for our side of the business. It needs to change now. It’s going to be a fight to overhaul a business model that’s been in place for far too long, but it’s one I believe is worth taking on. The ‘new technology’ caps on our earnings and residuals are outdated and we need an agreement that allows for greater ownership and profit participation for all writers. Our value needs to be recognized.”
He went on to say that “while there’s focus on the negotiation ahead, it’s important we don’t lose sight of another serious issue that continues to plague our union: lack of representation. We need a push for greater inclusivity. I’ve had the great opportunity to work as a mentor with the Support Black Creatives Initiative and the Latinx Writers Initiative. These programs are so important to help build writer relationships and strengthen our community. So many of our fellow unions put a premium on apprenticeship. Let’s make mentorship standard for the WGA. I would like to implement a program that would connect writers enrolled in our showrunner’s training with new members just starting out in their careers. Let’s encourage bringing together new voices with those staffing rooms and help expand the pathways to work and benefits. The bigger the Guild the better.”
Travis Donnelly, an incumbent, wrote: “In my time on the board, we’ve aligned the financial interests of agents with writers, gained unprecedented contract transparency and created a groundbreaking paid parental leave benefit for members. Our diversity efforts have led to a shift toward a world where the people writing movies and television are beginning to resemble the people watching them…But despite these efforts, the financial lives of most writers have been getting worse. So what happened? How in the age of so-called peak TV, and with the explosion of streamers, have so many writers found themselves making substantially less than they were a few years ago?”
The answer, he said, is that “The studios pulled off ‘The Great Hollywood Wage Heist,’ and our profession has never been the same. When the streamers entered the game, everything changed. The studios began telling writers things that simply weren’t true. ‘A mini-room is not a writers’ room.’ That’s patently false. ‘You aren’t producing in a mini-room and should only be paid minimums.’ Not true. ‘A small upfront residual for streaming your work in perpetuity is fair.’ It’s absolutely not.”
With respect to wages and residuals, Donnelly wrote that “writers in TV and features have seen both slashed by ‘The Great Hollywood Wage Heist’ and, looking towards the 2023 MBA, restoring both has to be our top priority.”
“The Great Hollywood Wage Heist,” he says, “changed the careers of all writers. I’m running for another term on the board because I believe the upcoming MBA will be the most consequential of our generation. The priority is clear – wages and residuals must be dramatically improved. This new system built on mini-room minimums and small upfront residuals is not sustainable. Our profession is at a cross-roads and our livelihoods are at stake.”
Rich Talarico, a strike captain during the 2007-08 walkout, has been on a 10-year mission to end what he says are the companies’ continued violations of the guild’s five-minute promotional clip exemption through their excessive exhibition of clips without any additional compensation for writers.
“I learned a lot during the strike,” he wrote. “In 2007-2008 we knew that 48% of WGA members are in development at any given time. Royalty payments are not a luxury, they keep writers and their families alive during periods of development and pitching. Residuals are lifeblood to writers and go to heirs and heirs of heirs – so it’s crucial that royalties are fairly calculated and distributed…Sadly, I would soon become more personally aware of incredibly unfair Company practices that are devastating writers’ livelihoods to this day and are hidden in plain sight.”
Talarico, a former writer on Key & Peele, said: “I’ve been working on this issue for 10+ years and I’m not just doing this for Key & Peele writers, I’m doing this for all comedy writers now and in the future, on any network that practices these contract abuses (NBC and SNL clip use for example). Our shows getting staggering numbers of views in the promotional space, but earning no compensation for this use, is ridiculous. Writers and their families rely on residuals and as Matthew Weiner said, if someone is using our work, we should be paid for it. Even if I am not elected to the board, I promise to fight this issue until we get a fair deal on this use. What happens next is up to us, the membership. Will there be a ‘happily ever after’ for comedy writers? I hope we can all work together to demand better from our union and our employers. As writer Andy Gellis told me during the 2007-2008 strike: ‘People need to remember, writers write this stuff. It doesn’t come out of the air.’”
Justin Halpern wrote that members being short-changed on streaming residuals is a problem that “keeps coming up and it’s always going to keep coming up. There was a time when residuals were what carried writers through tough times and now, when times are as tough as they’ve ever been, we need that compensation for our work more than ever. I believe we must look at this as an ongoing fight that must never be settled and worthy of striking if we feel that we are not being treated fairly.”
As a member of the guild’s Animation Writers Organizing Committee, he’s also committed to bringing more animated shows under the guild’s contract, as opposed to companies forcing writers to work under the terms of the rival Animation Guild’s contract. Earlier this week, he and several of the other candidates were among the more than 1,500 showrunners and writers who signed a pledge to fight for WGA coverage of their shows.
1500 WGA Members Sign Pledge To Fight For Guild Coverage Of Animation Work
“Animated shows are where more and more younger writers are finding themselves working,” Halpern wrote in his campaign statement. “My partner and I have co-created and run two adult animated shows for Warner Brothers Animation, a studio which has never in its history made a WGA animated show. This may seem like the part where I tell you we were able to flip the studio to WGA, but instead, this is where I tell you we tried and failed because we were naive. But in attempting to turn the shows WGA, I learned exactly what we’re up against and what it will take to get it done. If we don’t fight this fight now, very soon we will never be able to get animated shows to be WGA. This is why I have joined the WGA Animation Writers Organizing 2022 Committee. It will take a massive movement by WGA members to win this fight.”
Raphael Bob-Waksberg, a veteran animation writer, said in his campaign statement:
“Creatively, there’s never been a better time to be writing cartoons! There are so many amazing animated shows and movies from a wider variety of voices than ever before. But more and more, the big studios and networks are blocking the WGA from covering these projects, which means the writers aren’t guaranteed WGA minimums and the projects don’t pay into our health and pension funds.
“With episode orders shrinking, more writers are jumping back and forth between live action and animated staffs. Those writers will tell you: it’s the same job. Writers shouldn’t take a pay cut just because they get hired for a cartoon. And writers shouldn’t have to choose between taking a job on an animated show or holding onto their health insurance. Like most things, this trend has gotten worse in recent years due to corporate consolidation.
“Studios that were once WGA-friendly have been gobbled up by larger studios with ‘No WGA in animation’ mandates, and networks that once relied on outside studios to make and budget their shows are now making the shows themselves and looking to squeeze costs wherever they can. I think it’s particularly ugly that this squeeze is happening right at the moment when animated shows are finally starting to tell more diverse stories from more diverse writers. Incidentally, this ‘Welcome to the club; we’re going to pay you less’ routine is not unique to the world of animation. We still have a long way to go towards equity in this industry for women, POC, and LGBTQ+ writers; to get there we need to push back against patterns like this.”
“This is an issue the guild needs to rally around, and it’s the main reason I’m running for the board,” Bob-Waksberg wrote. “With the board’s one animation writer leaving at the end of this term, we could soon have a board with zero animation writers on it, which I think would be a mistake, especially as we head into a negotiation year.
“This problem requires unity. It won’t just be solved by showrunners making emotional appeals to creative executives. I’ve taken a hard line and refused to work on non-WGA shows. I ended up walking away from a project I helped develop because the studio decided my contributions were less important than the contributions of ‘not paying writers a living wage.’ It was a heartbreaking decision for me – I loved the show – still I couldn’t allow myself to perpetuate this toxic practice. But one writer at a time saying no isn’t going to move this mountain. We need to act collectively.”
John Rogers, a longtime film and TV writer, wrote:
“As a Guild we’re facing a perfect storm of old decisions and new industry models making it harder than ever to break into the business, gain production experience, and make a living as a working screenwriter. Unfortunately, too often we’re playing catch-up, trying to preserve some version of familiar benefits we established during the old, comfortable model, when staffs were large, seasons were long, and back end was meaningful. That world is gone. It’s not coming back. We need to embrace the upcoming AMPTP negotiations as our best hope to set ground rules for the new industry that’s already evolving around us.
“Our current television staff pay structure, treating staff writers as ‘writers’ and all levels above that as ‘writers employed in additional capacities’ is an elegant fiction to cover the evolution of the industry from the freelancer-driven model of the 70’s, through the large staffs writing and shooting 22 episodes concurrently during the 80’s and 90’s, then into the shorter cable seasons of the 00’s. This system is now breaking down due to mini-rooms, production being severed from the writing contract timelines, chaos in streaming development, and the corporate environment.”
Writers, Rogers said, “should be paid for their work; writers and their work should be treated equally across technologies and distribution systems; the best path through the current chaos is standardized, up-front payments. I know that a lot of the allure of our industry is the jackpot dangled before us: the back end of a giant movie hit or successful television syndication deal. The truth is, the industry is changing in ways that make these already elusive jackpots nonexistent. The WGAW has proven itself, in recent years, both innovative and relentless in addressing our new challenges. With your support, I believe I can work with fellow Board members to move some of these solutions forward.”
David Schulner, a veteran TV writer, said that when the WGA sits down to negotiate a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers next year, “the AMPTP needs to look across the table and see the very writers who are making the studios and networks all the money they say they aren’t making. So, I’m running now. Because I love the Writer’s Guild and want to help when it matters most.”
Schulner said he’s “passionately against mini-rooms in TV. It’s a cheap way to get our best ideas. Those first weeks in a writer’s room completely shape a series. And that’s worth far more than a weekly minimum. Musicals in development (equivalent to mini-rooms) have started to contractually guarantee participants a cut of the show (Hamilton, Mean Girls) should they become profitable. You want to hire us for a mini-room? Either pay us our episodic fee or give us a piece of the show.”
This, he said, “leads me to another thing I’m passionate about, because the above example is not just about studios trying to get something for nothing, it’s about showrunners letting it happen. Showrunners, especially those of us under deals, can say, ‘no.’ We can say ‘no’ to unfair practices like mini-rooms… We can say ‘no’ to overwhelmingly white and male sets. We can say ‘no’ to abusive behavior perpetrated by other showrunners. We have that power and responsibility. And let me tell you, when it comes to DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), the studios are on our side. All it takes is for us to step up. So, I would encourage those of us who have power in this industry to use it.”
Timothy Dowling, a veteran feature film writer, wrote: “I feel the board has been doing a great job and have so much respect for everyone who has served and what they have accomplished but feel that the past few contract negotiations have been mostly about issues affecting TV writers. All those issues are obviously important but I also think we need more representation on the board from feature writers.”
In addition to his call for pay for pitches and bigger residuals for streaming, Dowling is urging the guild to “push to stop filming in states that promote intolerance.”
“As a guild we need to push for the change we believe in. And need to push the studios to stop filming and funding states that are anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and have unrestrictive gun laws. We need to lead to create change. And the only way we might affect these increasingly backwards laws in some states is to not spend money there. Let’s instead support states that support tolerance and the rights of everyone.
“I would love to create a team across the guilds to meet with the Governor to push for even more expanded tax credits in California. Let’s bring more work home and away from states that love to bash Hollywood and California but will gladly take our money and our jobs. Most big movies shoot in Atlanta, Canada or London. Let’s fight for a bigger tax credit that brings those big movies back to Hollywood.”
Leah Folta, a writer of kids’ comedy, genre comedy and feature films, is campaigning for better pay and benefits for writers who work as teams. “I just celebrated 10 years of writing partnership with a longtime friend and beautiful genius, and in the room, we each contribute more than half a person. We also each need more than half a person’s worth of healthcare and pension. All of the ways our profession has gotten more financially strained the last couple years is felt literally double by teams, some of whom have made the difficult choice to restart careers as an individual instead of continuing to split an income. It’s necessary that we keep the momentum alive for MBA gains for teams.”
She also believes that “feature writers are overdue for MBA gains and heavily exploited by things like low minimums, unpaid pitches on IP (intellectual property), stacked bake-offs, and giant streamers with huge projects who pay like they’re indies. My partner and I have been writing and pitching specs for the last year and have been told it’s unusually difficult right now to break in and to gain traction with anything but studio IP. I’d like to add my voice to our existing excellent feature leadership and help the momentum for feature gains continue to grow.”
As for inclusion and equity, she said “We’ve already benefited so much from our Inclusion and Equity Department and reporting from TTIE (Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity), and I know the WGA is just at the beginning of its efforts to increase inclusion. Writers have massive power over how the whole world perceives underrepresented groups, and this responsibility deserves our continued energy and resources.”
Veteran writer-producer Robert H. Wolfe said that in the upcoming negotiations, “The Guild as a whole will have to determine what gains, if any, we’re willing to strike to get.” Streaming services, he wrote, “currently pay much lower residuals than networks or traditional syndication, both for features and television episodes. This practice undermines the financial stability of writers and reduces payments to our pension and health funds. When I started in this business, writing several episodes of a successful show, or writing a successful movie, guaranteed years of future income, helping plug the gaps between jobs. Streaming has greatly reduced this income. We have won some gains in this area, but streaming services still enjoy a roughly 65% discount on residual rates. To address this issue, the Guild needs to fight for significantly higher streaming residuals, bringing them closer to parity with traditional network reruns.”
He also feels that writers should be paid for pitching projects. Saying that “pitching is work” and that “work should be paid,” he said in his statement that the “proliferation of free work has long been an issue for screenwriters, and it’s increasingly becoming a concern for television writers, especially in streaming.”
Wolfe added: “
More and more, producers secure established intellectual property as source material, then engage in protracted auditions during which dozens of writers are asked to pitch their takes on I.P. they do not control, often over the course of multiple meetings for months on end. As a result, writers spend enormous amounts of time developing pitches, often paying for visual materials out of their own pockets, all just to secure if/come deals, many of which never bear fruit.
“Even for the winner of a pitch sweepstakes, actual payment can be months or even years away, contingent on a network sale or securing financing and distribution. Closing these deals requires more pitching and more unpaid work. This has to change.
“Some Guild members have suggested requiring payment for every pitch. Others worry this might shut out newer writers, many of them members of underrepresented groups. They’re concerned requiring pitch payments will deny them a chance to land jobs writing movies and creating shows. As a compromise, I propose the Guild negotiate payment for callbacks on pitches for any I.P. controlled by a producer or studio. In other words, the first pitch would continue to be free, but calling back a writer for any additional meetings should trigger a payment, even if it’s a nominal one.”
Wolfe went on to propose that the guild “negotiate meaningful minimums for payment on attachment to I.P. driven projects. So once a writer is formally attached to I.P. they do not control, they should be paid for the period of time during which they pitch the property to actual buyers. This payment should be commensurate with the time, money, and effort writers already put into preparing these pitches, giving us compensation earlier in the process and forcing producers to commit financially to their chosen writers.”
The guild will host a virtual candidates’ night forum, where members can pose questions to the candidates, on August 31. Ballots will be counted on September 20.
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