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WGAW focused on toon writers

Rising sentiment within the ranks of the Writers Guild of America West to incorporate animation writers has helped focus the spotlight on the plight of some 300 writers who work without residuals, health or welfare coverage.

While there has been a recent boom in animation, both in feature-length and for television, the lion’s share of writers in that field are not eligible to join the WGAW.

The WGAW board of directors will be hearing a report on the situation tonight at their meeting, while rank and file members have been hotly debating the topic.

Those writers who are unionized — at Disney, Warner Bros. or Hanna-Barbera — are classified as storypersons under the aegis of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, an IA local that mainly represents animators, as opposed to writers.

Under MPSC contracts, those writers receive no residuals, unlike writers of live-action features and filmed/taped television.

In the early days of animation, there were no scripts for cartoons, as scenes were often done on storyboard. In the 1960s, as more animation was being done, the networks began to turn to scripts, which now are often as complex as live-action scripts.

“The irony is that in this animation boom, prices for writers are going down, ” noted one writer. “And all they get paid is one script fee.”

This situation, and the question of WGAW membership, has been on the Guild’s back burner for several years.

One reason they’ve recently come to the forefront is that Brian Walton, WGAW exec director, stated last fall that animation writers were due monies from a deal to collect foreign levies from Europe.

The WGA’s collection of foreign levies — taxes placed on the sales of blank videocassettes abroad — not only covers live action programming but also animation.

Walton called MPSC business agent Steve Hulett to start up talks about how those monies will be distributed.

Hulett said, “I don’t want to start a fight with another union, but it’s come down to a matter of principle. They’ve got the money and we want to know when they will send it along.”

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