The Writers Guild of America’s two branches have boosted the cap for their year-old Low Budget Agreement from $750,000 to $1.2 million in order to encourage guild coverage of more indie films.
“We believe the market for films in this budget range is growing,” said screenwriter Bill Condon, a member of the WGA West’s independent film writer steering committee. “As it goes, so should the guild’s protections of those writers whose voices are being represented on screen.”
A total of eight films have been shot under terms of the low-budget agreement, which allows for salary deferrals and provides contract protections. The WGA said recent low-budget successes, including “Roger Dodger,” “Personal Velocity” and “Tully,” prompted expansion of the budget level.
E. Paul Edwards, who wrote, directed and produced “Fighting Words,” said he could not have made the film — a love story set in the world of poetry slam competitions in Los Angeles — without low-budget WGA and SAG agreements.
“I think these agreements are incredibly useful when you’re working on your own project,” he added. “The only way I could have finished this movie was to defer my writing fee and the actors’ salaries.”
The WGA Low Budget Agreement allows for partial deferment of compensation for the screenplay and first rewrite, but the money must be paid in full either when commercial distribution starts or production costs are recouped — whichever comes first. If the budget is under $500,000, the writer must be paid the $5,000 DVD publication fee once the writing credit is determined; if the budget’s between $500,000 and $1.2 million, the minimum due is $5,000 for the DVD fee plus $10,000 once principal photography begins.
Under its terms, original screenplays may not be rewritten without permission and writers of adapted material also have the right to do the first rewrite. Other provisions give writers the right to their material if the film hasn’t been produced within 18 months; films produced under the agreement will be eligible for consideration for the Writers Guild Award.
A WGA rep said use of deferrals and other provisions had varied significantly during the first year of the low-budget agreement.
The WGA basic agreement requires that the minimum original screenplay compensation of $34,740 be paid when the production budget is less than $5 million. Minimum screenplay purchase fee is $71,456 for films with budgets over $5 million.
Before the agreement was signed last year, WGA members could not defer compensation without a waiver that the guilds granted only on a case-by-case basis.
Similar deals at DGA, SAG
The Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild already offer similar low-budget agreements. The DGA reached a three-year deal with the Independent Producers Assn. last fall for a four-tier agreement: films produced for less than $1 million; greater than $1 million and less than $2.5 million; more than $2.5 million but less than $3.5 million; and for $3.5 million to $7 million, up from the previous cap of $6 million.
SAG’s agreements have five tiers for films up to $2 million, including an experimental agreement for films under $75,000. During 2002, SAG covered about 1,650 low-budget films.
IATSE announced Monday that its East Coast Council had raised the cap on its low-budget agreement from $6 million to $8 million. The below-the-line union said the previous cap had been in place for a decade and said the hike addresses the effects of inflation.
“In addition, it is anticipated that the move will help increase production volume in the New York area by addressing the reality posed by the current global production market,” IATSE said.