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WGA targets budget docs

Number of docus released since '02 has grown by 85%

Citing the surge in documentary production, the Writers Guild of America has debuted its first contract aimed at writers of docus with budgets under $1.2 million.

“Unlike reality television, where programs are produced by multibillion-dollar media conglomerates, most documentary films are made on a shoestring budget by passionate filmmakers who often max out credit cards and take on second mortgages to complete their work,” said WGA West president Patric M. Verrone. “This contract gives these important writers and creators the opportunity to receive the same guild protections and benefits long enjoyed by writers working on productions with deeper pockets.”

Less than a dozen documentaries have been shot under WGA jurisdiction in recent years, with most produced by well-known documakers such as Michael Moore and Stacy Peralta. Guild noted that the number of docus released since 2002 has grown by 85% and that the number with writing credits increased by 45% last year.

“The genre is growing in popularity at a time when technology has made it possible for anyone with a Mac and a digital camera to produce a documentary,” said WGA East prexy Chris Albers.

Wednesday’s announcement comes four years after the WGA rolled out its first Low Budget Agreement, which allows for salary deferrals while providing contract protections for films with budgets under $1.2 million. Over 80 films have been produced under that pact, including “Nine Lives,” “Brick,” “Hard Candy,” “Ellie Parker” and Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Stay.”

As in the WGA Low Budget Agreement, the docu contract calls for WGA minimums of $36,856 for an original script and $29,993 for an adaptation along with pension and health contributions.

Writers not employed as producers or directors can partially defer compensation with upfront fees of $5,000 to $15,000. On films with budgets under $500,000 on which writers are employed as directors and/or producers, compensation can be deferred until commercial distribution starts or production costs are recouped — whichever comes first.

Move’s part of the WGA’s stepped-up efforts to expand jurisdiction. Guild launched an award last year for documentary writing, with Morgan Spurlock winning for “Super Size Me,” and will hold a Feb. 1 ceremony at the Hollywood Roosevelt to announce this year’s winner.

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