Rewrite teams could benefit from changes

The Writers Guild of America plans to hold a referendum next month in a bid to simplify its Byzantine procedures for determining writing credits.

WGA members will be asked to consider three proposals for overhauling the credit process, which has long been a contentious issue for scribes. Proposals on the table would reduce the number of split decisions among arbiters and improve the chances that rewrite teams would gain credit, provided they contribute more than half of the final screenplay.

Another proposal would ease the restrictions on writers who double as executives.

The WGA, which is the final arbiter on who receives screenplay and story credit on pics and TV shows, has skedded four informational meetings for members starting next week on the proposed changes to its Screen Credits Manual for feature pics.

The WGA last held a vote on revisions to the rules in 2002, when members spurned a change that would have abolished the “heightened” requirement that makes it tougher for directors and producers to receive writing credit.

A look at the proposed changes:

  • Arbiters would be required to consult with each other via teleconference in all cases in which a decision is not unanimous. Current rules prohibit arbiters from communicating with each other.

  • Writers would continue to receive screenplay credit if they can show a contribution of more than 33% as a first writer or writer of an adaptation or 50% if they act as a subsequent writer on an original screenplay. But language allowing the arbitration committee to award screenplay credit to subsequent writers for “any substantial contribution” would be eliminated.

  • Subsequent writers who are part of the production executive team (where one or more members of the team is a hyphenate) would have to meet a contribution threshold for the team of “more than 50%.” The current requirement is “substantially more than 60%.”

In a message to members sent Tuesday, the screen credits committee said the teleconference proposal would allow arbiters to give the reasons for their decisions to their peers and consider other interpretations of the material and the rules. “The committee believes this proposal will go a long way toward improving the quality of our arbitrations and decreasing the number of split decisions,” it added.

The panel said that the second proposal is aimed at protecting first writers who also direct or produce their own original screenplays since, under current rules, screenplay credit can then be awarded to a subsequent writer for “any substantial contribution.”

As for the third proposal, the panel said, “The committee strongly feels that if any writer or team proves they contributed more than half of a final screenplay, they deserve credit.”

The committee also noted that hyphenates (and teams that include a hyphenate) still need to meet a more-than-50% standard as subsequent writers on adaptations and originals and that hyphenates proposed for credit will continue to trigger automatic arbitrations.

“In short, these proposals still hold hyphenates to a higher standard while preserving the special privileges that recognize the unique efforts of the first writer,” the committee said.

The proposals are likely to stir debate within the WGA.

During the run-up to the 2002 referendum, proponents of abolishing the more stringent credit rules for production execs contended that doing so would give the credits system more credibility on the grounds that it would more accurately reflect the actual contributions of writers.

But opponents argued that such a move amounted to a power grab by top rewriters and production execs and asserted that the heightened requirements should be retained since execs already have significant control over the collaborative process. That side of the argument won, with the proposal voted down 57%-43%.

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