Guild votes in favor screen credit revamp

Members of the Writers Guild of America have strongly endorsed a revision in the screen credits manual to ease the rules that govern how some of its more powerful members receive screenplay credit.

The guild announced Friday that 85.7% of votes (1,237 “yes” votes and 197 “no’) were cast in favor of a revamp that will equalize the screen credit rules for writers who double as directors or producers — but only on non-original scripts.

With the WGA as the final arbiter on who receives screenplay and story credit on pics and TV shows, credit determinations can have a profound impact on compensation and awards.

The WGA did not comment on the results in an email to members other than to note that the changes go into effect immediately.

The revamp did not generate any major opposition among guild members. Guild leaders had campaigned for the screen credits change, contending that it would smooth the way for entrepreneurial-minded writers to take control of their own material.

The leaders said in April that the revamp, blessed unanimously at the WGA West board and the WGA East Council, was needed because the rules at the time — requiring a heightened contribution from “production executives” to obtain credit — did not reflect current showbiz realities.

About 12,000 WGA members are eligible to vote, and the 12% turnout in this election was in line with historical norms of participation of less than 20%.

WGA members also approved a change in the guild’s TV credits rules, with 91.4 % of votes (1,319 to 86) in favor of requiring an arbiter teleconference in the case of non-unanimous decisions. That revamp mirrors a 2-year-old change in the feature rules, allowing for a guild-hosted teleconference among the arbiters and arbitration consultant if the arbitration committee can’t reach a unanimous decision.

A proposal for consolidation, reformatting and clarification of Television Credits Manual and Separation of Rights Manual received backing from 92.9% (1,341 to 64).

WGA members had voted down a broader screen credits proposal eight years ago that would have equalized the “production executive” rules for all screenplays. In that 2002 vote, which lost by a 57%-43% margin, opponents were able to mobilize scribe sentiment by contending the revamp would have eroded the position of the first writer in favor of more powerful writers working as directors or producers who rewrite.

The new screen credits proposal, crafted by the Screen Credits Review Committee, eliminates the existing regulation requiring that “production executives” such as writer-producers and writer-directors contribute at least 50% of the screenplay if they’re not the first writer. That rule remains in effect for original screenplays, however, with such scribes continuing to receive screenplay credit if they can show a contribution of more than 33% of the script as a first writer or 50% if they act as a subsequent writer on an original screenplay.

With the approval, the language has been changed so that the “more than 33%” standard applies for all writers on non-original material. The committee had told members two months ago that the use of the word “production executives” in the WGA rules had become outmoded.

“The fact is that in today’s film industry, ‘production executives’ who are studio executives simply do not submit literary material for credit arbitrations,” the committee said in a letter sent to members in April. “Writer-directors do. Writer-producers do. Because they are writers first. They are, in short, us.”

The panel also said in the letter to members that 1,400 members of the WGA are also members of the Directors Guild of America, and with development slates and budgets continuing to be squeezed, the guild should be encouraging writers to be entrepreneurial and take charge of projects they write, whether as directors or producers.

WGA members had strongly endorsed a trio of proposals in 2008 in a referendum aimed at simplifying procedures for determining feature screenwriting credits. Those revamps did not generate any major opposition among guild members, with 90% support for requiring credit arbiters to consult with one another via teleconference in all cases in which a decision is not unanimous.

Voters gave 86% approval in 2008 to a proposal eliminating language allowing the arbitration committee to award screenplay credit to subsequent writers for “any substantial contribution.”

And WGA members backed with an 83% approval rate a proposal to ease what was known as the “60% rule,” which set that threshold for directors, exec producers or others who are part of the production executive team on a project to also receive writer credit.

The old rule had stipulated that those subsequent contributors had to have contributed “substantially more than 60%” of the revised script to qualify for credit; the 2008 vote dropped that threshold to “more than 50%.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more