Far brighter outlook seen for TV writing

While TV offers growing opportunities for scribes, members of the Writers Guild of America East are forecasting a bleak future for themselves when it comes to writing screenplays for feature films.

According to a survey released Wednesday by the guild, half of the members who responded said that the declining number of movies being made is the biggest challenge WGA East will face in the next five years.

“Many also decried the lack of development deals in feature film and limited revenues from digital/online reuse,” the WGA East said.

The WGA East represents about 4,000 members while the WGA West has about double that number. About 20% of the WGA East’s members participated in the survey.

“Members view television as a more writer-driven medium than feature film, and a growing slate of compelling, creatively satisfying shows is being produced for the smallscreen,” the WGA East also said. “Although more than half of the respondents said they wrote feature films in the last five years, nearly 90% said they intend to seek guild-covered work in television in the next year. In other words, screenwriters plan to explore opportunities in TV.”

The finding comes with Hollywood’s major studios opting to continue allocating a growing portion of their resources on a few mega-budget franchise tentpoles. In a report released in July, the WGA West said that Hollywood writer earnings rose 4% last year to $1.02 billion as a 10.1% surge in TV writing overcame a 6.1% decline in feature film work.

TV earnings for the WGA West amounted to $667.2 million while feature film employment slid 6.7% as 1,537 writers earned a combined $343.4 million — the third straight year of declines as the six major studios made fewer mid-budget features. Feature film earnings in the WGA West have plunged 35% since 2007 when pre-strike stockpiling generated $526.6 million in writer earnings.

The WGA East survey also found that about 45% of respondents said they have also produced; nearly 30% have directed; and about 18% have acted. Nearly 20% of the survey respondents are also playwrights; 20% write novels and short stories; 16% write nonfiction books and articles; 10% write in nonfiction television; and 17% of the respondents indicated they have been paid to write for digital media.

The WGA noted that it first won jurisdiction over writing for digital media as part of the settlement in the 2007-08 strike.

One of the anonymous respondents said, “What I’ve learned the last few years is that I have to be open to more kinds of work – feature, TV, cable, etc. – and then work much harder to get the job.”

Another reiterated a longstanding complaint: “There is far too much ‘free’ work expected from producers and studios. This needs to change ASAP.”

The two Writers Guilds negotiate jointly with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and the current master contract runs out on May 1. No negotiations have yet been set.

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