WGA West Earnings Slid 6.4% in 2013

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Hollywood writer earnings fell 6.4% last year to $1.01 billion as TV writing fell 6.2% and  feature film work plunged 7.2%, according to the Writers Guild of America West.

Total covered earnings for WGA West members topped $1 billion for the second time, the guild disclosed in its annual report to members via its membership and finance committee chaired by Carl Gottlieb. But the stats in the report — which began hitting member mailboxes in recent days — underline the troubling state of show business  economics.

Total employment slid slightly by 0.5% to 4,745, a decline of 22 slots from the 2012 number. The WGA said that late reports in coming months will likely result in a slight increase in employment levels.

A total of 3,681 writers reported TV earnings, which amounted to $668.5 million. Feature film employment fell 1.9% to 1,595 writers earning $333.1 million — the fourth straight year of declines as the six major studios focusing more of their resources on tentpoles while making fewer mid-budget features.

Feature film earnings have plunged 24% since 2009 when work rebounded from the 2007-08 strike and generated $437 million in earnings. Pre-strike stockpiling in 2007 pushed screenwriting earnings to $526.6 million.

The WGA West, which has about 8,000 members, reported that residuals surged 7.2% to a record high of $373.8 million with gains of 9.9% in TV to $233.7 million, 3% in features to $140.1 million and a 47.2% jump in new media reuse to $15.9 million.

But the five-year comparisons show that film has been flat while TV has been surging. Film residuals are up 1% since 2008 and peaked in 2010 at $142.4 million; TV has gained 55% since 2008.

The new report also includes a bright picture of the WGA West’s financial outlook from the membership and finance committee, noting the guild had an operating surplus of $5.9 million on operating revenues of $29.8 million for the fiscal year ended March 31.

“The surplus was the product of a 3.4% growth in total revenue, attributable to an overall increase in writer compensation, led by the television sector and investment gains generated from a strong equities market,” the report said.

The committee also noted that the report contains a supplemental schedule summarizing the foreign levies program activities. It’s the third year in a row that the guild, which began distributing the funds in 1993, has made the foreign levies report to members.

The report provided no details about the class-action suit, filed in 2005 by William Richert (“Winter Kills”), which alleged that the guild had not properly handled the foreign funds due scribes as compensation for reuse. The consent decree, signed in June 2010, included an agreement by the WGA to use its “best efforts” to pay all foreign funds within three years.

The supplemental table said that the WGA collected $14.4 million in foreign levies during its fiscal year ended March 31 and generated $19,253 in interest from those funds with $759,411 in “administrative fees” for distributing the funds. The guild said it distributed $13.7 million in the fiscal year, bringing the total distributed since 1993 to $151.7 million.

The report from the finance committee reported that the WGA West was holding $19.4 million in “funds held in balance” without breaking out how much of that is from foreign levies. The foreign levies for U.S. creatives began to flow after the U.S. agreement in 1989 to terms of the Berne Convention, which establishes the right of authorship for individuals who create works of art.


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