The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood’s production companies have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year master contract.
The tentative three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was reached late Tuesday following two days of talks over the options and exclusivity requirements for TV writers. The other issues had been settled as of the first week of March.
Effective Jan. 1, the new deal revises the provisions a company may negotiate with an episodic television writer who earns less than $200,000 per contract year: the agreement may not require the writer be exclusive except when the writer is being paid for writing services; and the company may not hold a writer for more than 90 days under an option without paying a holding fee of at least one-third of the minimum.
The new deal also includes a 3% annual wage increase; 5% annual increases in script minimums for hour-long dramatic basic cable rates; a 0.5% increase in the contribution to the pension fund; higher payments for ad-supported online streaming; and a reduced free streaming window from 17 days to seven days for the first seven episodes of a series.
The agreement came just a month before the current deal expires on May 1. Negotiations have been taking place at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in Sherman Oaks.
In a March 13 message from WGA West president Christopher Keyser (pictured above) and negotiating committee co-chairs Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) and Chip Johannessen (“Homeland”), the WGA disclosed three weeks ago that it had agreed on all parts of a new deal except for the inclusion of provisions that would cover options and exclusivity for writers working on TV series.
Negotiations launched on Feb. 3, recessed on Feb. 15 and resumed for a week in early March before being put on hold for two days of talks this week.
The question of TV options and exclusivity has become a key issue for WGA members, according to the missive, with series orders for as few as eight episodes becoming the norm.
“For over 50 years, writing for television operated on a predictable schedule,” the trio said. “Staffs on dramatic prime-time shows worked for 10 months to produce 22 episodes, then went on unpaid hiatus for two months before returning for the following season. But with the advent of basic cable, pay TV and now Netflix-type Internet shows, that changed.”
Terms of the new WGA deal must be ratified by members. Reps of the 8,000-member WGA West and the 4,000-member WGA East negotiated the pact jointly.
The AMPTP issued a statement noting that the new deal has been reached a month before the May 1 expiration of the current deal.
“The AMPTP wishes to thank the Guild and the members of its bargaining committee for their diligent pursuit of solutions to the difficult issues presented at the bargaining table,” the organization said. “We hope to sustain that spirit of cooperation as we embark upon a new three year relationship.”
The new WGA pact mirrors some of the gains in the Directors Guild of America’s deal, reached last November, which included an annual 3% wage increase and the establishment, for the first time, of minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video-on-demand such as Netflix.
The WGA staged a bitter 100-day strike in 2007-08. WGA leaders have asserted that the resulting contract achieved the key goal of providing for coverage of work in new media and compensation for re-use on new-media platforms.
During negotiations in 2011, the WGA, DGA, SAG and AFTRA achieved a 2% hike in minimums and a 1.5% increase in employer contributions to the pension and health plans. Concessions included a freeze on primetime residuals and the end of first-class air travel to sets less than 1,000 miles away.
SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP have not yet set a start date for negotiations on the performers’ master contracts — which are still separate SAG and AFTRA contracts, two years after the unions merged.