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WGA pens new low-budget indie primer

Org creates agreement, Caucus to support non-majors

The Writers Guild of America is getting hip to the times.

Due to the spate of indie pics sweeping the awards circuit in recent years — “In the Bedroom” being one high-profile example — the folks at the WGA are no longer in the dark about just how far a nonguild low-budget feature’s legs can crawl.

Unable to ignore the rise of the independents, the once highly selective guild has decided to open its doors a bit wider and shepherd the indie tribe inside, via the launch of the low-budget agreement, and the creation of the Independent Film Writers Steering Committee and Caucus.

The low-budget agreement, announced in, was spawned to cover indie features budgeted at under $750,000, allowing the 11,500 members of the guild to defer initial payment for scripts and first rewrite. In exchange for deferring compensation, writers of original screenplays must give their OK to rewrites while authors of adapted material have the right to do the first rewrite. Prior to the new pact, members could not defer compensation without a waiver that the guilds granted only on a case-by-case basis.

The enactment of the agreement also means the scribes on low-end pictures earn the required units toward becoming WGA members.

In addition, agreement provides that rights to the material will revert to writers if the film has not been produced within 18 months.

“In the past, the guild did not recognize any project that was not a studio undertaking,” guild member and caucus co-chair Howard A. Rodman tells Daily Variety.

“Members involved with low-budget features had to hide their participation, or give up residuals. But it was ridiculous. The guild was in a sense sleeping and missing out on great writers, and writers were getting glossed over. It was a lose-lose situation.”

Rodman, who will chair USC’s School of Cinema-Television’s film and television writing division in the fall, is optimistic that the caucus will help to promote indie writers.

He co-chairs the committee with scribe Rodrigo Garcia (“Frida”). Other members include Bill Condon, Tony Drazan, Tony Bui and Stanley Isaacs.

Caucus was created to advance and promote the creative freedom of all writers — members and nonmembers.

Group’s primary goals are to bring guild contract benefits to all low-budget film writers; to reinforce alliances with other orgs in the indie arena; to provide educational outreach to film schools, writers and producers; and build the community of independent film writers within the WGA.

“We’re still in the early stages, gathering people and making the guild aware of what indie filmmaking is all about,” says Rodman. “We hope to follow a similar path to the now well-established animation caucus, and a few years down the line be known as a strong, vital and influential resource.”

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