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Writers Guild of America Teams with Agents to Crack Down on Late Payments

Union will track failure to pay on time

The Writers Guild of America West is teaming with its franchised agents on a joint project to address what the guild calls the “chronic” problem of late payment to screenwriters.

The move was announced in a message to the 8,000 WGA West members from exec director David Young and president Chris Keyser.

“The goal is to change the culture of late pay that persists in Hollywood,” the duo said. “Initially, this program will be limited to delivery of literary material for features; if it’s a success we may broaden its application.”

The missive explained that the guild’s master contract requires payment to the writer within seven days after delivery of literary material.

“Because of this contractual requirement, writers should not have to wait for their paychecks for any reason,” Young and Keyser said.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which serves as the bargaining arm for production companies — responded with a statement endorsing the initiative and asserted that it will cooperate.

“We agree with the Writers Guild of America that writers should be paid on time,” the statement said. “We pledge our cooperation to address compliance in this important area. We encourage the guild to advise us of instances when writers have not received timely payments in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”

The initiative calls for the Association of Talent Agents to work with the WGA West in requesting that the ATA members voluntarily provide notice to the guild when screenwriters deliver their scripts by copying the guild on invoices, completing a “script delivery notice” form available on the guild’s website or emailing the guild.

Once the guild has received delivery information from an agent, it will track whether the writer has been paid on time — and if payment is late, a guild representative will contact the company to demand the payment, including accrued interest.

“Our intent with this initiative is to systematically track all theatrical script deliveries and payments, thereby eliminating the possibility that an individual member or agency can be singled out by employers,” Young and Keyser said. “WGA West screenwriter members may opt out of this new program by specifically instructing their agents not to inform the guild when they are paid late for delivery of literary material. However, we strongly urge all members to participate. When we stick together we have the greatest power to promote change and enforce timely payment.”

The duo also noted that late pay was one of the key sources of discontent identified in the WGA’s 2012 Screen Survey. “With this initiative, we hope that we have taken an important step to make it a thing of the past,” they said.

That survey polled 675 members of the WGA West and 68 members of the WGA.

A total of 72% of respondents said that their experience with major studios had worsened in recent years while 18% said it had stayed the same and 7% said it had improved; 70% reported that they had been asked “frequently” for free rewrites by the majors during 2011. The survey also revealed that 48% were frequently asked by the majors to participate in “sweepstakes” pitching or bake-offs.

Additionally, late payments were a frequent problem for 39% of respondents. Pre-writes and idea theft were both identified as frequent problems by 37% of the writers surveyed.

The survey also showed that 54% of respondents were asked by the majors to work before being paid for commencement of writing while that figure was 45% for work for the smaller studios.

The WGA has not yet set the start of negotiations with the AMPTP on a successor deal to its current master contract, which expires May 1.

The ATA and the WGA sent a notice to ATA members Friday, noting that the member survey showed that compensated late 65% of the time. It noted that the WGA Basic Agreement requires signatory employers to pay a writer within seven (7) days of “delivery of literary material to the person identified in the writer’s contract” in order to avoid 1.5% interest per month.

“The Guild asked ATA and its member agencies to participate in a joint project that will focus on the timely payment to screenwriters after delivery of literary material,” the missive said. “The intent of this initiative is to change industry practices and ensure timely payments to your clients.”

The notice asked agents to notify the WGA when an agency sends an invoice for payment upon script delivery.

“Seven (7) days after the WGAW receives notice of delivery of the literary material, the Guild will contact the agency to determine if payment has been made,” the notice said. “If payment has not been received, the Guild will pursue payment and late payments on the writer’s behalf.  To avoid singling out any individual writer, agent or agency, it is important that all of the WGAW franchised agents and guild members participate.”

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