Hollywood screenwriters’ earnings rose 1.9% last year to $362.1 million — the third straight increase — while TV writers’ pay fell 2% to $803 million, according to the Writers Guild of America West.
Total covered earnings for WGA West members topped $1 billion for the fifth consecutive year, down 0.9% to $1.176 billion, the guild disclosed in its annual report to members via its membership and finance committee.
The stats in the report, which was posted Tuesday on the WGA website, underscore the uncertain state of show business economics. Total employment slid slightly by 1.7% to 5,159, a decline of 82 slots from the 2014 number. But the WGA also said that late reporting will boost the numbers for both TV and film.
A total of 4,129 writers reported TV earnings, a decline of 22 slots, but feature film employment rose 3.6% to 1,799 writers — or 62 more than in 2014.
Feature film earnings have declined about 16% since 2009, when work rebounded from the 2007-08 strike and generated $432.2 million in earnings. Pre-strike stockpiling in 2007 had pushed screenwriting earnings to $526.6 million.
Earnings in the category of news, promotion, informational and interactive programming were down 11% to $11.3 million with 161 writers employed.
The WGA West, which has about 8,000 members, reported that residuals surged 3.4% to a record high of $400.1 million with gains of 5.6% in TV to $265 million, while sliding 0.5% in features to $138.4 million.
But the five-year comparisons show that film has been flat while TV has been surging. Film residuals are down 2.9% since 2010 while TV has gained 50% since 2010.
Residuals from new media — a flash point for the 100-day strike — have posted substantial gains since the work stoppage. New media reuse of TV programming jumped 13% last year to $25.4 million while new media reuse of films gained 21.% to $13.9 million.
The report said that the guild’s residuals department collected $45.8 million last year in investigating non-payment or under-payment of residuals, nearly double the $25.2 million in 2014. The guild’s legal department collected another $10.4 million last year, down about $6 million from 2014, in enforcement actions — mostly through the filing of grievances and arbitrations.
The new report also includes a bright picture of the WGA West’s financial outlook from the membership and finance committee chaired by Aaron Mendelsohn.
“The Guild had an operating surplus for the fiscal year of $3.6 million based on total revenues of $30.7 million, up slightly from $30 million last year,” it said. “The surplus was the product of growth in total writer compensation, a result of increased numbers of writers employed in the television and new media sectors.”
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 $13.8 million in foreign levies during its fiscal year ended March 31 and generated $71,864 in interest from those funds with $649,345 in “administrative fees” for distributing the funds. The guild said it distributed $12.4 million in the fiscal year, bringing the total distributed since 1993 to $178.7 million.
The report from the finance committee reported that the WGA West was holding $18.7 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.