Members of the Writers Guild of America West saw their earnings fall 3.1% to $1.23 billion in 2016, thanks to declines in both television and feature films.
Total covered earnings for WGA West members topped $1.2 billion for the third consecutive year, but the number of writers reporting earnings slid by 3.5% to 5,227, the guild disclosed in its annual report to members via its membership and finance committee chaired by Aaron Mendelsohn. The WGA West said that late reports should result in a slight increase in employment levels compared to 2015.
The stats in the report — which will start hitting members’ mailboxes this week — underscore the uncertain state of show business economics. Negotiators for the WGA West, which has about 9,000 members, stressed that point repeatedly during the contentious negotiations with production companies, which saw a 96% strike authorization and a deal that was concluded an hour before the previous contract expired on May 1.
Hollywood screenwriters’ earnings slid 6.4% last year to $359.8 million, and the number of writers reporting earnings fell 10.2% to 1,693. TV writers’ earnings declined for the first time in five years by 1.7% to $860.9 million, and the number of writers working declined 1.9% to 4,284.
The guild noted that the actual numbers for TV writers’ compensation are worse, pointing out “these figures do not constitute all writer income in television, nor do they reflect downward pressure on writers’ overscale income as a result of the growth of short season orders and other changes in the television and new media industry.”
The report said the WGA West has collected a total of $225 million in foreign levies and distributed $193 million of those funds to members. It generated $71,864 in interest from those funds with $779,900 in “administrative fees” for distributing the funds.
The report from the finance committee reported that the WGA West was holding $19.3 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.