×

Writers Guild Takes Aim at Screenwriting Abuses in Contract Campaign

Amping up its campaign for a strike authorization from members, leaders of the Writers Guild of America have blasted Hollywood studios for short-changing screenwriters.

In a missive posted Monday on the WGA websites, the guild lashed out at employers for instituting unfair practices amid shrinking development funding in an essay titled “What Happened to the Screen Business?”

“Employment of screenwriters has been at lower levels in recent years than in previous periods,” the essay began. “Tight spending policies adopted by the studios have driven some of the worst abuses to high levels. Free rewrites, pre-writes, roundtables, sweepstakes pitching and late payments are all symptoms of the studios starving the film industry of development funding.”

The essay came three days after the guild agreed to restart contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on April 10. Tension has been rising between the sides since they ended two weeks of talks on March 23 and the guild initiated a strike authorization vote among members. The current Minimum Basic Agreement expires May 1.

“Our objective continues to be to reach an agreement with the WGA at the bargaining table,” the AMPTP said in response. “We hope the Guild will engage with us on the issues in that forum when negotiations resume on April 10th.”

When talks broke down, the WGA told members that the AMPTP’s contract offer was insufficient to address the strains on working writers and the shortfall of its health plan. Most of the guild’s efforts toward rallying its 12,000 members — and swaying public opinion — has focused on the perceived inequities in TV writing, where a contraction from the traditional 22-episode season, has put the squeeze on writers amid $51 billion in annual profits generated by the six major entertainment conglomerates.

Monday’s missive made the case that studios are also squeezing screenwriters.

“Among the several evils spawned by the contraction of development is the one-step deal,” the guild said. “Traditionally, script deals include a first draft, rewrite and polish. To spread a smaller development budget across more projects, the practice has emerged to give writers only one shot at getting a script right. This is, of course, antithetical to the task of uniting the imagined films of writer and studio into one concrete script; that task takes several drafts, at least. It is also antithetical to a writer’s development as a writer. Writing, the aphorism goes, is rewriting.”

The essay said that pay for screenwriters, as calculated by the guild based on pension and health contributions, declined between 2000 when pay was $392.7 million, compared with $383.8 million in 2015. It cited the decline in DVD revenues, the rise of tent pole and franchise films and the choice by the studios to release fewer films — and asserted that screen employment continues to exist as a two-tier industry – those writing big studio films and those writing everything else.

“The worst offenses – pre-writes, free rewrites, sweepstakes pitching, screen writing rooms, and, one-step deals – are often exploitative at all income levels, but they are especially pernicious at lower levels of compensation,” the WGA said. “Many of these are enforcement issues, as free writing is already outlawed by the guild’s MBA. One-step deals are currently permitted by our contract. Curtailing these is a goal in the current negotiation.”

More Film

  • Neve CampbellVariety's Power of Women NY

    Neve Campbell Seeking SAG-AFTRA Board Seat on Matthew Modine Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    Neve Campbell is running for a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Campbell is best known for starring as Sidney Prescott in the “Scream” movies and as LeAnn Harvey in “House of Cards.” Her credits include “Skyscraper,” “Wild Things” and “The Craft.” Election ballots will [...]

  • Themba-Bhebhe

    Durban FilmMart’s Themba Bhebhe on Diversity: ‘We Are At a Crossroads’

    DURBAN–A new thematic strand at this year’s Durban FilmMart, Engage @ DFM, offers a series of think tanks and in-depth discussions concerning diversity and de-colonial approaches to and models for filmmaking. To head up the new initiative, the DFM tapped guest curator Themba Bhebhe, who has led the Diversity & Inclusion initiative at the last two editions of [...]

  • Durban Film Festival 2019 / Copyright

    South African Creatives Grapple Over Copyright Amendment Bill

    DURBAN–The South African government is planning to update its four-decade-old copyright legislation, but what that means for filmmakers was up for debate during a contentious and often heated session at the Durban FilmMart this week. While the Copyright Amendment Bill awaits the signature of President Cyril Ramaphosa, industry stakeholders remain divided over how the proposed [...]

  • 'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office

    'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office With Dazzling Debut at $180 Million

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has jolted the North American box office back to life with an opening weekend in the $180 million range, estimates showed Saturday. “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and could replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched last year with $182.7 million, as the ninth biggest North American [...]

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content