Ten years ago, the Writers Guild of America had been on strike for three months, so the WGA West scrubbed its awards ceremony.
The WGA East, however, went ahead with its show, which turned out to be a fairly exuberant affair as it came after the two sides reached a tentative deal to end the strike earlier in the day.
This year, both branches of the WGA are planning the usual celebrations on Feb. 11 in New York City and Beverly Hills. The guild put the industry on edge last May as it negotiated down to the wire for a successor deal that was reached an hour before the contract expired. Key provisions included dealing with shorter TV seasons, residuals for streaming services, parental leave and the healthcare plan.
“We definitely made progress on the new deal,” says WGA West president David A. Goodman. “But many of the problems that writers were having last year are still here.”
Goodman notes that the most recent report for WGA West members shows that earnings fell 3.1% to $1.23 billion in 2016, thanks to declines in both television and feature films.
“Individual writers are earning less and doing a lot of work for free,” he adds. “We want to make sure that our members are not doing free drafts and that they know that they have the right to say, ‘I’m not supposed to do that so I won’t.’”
WGA East president Beau Willimon points out that WGA members gave guild negotiators a strike authorization in April with more than 96% support from voting by more than two-thirds of eligible members.
“The solidarity among the members was tremendous and it really showed the AMPTP [the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers] that we needed to be taken seriously,” he adds.
Both Goodman and Willimon assert that the WGA leadership is prepping for the next master contract negotiations for a successor deal to the current pact, which expires on May 1, 2020.
Both branches have also expressed solidarity with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and have also blasted President Trump on occasion. Willimon says the guild is working on a member survey and exploring ways in which to improve the culture among its members.
“We’re trying to do what we can to improve diversity but we don’t have hiring power,” he says.
And the WGA membership has jumped upward to well over 14,000 in the past two years, thanks mostly to organizing the digital media sector of key sites including Slate, the Huffington Post, Salon and Vice. That’s added more than 1,000 new members.
“It’s very heartening at a tough time for organized labor and it’s a tribute to the patience and endurance of our organizers,” says Willimon.
Goodman and Willimon were both elected in September, succeeding Howard Rodman and Michael Winship, respectively. They both say there’s no plan to revise the guild’s policy on awards eligibility, which disqualified Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-nommed screenplay “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Recent nominees and winners of the Academy’s prize that were excluded from the guild competition include “Birdman,” “Brooklyn,” “Lion,” “Room” and “The Theory of Everything.”
Goodman notes that the guild policy is derived partly from the WGA possessing the ultimate authority to determine credit on screenplays, dating back to the guild’s origins. “If it’s not done under our contract, we don’t celebrate it,” he adds.
“We view the awards as a celebration of great writing and a way to bring attention to out guild, so we’re not going to change the rules,” Willimon says.