Writers Guild of America East executive director Lowell Peterson is gearing up for a second round of lobbying in Albany for the passage of a diversity production tax credit in New York state.
The tax credit is at the top of a long to-do list for the guild that has seen double-digit growth in membership during the past five years, thanks to the Peak TV phenomenon and a string of successful organizing efforts at prominent digital media firms such as Vice, Gizmodo Media Group, and ThinkProgress.
Peterson discusses the guild’s efforts to guide writers through the maze of a fast-changing media business in the latest episode of “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment.
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“In the long run the industry can’t prosper if it doesn’t resemble the society that it is making stories for,” Peterson says of the need for the state to embrace the diversity tax credit. The $5 million proposal would allow TV series productions to receive a dedicated state tax credit for demonstrating a commitment to hiring a significant number of women and persons of color for writing and directing assignments. The bill, which had the support of the DGA and other industry unions, was vetoed late last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who cited a lack of funding.
“History is with us on this one. We just have to make sure the votes are there,” Peterson says.
Peterson also discusses the jobs picture for film and TV writers at present. Film work has remained flat but steady in recent years. TV, of course, has been on a boom cycle but that doesn’t mean that it’s raining cash on the scribe tribe. The industry’s shift toward shows that run six to 13 episodes per season compared to the old standard of 22-24 episodes has had a real effect on the earning power of even seasoned writers — something the WGA East and its West Coast cousin, the WGA West, has addressed in the last two master contract negotiations with the major studios.
“There are many more opportunities and many more shows but lot of them are shorter (orders),” Peterson says. “If you don’t work as long, you don’t get paid as long.”
Peterson also weighs in on the status of the WGA East’s talks with talent agencies on a new franchise agreement to govern the relationship between guild members and agents at a time when the largest talent agencies are expanding into the broader media marketplace. And he opines on the unique role the guild plays in the lives of its nearly 6,000 members, most of whom live far from the confines of Hollywood. The WGA East is a separate entity from the WGA West, and represents film and TV writers living east of the Mississippi River.
“In New York, we’re not really a company town,” Peterson says. “The union is a little bit more central to the creative lives of our members.”
Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast above for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan, Spotify’s Dawn Ostroff, Showtime’s David Nevins, Bankable Productions’ Tyra Banks, HBO’s Richard Plepler, and Entertainment Studios’ Byron Allen. A new episode debuts every week and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.