New Media Residuals and Feature Films Contribute to Spike in Writers’ Pay

The outlook for members of the Writers Guild of America has brightened — even amid pervasive uncertainty in the entertainment industry.

According to the most recent report to WGA West members, earnings surged 2.8% to $1.41 billion in 2017, thanks mostly to gains in feature films and new-media residuals. Total covered earnings for WGA West members topped $1.2 billion for the fourth consecutive year and the number of writers reporting earnings rose by 1.8% to 5,819.

Additionally, WGA East membership has been growing, thanks to unionization at digital newsrooms including Salon, the Intercept, Vox Media, Vice, HuffPost, MTV News and Gizmodo Media Group. The branch’s membership now tops 5,000.

In January, Slate’s 51-member editorial and podcast staff ratified its first collective bargaining agreement, which includes a number of protections for its workers. Later that month, the management of Refinery29, a feminist digital media company, voluntarily recognized the WGA East as the collective bargaining representative of the site’s 40-member editorial staff.

“We’re most proud of expanding opportunities in the digital news world,” says WGA East president Beau Willimon.

“We’re seeing real progress and it’s a sector where young people are getting their news,” Willimon adds. “We’re here to support and represent all kinds of writers.”

The guild’s annual bicoastal awards celebrations take place Feb. 17, in New York City for the WGA East and Beverly Hills for the WGA West. Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”) and Adam McKay (“Vice”) are competing against the writers for “Green Book” (Nick Vallelonga & Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly) and “A Quiet Place” (Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski) for the original screenplay trophy, while “If Beale Street Could Talk” writer Barry Jenkins will vie against the teams behind “BlacKkKlansman” (Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee), “Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole), “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty) and “A Star Is Born” (Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters).

On the TV side, “The Americans,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Crown,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Succession” are competing for the WGA trophy in the drama series category, while “Atlanta,” “Barry,” “GLOW,” “The Good Place” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are up for the guild’s comedy series crown.

Two years ago, the guild negotiated its contract down to the wire, reaching a deal an hour before the old contract expired. Key provisions included dealing with shorter TV seasons, residuals for streaming services, parental leave and the healthcare plan. During the past year, the WGA has also been pressuring Hollywood’s talent agents to revamp rules for agents. That effort came due to Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production. As Variety noted in a 2018 cover story, that creates the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.

The guild notified the Assn. of Talent Agents last April that it wanted to renegotiate its 42-year-old franchise agreement and sent the ATA a 12-month notice to terminate the existing deal, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement. The terms and conditions of the current agreement will remain in effect through April 6, but will expire if a new agreement is not reached.

It’s uncertain what will happen if a new agreement isn’t reached at that point.

The WGA has also begun quiet preparations for the upcoming master contract negotiations, with the current deal expiring on May 1, 2020. WGA West president David A. Goodman notes that meetings with members are already under way.

Goodman and Willimon were both elected to two-year terms in September 2017, 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 the Oscar-nominated screenplay for “The Favourite” because it was not produced under a WGA contract.

Last year Oscar screenplay nominee “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was similarly excluded, as was eventual original screenplay Oscar winner “Birdman” its year.

“There’s been no pressure from members to change our policy,” Willimon says. “We view the awards as a celebration of great writing and a way to bring attention to our guild, so we’re not going to change the rules.”

Goodman notes that the guild policy is derived partly from the WGA’s early days, in which it gained the ultimate authority to determine credit on screenplays or scripts written under a WGA contract. “The WGA Awards are a chance for us to celebrate work that done under our contract,” he adds.

(Pictured: Christian Bale in “Vice”)

More Biz

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

  • Movie Ticket Subscriptions

    As MoviePass Fades, Theaters Fall In Love With Subscription Services

    MoviePass may be cratering, but movie theater subscriptions are here to stay. AMC and Cinemark already operate their own online ticketing services. And by the end of July, Regal Entertainment is expected to unveil a subscription plan for customers accustomed to getting all manner of entertainment for a monthly fee. With ticket sales down more [...]

  • John FordNPact Awards, Show, Los Angeles,

    John Ford to Exit as Head of Unscripted Producers Trade Association NPact

    John Ford has stepped down as general manager of NPact, the trade association that represents unscripted TV producers. Ford is exiting the post he’s held since 2015 because of the potential for conflicts of interest arising from his role as head of programming for digital multicast outlets Justice Network and Quest Network. The channels were [...]

  • Woodstock 50 Applies for Vernon Downs

    Woodstock 50 Applies for Vernon Downs Permit Yet Again

    For better or worse, Woodstock 50 isn’t giving up on Vernon Downs, despite being rejected twice already: The producers have applied for another permit to hold the festival at Vernon Downs, according to the Utica Observer Dispatch. Town Attorney Vincent Rossi confirmed the application was submitted Wednesday. This is the festival’s third application; previous applications [...]

  • Bert and Ernie

    Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt and 'Sesame Street' Among 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees

    Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt, “Sesame Street,” conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and R&B veterans Earth, Wind and Fire have been selected as the 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees. The kudos will be handed out Dec. 8 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. The award to “Sesame Street” marks the first time the prestigious laurel [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    Jeffrey Epstein Denied Bail in Sex Trafficking Case

    Jeffrey Epstein, the high-living financier who partied and traveled with Hollywood stars and world leaders, has been denied bail. The multimillionaire businessman is accused of sexually abusing underage girls as young as 14 years old and collecting child pornography. Prosecutors argued successfully that Epstein’s wealth made him a serious flight risk. He faces up to [...]

  • AWAL Names Bianca Bhagat as Senior

    AWAL Names Bianca Bhagat as Senior VP, Synch & Brand Partnerships

    AWAL, Kobalt’s recorded music company, announced the hiring of Bianca Bhagat as senior vice president, synch & brand partnerships. Based in Los Angeles, she will oversee AWAL’s global synch & brand partnerships team, pursuing creative marketing opportunities for the AWAL roster, according to the announcement. Most recently with Glassnote, leading the Film and TV department [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content