Members of the Writers Guild of America West saw their earnings grow a healthy 3.1% to $1.68 billion last year, thanks to gains in television and digital platforms.
The guild’s newly released annual report notes that the number of writers working in feature films rose 4% last year compared to 2017, while the level of employment for TV and digital platforms increased by 3.2%.
The WGA West report also reassured members that the guild — which has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with top Hollywood talent agencies for more than a year — is on solid financial footing. The report, from the membership and finance committee chaired by Michelle Mulroney, was sent to members Tuesday night.
“We are presenting the Guild’s annual financial report at a tumultuous time for the industry and our country,” the committee said. “The report, which covers the Guild’s fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, reflects the onset but not the full impact of the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next year’s report will doubtless give us a more complete picture of the effect of the pandemic on the Guild’s finances.”
“For now, however, members should feel confident that the Guild is on a strong financial footing, with significant reserves that will enable us to face, and surmount, the current uncertainties,” it added.
Earnings of television and digital platform writers reported for 2019 rose 4.7% to $1.17 billion. Total employment was up 3.2% with 5,118 writers reporting income from television and digital platforms, though this figure is likely to increase with late reporting. The guild has noted that the actual numbers for TV writers’ compensation are not reflected in its figures because it does not include overscale income.
Screenwriter earnings remained flat in 2019 at $493.1 million, though this figure is likely to increase with late reporting. Screenwriter employment rose by 4% to 2,188 writers.
Residuals collected in 2019 grew 1.9% to an all-time high of $471.1 million, a 1.9% increase over 2018. Residuals increased 1.4% in television to $311.9 million and 2.7% in features to $159.2 million.
The WGA West ended the fiscal year with total net assets of over $77.8 million, which includes its headquarters located at the corner of Third Street and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. The guild had a small operating surplus for the fiscal year of $335,000 based on total revenues of $38.5 million, down from $42.9 million in the last fiscal year.
“The decline in overall revenue is largely attributable to unrealized investment losses resulting from the pandemic-related declines in equity markets at the end of the fiscal year in March,” the report noted.
Annual expenditures of $38.2 million were more than $5 million higher due to increased payroll and benefit expenses, higher depreciation expenses, the expenses related to member mobilization in connection with the master contract negotiations and continued activities in connection with the talent agency campaign.
The WGA West also said its Foreign Levies Program distributed $14.9 million to writers and heirs during the last fiscal year from royalties in 21 countries in Europe and South America. That was down from $16.3 million in the previous year with the report offering no explanation for the decline.
It’s the eighth year in a row that the guild, which began distributing the funds in 1993, has made the foreign levies report to members. The report said the WGA West has collected a total of $292.9 million in foreign levies and distributed $246.3 million of those funds to members.
The report from the finance committee reported that the WGA West was holding $21.6 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.