Writers Guild of America leaders are seeking a variety of improvements in script fees for writers as the guild launches master contract negotiations with studios this week.
Representatives for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the WGA are facing a June 30 expiration of the current film and TV contract. Talks are being conducted remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic after two start dates were vacated.
“Script fee and salary minimum increases have been part of every WGA MBA in history,” the WGA’s negotiating committee said in a message to members. “But now more than ever, nothing can be taken for granted. Members need to understand why these proposals are essential. At a minimum.”
The WGA’s negotiating committee said it will seek limits on discounted fees, increase minimum feature fees, raise minimums for teams and set fees for streaming services.
“The MBA establishes minimums for writers’ initial compensation, as a means of maintaining our livelihoods and setting equitable standards for our industry,” the message said. “Although some of us earn more than the minimum, increasing minimums impacts all writers. For example, in television, pension and health fund contributions are usually paid up to 2½ times the applicable minimum. If the minimums increase, so do the contributions paid into the funds. As such, raising minimums is critical, both to individual writers and to the strength of our pension plan and health fund. Minimums are also the basis on which many of our residuals are calculated.”
“For these reasons, we are seeking across-the-board minimum increases, including weekly minimums for mini-rooms. We are also addressing a number of contract provisions which are out of date and undercut minimum standards. To that end, we are proposing:
LIMITING DISCOUNTS ON MINIMUMS: The MBA currently provides discounts on minimums in a number of areas that we think are unwarranted. We want to eliminate discounts for new writers altogether and increase the number of weeks of guaranteed work before studios can discount minimums for comedy-variety writers. The MBA also allows our employers to pay a reduced TV weekly minimum if they guarantee a certain number of working weeks. Yet, as more and more writers are being paid only the minimum when working in so-called “mini-rooms,” we need to increase the number of weeks that must be guaranteed before any discount is allowed.
FAIR SCRIPT FEES FOR FEATURES: We must also substantially raise minimum script fees for screenwriters and make sure that screenwriters working for streaming services receive the appropriate minimum compensation. Netflix, Amazon, and Apple released 50 feature films last year, and HBO Max recently announced that it will enter the feature film market. We must make sure that writers working for these services are paid theatrical minimums, whether or not their films are released in theaters.
RAISING MINIMUMS FOR TEAMS: Paying writing teams of two the same minimum salary as a single writer first appeared in the MBA at a time when a team could work enough to earn a comfortable living. But the growing prevalence of short order series has made working at minimum as a TV writing team financially unsustainable for many. We need to protect both screen and TV writers on teams by establishing a higher team minimum. Two or three individuals, even if they’re part of a team, contribute more than a single writer.
NEW STREAMING MINIMUMS: Some of us working for streaming services don’t earn minimum at all. For lower-budget streaming comedies and dramas, weekly compensation and script fees are completely negotiable, so we need to lower the budget breaks to ensure non-negotiable minimums for writers. Comedy-variety shows on streaming services – unlike on television – currently have no minimums either. This, too, must change.
The AMPTP had no immediate comment.