Heading into next week’s start of contract talks the US Writers Guild of America (WGA) has issued a report to members highlighting what it says is an imbalance between entertainment company profits and screenwriter pay, driven in part by the transition to streaming.
In Tuesday’s (March 14) report ‘Writers Are Not Keeping Up’, the Guild reiterates that its negotiating team will argue for improved writer compensation after “companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work”.
It notes that while the rise of streaming has increased demand for features, the range of distribution models has created uncertainty over applicable contract terms “with many SVOD films subject to lower MOW [movie of the week] rates”.
The report goes on to say median screenwriter pay has remained the same since 2018 and, taking inflation into account, has dropped 14% in real terms over the last five years. It is also noted how it can take a long time before writers receive their money – nine months for a first draft under $150,000 and six months for a first draft over $150,000.
Writers who come under the lower pay bracket can work 50% longer than those who earn over $150,000 as they can be “uniquely vulnerable to producers’ demands for free work”, the report continues. The Guild claims that the current minimum for a non-original screenplay is $60,932, which is 1.2% of the $5 million threshold. This is 0.3% of a modest $20 million budget. “The current minimum for a first draft non-original screenplay is just $60,932, which is only 1.2% of the minimum budget threshold of $5 million – or 0.3% of a still-modest $20 million budget.”
With regard to television, the report claims comedy-variety writers working for streaming services lack the most basic protection of MBA minimums, referring to the Minimum Basic Agreement collective bargaining arrangement that covers benefits, rights, and protections.
The Guild commences talks on Monday (March 20) with studio, streamer and network representative Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. It will negotiate for higher minimum compensation, higher residuals for reuse markets and increased contributions to pension fund and health fund.
WGA negotiators also will address regulation of content created by artificial intelligence. This is a pressing issue in an age of tools like ChatGPT which allows humans to communicate with machines and can help with tasks such as email writing. A.I. has been a topic of concern for many. The current WGA contract expires May 1.
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