In 2007 into 2008, after negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike. The major bones of contention on the table were terms concerning New Media, Animation, Reality programming, and (don’t laugh) DVD residuals.
When an agreement was finally reached the initial reaction by the Writers Guild and many members was that of a hard-fought victory. And then we all took a breath, had some iced tea, scratched our head and muttered, “We got screwed.”
With a potential strike looming in 2017, New Media is still a major issue. But also the disparity between compensation for writers working for cable programming and those working for the major Networks. Shows like The Walking Dead, which no one in their right mind would regard as anything less than a major ratings success that has more eager advertisers than Queen Elizabeth I had suitors, are required to pay a significantly less minimum than their network counterparts.
Other matters currently on the WGA’s plate include issues near and dear to writers. For years there has been an unspoken rule that once a writer has finished completing a draft and all agreed upon rewrites as laid out in their contract, it was still expected that you do a courtesy pass on the project for a producer (i.e., a “Producer’s Pass.”) The problem that arises is twofold: 1.) This is not paid work and it was not agreed upon and 2.) Producer Passes often drag on forever to the point that you have done more writing on these gratis passes than you ever did the actual project. A writer’s representation is often little help as they encourage you to just suffer through it and “keep your eye on the ball” especially if that writer is working on a project for a superstar producer. No one else would tolerate this at their place of work but writers not only grudgingly accept it, they also expect it to happen. “I deserved it. I shouldn’t have dressed in that sexy, unwashed sports jacket that smells like ramen. I was asking for it.”
Another practice which has risen to prominence recently and which the WGA is determined to stamp out is the issue of “Pre-Writes.” Now, a Producer Pass is extra work you do after you’ve been paid. A Pre-Write is free work a writer does before they even get the job. It’s a long audition with sweat equity that is not to be confused with a pitch or even an initial treatment.
Incumbent WGA board candidate Billy Ray put it best when he said, “[Writers are] under siege…We’re being asked to do more for less. Our middle class is being squeezed nearly to the point of nonexistence. We’re subjected to things like pre-writes and paper-teaming and late pay. In 2014, weeks before what was supposed to be a non-confrontational negotiation, the AMPTP proposed a deal to us that included $60 million in cuts to our Health Plan. The subtext of all of this is always the same: writers don’t actually matter.”
Hopefully the ongoing negotiations will be able to resolve most if not all of these issues and thus avoid a work stoppage in 2017. Hell, writers WANT to write.
But I sincerely doubt it.