As talks are about to resume Monday on the final elements that many hope will lead to a new deal for the Writers Guild Of America, we wanted to lend some perspective and give voice to the TV and feature writers whose fortunes will be tied directly to the deal their union makes. This is the third in a quick succession of five questions we asked a panel of 10 writers. Here are their responses, and hopefully other writers will be moved to comment about the issues that worry them most as their work is monetized in this fast-changing digital age.
DEADLINE: How are you feeling about the deal that the WGA is considering, and what concerns do you have that aren’t addressed in it?
WRITER #1: I trust that small gains will be made and a strike will be averted and at this stage of the business that’s all that can really be expected. That is actually a success in 2014.
WRITER #2: Writers on short-order shows now ﬁnd themselves working for half a year or less, stuck on unpaid hiatus for open-ended periods while waiting to see if their show -- and their contract -‐ will be renewed. During this period they are virtually unemployable because studios demand “exclusivity” and “ﬁrst position,” preventing writers from seeking other work, their ability to make a living cut oﬀ.
WRITER #3: I personally don’t have a lot of hope for any kind of decent deal these days. The companies have consolidated so much power and the Writers Guild is a two-tiered union. During the last strike, the super-A-list-high writers (who also function as TV producers on many things) decided that they had enough of the strike and called it (In a secret meeting at Aaron Sorkin’s house!). If we had held out until the actors’ contracts were up and then they joined us, it’s possible we’d be looking at much better splits for streaming, DVD and digital downloads. But if the top of the union doesn’t have the interests of the mid and lower levels in mind then we can’t get anything. So we might get thrown a few scraps, but I don’t think we have the leverage to demand anything significant.
WRITER #4: I thought there would be more protection for feature writers, but that’s not my world so I don’t feel educated enough to comment on it. As for the final two sticking points — exclusivity and options — I’m glad the guild isn’t giving in on this. It’s unreasonable for studios to have an open-ended option on writers, which is what exclusivity for short-order series amounts to.
WRITER #5: To be frank, I’m not as up on this as I should be. Too busy trying to meet a deadline of my own to spend the time boning up…so I’ll leave it to the better versed.
WRITER #6: I don’t know anything about it. There is a singular lack of coherent communication from the WGA. I don’t know what the issues are. Or why. I suspect those arguing them are doing so with little power/hope/plan. A strike is great for unknown, unsigned writers. No better time to break in. If I was in that position, I’d be polishing off a pile of specs in preparation. I see the WGA as a health fund and pension plan. Nothing more. The WGA cut the cock and balls off every writer, even the women, when it assigned authorship to producers/studios and made all writing work for hire. Negotiations have been from a position of inherent weakness ever since. If the deal the WGA is considering addresses this as Point 1, then great. If not, it’s just a bunch of Olivers with their caps out asking for “More please.”
WRITER #7: At this point, the ONLY thing that counts for me is not getting fucked on streaming residuals the way we did on video. Everything else is irrelevant.
WRITER #8: I know TV brethren are really pissed off about the exclusivity clauses and I want progress there for them. Sweepstakes pitching is an appalling reality for way too many feature writers. This must be addressed.
WRITER #9: I think that exclusivity issues with writers on cable shows is a real problem. It’s not fair to those writers.
WRITER #10: What most concerns me is making sure we maintain the current health and pension contributions. As a writer I always feel as if my career could slip away tomorrow. That the next job won’t come through or the next script I turn in won’t be received well and I’ll be taken off all the studio lists. Nothing is ever guaranteed in this line of work. I have a family to take care of, and that’s what’s most important to me.