The WGA has struck a tentative deal with the networks and studios… which, while giving us gains in our health and pension program, screws writers out of DVD royalties (at a time when the industry is booming and entire seasons of TV shows are being packaged for DVD). The deal also grants networks the right to rebroadcast the first episode of a drama mulitple times without paying residuals. Apparently, no gains were made in the foreign residual pay structure.
Granted, there are big gains in our health plan at a time when we need it… but I think this deal also signals the death of meaningful royalties & residuals for writers in the future from any existing or future means of distribution (DVD, internet, foreign networks, etc.). The networks are airing fewer and fewer reruns, so gains there are really window dressing. Foreign and DVDs, for the moment, are the future for reruns and our portion of those revenues are miniscule. In the long run, I believe the elimination or extreme diminishment of royalties and residuals will have a devastating impact on screenwriters and their ablity to earn a living at their craft.
WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA REACHES TENTATIVE AGREEMENT WITH THE MAJOR STUDIOS AND NETWORKS
Los Angeles – The Negotiating Committee for the Writers Guild of America, west and East has reached tentative agreement on a new three-year, $58-million contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, ABC, CBS, FBC, and NBC covering writers in the film, broadcast and cable industries.
“It’s been a long five months since we walked away from negotiations without a contract on June 2nd,” said Daniel Petrie Jr., President of the WGAw, “but it has been well worth the wait. This tentative agreement is projected to be worth almost $58 million by the end of its term, nearly double what the producers offered us on the June 1st. The new agreement will fully address the needs of our health plan, ensuring us a six-month reserve at the current level of benefits by the end of the contract in 2007. We consider this a major victory that was critical to protect the health benefits of writers and their families. What’s more, the companies have also agreed to recommend to the pension fund directors that they increase pensions.”
“Looked at purely on dollar terms, the deal is unusually rich, and for that our negotiators should be congratulated. In other ways, the gains fall far short of what we had hoped for and what our members feel we deserve,” said Herb Sargent, President of the Writers Guild of America, East. “The deal ensures that our health plan will remain viable for the length of the contract – no small matter – but the companies have refused to acknowledge the need for an improvement in our “abnormally low” residuals formula for DVDs and home video, and the deal includes some roll backs for TV writers and news writers, and only very minor gains for screenwriters. Nevertheless, our negotiators believe that this was the best deal possible at this time. Now it’s up to our members to decide.”
“The WGA should be commended for their professionalism and resolve that made it possible to reach a fair deal that keeps writers working, keeps the town working, and addresses their most crucial concerns,” said J. Nicholas Counter, III, President, Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers.
Starting at the beginning of the new contract, an increase in the contribution rate from 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent. In the last year of the contract, there is also an option to increase the contribution rate to 9.0 percent, by reducing the percentage increase in minimums by the same half percent. All told, the companies will be putting an additional $37 million over current levels into the health fund.
Effective January 1, 2004, the contribution limits on writers’ earnings will go up by $35,000 per company, which translates to an annual increase of as much as $1,000 in pension payments for every year the writer earned more than $170,000. The trustees will also raise the payout ceiling by $10,000, so writers can enjoy more of the benefits they have earned.
Three percent increase in each year of the contract commencing November 1, 2004. Two and a quarter percent increase for reruns on network primetime and non-primetime serials. Five percent increase for Excerpt fees commencing November 1, 2006.
Three years: November 1, 2004 through October 31, 2007.
We made significant headway developing a mutual understanding with the Companies on reality television, as did the DGA before us. Like the DGA, we expect that these discussions will lead to future gains for writers.
Internet Download Sales
The companies agreed to 1.2 percent of the licensing agreement for internet-download rentals in the 2001 agreement. The guild sought to clarify that the same formula would apply to download sales. Reserving their positions, the guild and AMPTP will form a joint committee to address the problem.
The agreement will provide for a 20 percent annual increase in half-hour residuals and a 15 percent increase in one-hour residuals.
Writers have often been unaware of various legal impediments that impact their contract, contributing to the affront of late payment for writing services. To ensure that a writer is aware of any conditions to his/her employment that must be satisfied before commencing services, the company will now outline the conditions precedent (such as securing underlying rights, the execution of the producer’s contract, etc.) when the writer and studio come to terms.
Previously or Currently Employed Writers
The companies will state in the writers’ individual employment agreement the names of all other writers then or previously employed on the same material.
The tentative agreement also calls for a producer-funded program to provide training for episodic writers to enable them to develop the skills required to be a successful showrunner/executive producer.
To help establish a wide-viewing audience for new one-hour dramatic series, the contract will allow for two of the first three episodes (including the pilot) to be rerun within two months of the launch of the series without residual compensation.
“There is no question that this tentative agreement was heavily influenced by pattern bargaining, for good and ill,” said Petrie. “While we are very pleased with the total dollar amount of the deal, which is equivalent to the DGA’s success, we are disappointed that our deal, like the DGA’s, contains no gains in DVDs. In the end, we felt that protecting the health benefits of writers and their families had to be our top priority, and continuing to pursue a DVD increase would mean putting those gains at risk.”