The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has released a detailed summary of its tentative agreement with producers. The following points summarize the WGA contract, which must now be ratified by the union’s membership.
• The agreement was reached between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) which comprises the major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC.
• The contract covers 11,000 theatrical and television writers who are members of the WGA.
• Negotiators took four months to reach the new deal.
• WGA’s negotiating team included Charles Holland (co-chair of the WGA Negotiating Committee), John McLean (chief negotiator), Mona Mangan (executive director WGA East), Bob Hadl (consultant to the guild), committee members John Auerbach, Ron Bass, John Furia, Jr., Carl Gottlieb, Irma Kalish, Nicolas Kazan, Callie Khouri, Chris Knopf, Penelope Koechl, Tim O'Donnell, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Paris Qualles, Vicki Riskin, Phil Alden Robinson, Gary Ross, Charlie Rubin, Herb Sargent (president, WGA East), Stephen Schiff, Tom Schulman, Patric M. Verrone, Richard Wesley, Rafael Yglesias. • The AMPTP representatives included Jonathan Dolgen (chairman, Viacom Entertainment Group), Robert Iger (president and COO, The Walt Disney Company), Barry Meyer (chairman and CEO, Warner Bros.); as well as the CEO’s serving on the creative rights committee including Alan Horn (president and chief operating officer, Warner Bros.), Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks), Sherry Lansing (chairman and chief executive officer, Paramount Pictures – Motion Picture Group), Kenneth Lemberger (co president, Sony Pictures Entertainment), Stacey Snider (chairman, Universal Pictures), Michael Nathanson (president, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc.), Tom Rothman (chairman, Fox Filmed Entertainment) and Peter Schneider (chairman, Walt Disney Studios.) The long-form television committee on creative issues included Hank Cohen (president, MGM Television Entertainment), Len Grossi (president, Columbia TriStar Television), Craig Hunegs (executive vice president, Warner Bros.). The television production representatives were Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks), Kerry McCluggage (chairman, Paramount Television), Leslie Moonves (president and CEO, CBS Television), Gary Newman (president, 20th Century Fox Television), Mark Pedowitz (executive vice president, ABC Entertainment Television Group), Stephen White (executive vice president, NBC–Movies, Mini-Series and Special Events.)
• WGA president John Wells (“The West Wing”) celebrated the birth of his son, Jack, and was therefore absent when the WGA was holding its press conference on the new contract
• In DVD distribution and videocassettes, “companies will pay the credited screenwriters of both originals and adaptations a mandatory script publication fee of $5,000 per movie...” or “more than one million dollars by the third year of the new contract.”
• Fox will be considered “a network under [the] contract,” and will pay “100 percent of network residuals two years from now. This is a 50 percent increase over the current formula,” WGA states.
• In foreign residuals, a formula established in 1970, the guild says it has “uncapped foreign.” Unions favor residual payments (royalties) over buy outs, and the foreign buy out is now history. Writers will receive 1.2 percent of foreign revenue after these sums reach specified threshholds, in perpetuity. WGA estimates this increase in foreign residuals to equal $1.3 million over the contract term.
• In terms of “video-on-demand” and “the future distribution of films and television programs over the Internet,” the Guild said that “writers will receive 1.2 percent of the exhibitors' payments for the right to exhibit movies and TV programs that viewers may watch for a fixed number of times or over a limited time period.”
• The video on demand and Internet provision covers “all studio libraries back to July 1, 1971 [as well as] new productions.”
• Both sides will "continue negotiations to cover the evolving markets for all other types of exhibition over the Internet, such as when the viewer can download a movie or TV program to watch it an unlimited number of times.”
• The Guild statement also indicates that WGA achieved jurisdiction for “the rapidly evolving market of programs written directly for the Internet into the contract for the first time, allowing the guild and the companies to cover, on a project-by-project basis, the employment of writers to write material for the Internet, with guaranteed pension and health benefits.”
• For works that appear on the Internet first, writers “will be eligible for separated rights if their material is later used as the basis for a television series or motion picture.”
• Improved residuals formula for Made-For-Pay-TV (“The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” “Soul Food” etc.) will up residual payments to writers from “under $300,000 per year to almost $4 million per year.
• Made-For-Basic-Cable residuals (“Any Day Now” and Disney Channel movies) “will be increased by 20 percent, for an estimated increase of $850,000 during [the] contract term.”
• The Guild says initial compensation minimums for screenplays and teleplays ‘will increase by 3.5 percent” annually during in each year of the contract, amounting to an “additional $29 million for writers.”
• “Overall in the economic package,” the Guild reports, “writers will gain $41 million over the three-year term of this contract.”
• Hoping to improve “diversity in the employment of screen and television writers,” WGA and creative executives will “hold at least one meeting per company annually.... to assure the highest level of attention to these critical issues.”
• For animation writers, the Guild says that it has “successfully organized prime time animation writers for all episodic TV programs” but is “disappointed that the companies refused to resolve [all of] these issues in this negotiation.” The WGA still aims to extend Basic Agreement protection to “all animation writers not represented by another union.”
• "Screenwriters' ability to reacquire their unproduced screenplays goes to the heart of writers' desire to see their words and stories performed on the screen,” the Guild says. The acquisition provisions of the new contract include a “two-year window to reacquire [that] will now float between five and 10 years after the writing was completed,” and “[the writer’s] absolute right to reacquire screenplays optioned but not purchased.”
• The Guild states that for writers, “the creative issues have always been of equal importance” to economic issues.
• The Guild indicates that changing “the culture of filmmaking” and enhancing “the collaborative process for writers, directors and all of the artists that contribute their craft to the final film” will never be possible without “the active involvement of our colleagues at the Directors Guild.”
• WGA progress on such non-economic issues includes contractual assurance that “writers will be present at cast readings” and will “have the right to visit the set of the motion picture they have written.” In addition, the WGA says, “shortly after a director is assigned to a project, he or she will meet with the writer to discuss creative issues. This meeting will take place prior to any decision to hire a new writer.” • The WGA has sought to weave its members into the fabric of the production process, beginning on elemental levels. This includes having writers “listed on call sheets, staff directories or crew lists.” Scribes will also “attend premieres, press junkets, festivals and cast and crew events” and will have “enhanced presence in press kits, electronic press kits and DVDs.”
• No resolution was reached on “the limitation of the possessory credit in this round of negotiations,” the Guild said. “To avoid a strike in which our entire community would have suffered,” the WGA release read, “it was agreed that we would address this issue, as well as the proliferation of producer credits and other credits issues, in industry-wide discussions.”
The respective councils of the WGA (East and West) must meet to approve sending the new contract out to the Guild’s 11,000 members for ratification. A simple majority of the union’s 11,000 members is necessary for the deal to pass.
—By Murdoch McBride