1999 WGA Annual Report to Writers
Writers Guild of America, west, Inc.

The Marketplace for Film, Television and other Audio-Visual Writers

In 1998, WGA writers, considered in aggregate, continued a string of prosperous years. The shifting fortunes of 1997 settled out better for both film and television writers, with screen employment and earnings rebounding from the prior-year slump and television employment and earnings continuing to grow. The decade since the WGA strike in 1988 has seen writers’ earnings double, with about one-third more writers employed. Thus, individual writers are earning more despite growth in the size of the work force. This expansion of the work force has modestly outpaced growth in new members, increasing the percentage of members employed slightly. This percentage is still, however, just a bit over 50%, illustrating the competitiveness of a film and television improved employment situation has not offset either the turnover among members or the shifts in employment due to ageism in the entertainment industry, which continues to quickly end a career as a writer moves beyond age 50.

RECORD EMPLOYMENT

Almost 4,500 members were employed in 1998, an all-time high for the fifth year in a row. This figure is 3.6% higher than 1997 and 17.7% higher than five years ago. While this is hardly dynamic growth, it runs counter to other trends in the industry, including runaway production, expansion of cable distribution that relies on reruns and non-narrative programming (which is more likely to be non-WGA). While there has been a sense in recent months that screenwriting remains in the slump seen last year, the figures reveal a different story. Screen employment reached an all-time high of 1,871, 4.1% over last year and 16.8% higher than five years ago. This growth almost equals the five-year growth of television writing, which is up 19.2% over that period. The 3,105 writers employed in television tops last year by 3.7%, also setting an all-time high level.

 

NUMBER OF WGAw MEMBERS EMPLOYED

Year
Total
Employed
Percent
changed
Members
Reporting
Percent
changed
Percent
Employed
1993 3,806 -- 7,622 -- 49.9%
1994 3,866 +1.7% 7,713 +1.3% 50.1%
1995 3,931 +1.8% 7,776 +0.9% 50.6%
1996 4,126 +5.6% 7,961 +2.8% 51.8%
1997 4,306 +4.0% 8,266 +3.0% 52.1%
1998 4,490 +3.6% 8,352 +0.9% 53.8%
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.

Television employment took the lead, with a 6.7% increase in employment, to a total of 2,968 writers, driven by a record number of series in production. Especially strong this year were first-run syndication series, supported by foreign sales, along with made-for-cable series. Fall 1998 could bring contraction in this area.

 

NUMBER OF WRITERS EMPLOYED BY AREA OF WORK
Year TV Screen Pay-TV Other
  Number
Employed
Percent
Change
Number
Employed
Percent
Change
Number
Employed
Percent
Changed
Number
Employed
Percent
Changed
1993 2,605 -- 1,602 -- 176 -- 22 --
1994 2,645 +1.5% 1,621 +1.2% 166 -5.7% 36 +64.0%
1995 2,660 +0.6% 1,688 +4.1% 170 +2.4% 79 +119.4%
1996 2,809 +5.6% 1,783 +5.6% 189 +5.6% 94 +19.0%
1997 2,993 +6.6% 1,797 +0.8% 190 +0.5% 44 -53.2%
1998 3,105 +3.7% 1,871 +4.1% 198 +4.2% 28 -36.4%
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.

In the theatrical film area, there was essentially level employment, with 1,782 writers employed. The trend is this sector is toward fewer theatrical for fewer releases by the majors in an attempt to maximize profits during this period of relatively calm competition. Screen employment rises during a time when new distributors are emerging or when corporate mergers or administration changes drive reexamination of development slates, but 1997 was a quiet year.

RECORD EARNINGS

The aggregate earnings of WGAw members continue to reflect the rising valuation of scripts in Hollywood. Writers earned $716.7 million under WGA contracts in 1998, topping the 1997 figure by 5.2%. This is a remarkable 54% growth over the last five years. This far outpaces the 17.7% growth in employment over that period, pointing to the increased compensation of the average employed writer. Last year’s static income compared to 1996 was, as expected, indicative of the erratic behavior of an employment marketplace heavily concentrated among a small number of employers, a level of concentration which has not changed.

 

NUMBER OF WRITERS EMPLOYED BY AREA OF WORK
Year Television
Earnings
Screen
Earnings
Other
Earnings
  Millions
of Dollars
Percent
Change
Millions
of Dollars
Percent
Change
Millions
of Dollars
Percent
Changed
1993 227 -- 230.1 -- 7.9 --
1994 242.0 +6.6% 250.9 +9.0% 7.7 -2.5%
1995 267.6 +6.6% 314.8 +25.5% 7.5 -2.6%
1996 301.7 +12.7% 363.8 +15.6% 10.3 +37.3%
1997 324.0 +7.4% 349.7 -3.9% 7.8 -24.3%
1998 344.9 +6.5% 363.2 +3.9% 8.6 +14.72%
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.
TOTAL EARNINGS UNDER WGAw CONTRACTS
(Millions of $)

Year
Total
Earnings
Percent
Change
1993 465.1 --
1994 500.6 +07.6%
1995 589.9 +17.8%
1996 675.8 +0.8
1997 681.5 +14.6%
1998 716.7 +5.2%
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.

 

While television earnings continued to set the pace, screenwriting earnings rebounded in 1998 after a decline in 1997. Television earnings totaled $344.9 million, a 6.5% increase over 1997. This is a healthy 51.9% increase over five years. Screen earnings reached $363.2 million in 1998, up 3.9% from 1997 and almost erased the decline last year compared to the 1996 figure, which remains the all-time high for screenwriting by a small margin. Despite the flat growth over the last two years, the 1998 figure is 57.8% above the $230.1 million earned five years earlier.

 

TELEVISION EARNINGS VS. SCREEN EARNINGS
(Millions of $)

Year
Television
Earnings

Screen

Other
1992 241.2 201.8 7.1
1993 227.6 230.1 7.9
1994 241.2 250.9 7.1
1995 266.9 313.4 7.1
1996 299.5 360.7 9.8
1997 316.2 350.6 7.8
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.

 

The median earnings among the working portion of the WGAw membership was $82,169. This is a 1.1% decline from the 1997 figure of $83,119 (restated since last year due to late-reported information). The high point for median earnings was 1996, with the middle-ranked writer earning $90,000. While the 1998 figure is almost 9% lower than that high point, it is important to note two things. First, the 1996 figure was the result of a two-year growth spurt of 43%, making it a hard level to sustain. Second, the mean earnings among working members grew slightly in 1998 (though it, too, was less than 1996) illustrating the robustness of member earnings. The decline in the median earnings measures the income of a writer who earns just the amount necessary to have half the members earn more and half earn less. This figure is sensitive to movement within the ranks of writers. For instance, the influx of several dozen writers earning only episodic script fees would draw the median down but not significantly change the typical experience of other writers. This is likely the major factor in the shift as was the case last year. In short, the decline in the median is more of a statistical anomaly than an indication of change in the experience of the typical writer.

 

MEDIAN EARNINGS UNDER WGAW CONTRACTS
Median
Year

Earnings
Percent
Change
1993 61,212 --%
1994 63,003 +2.9%
1995 77,500 +23.0%
1996 90,000 +16.1%
1997 83,119 -7.7%
1998 82,169 -1.1
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated to include late-reported information.

 

As of April 1999, the Guild has 8,141 Current Active members, a jump of 3.3% over last year. The Guild admitted 586 new members in 1998, a small decrease from the year prior. It should be noted that shortly before this report went to press, members approved an amendment to the Guild’s constitution that will allow members to remain in Post-Current membership status indefinitely by paying an annual service fee. The impact of this change in membership rules on the membership statistics will be reflected in next year’s annual report to members.

 

NUMBER OF GUILD MEMBERS BY MEMBERSHIP CATEGORY
"Active" Status

Year

Associate

Current
Post-
Current
1994 107 7,432 146
1995 265 7,436 165
1996 314 7,637 186
1997 347 7,825 194
1998 350 7,883 213
1999 396 8,141 247
Source: WGAw Records, April each year

 

NUMBER OF NEW MEMBERS
ADMITTED EACH YEAR

All Membership Categories
Year Number
1993 408
1994 385
1995 492
1996 599
1997 607
1998 586
Source: WGAw Records
Note that prior year figures are updated
to include late-reported information.

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