Writers Guild of America, west, Inc.
Contract Negotiation & Enforcement
MBA CONTRACTS RATIFIED
In June, 1998, WGAw and WGAE members voted overwhelmingly to ratify proposed contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). The resulting contracts were the 1998 WGA-AMPTP MBA and 1998 WGA-Network MBA. For the first time, Guild members nationwide received common voting materials and voted as one undivided constituency.
The term of the contract goes through May 1, 2001.
As a result of the new contracts, minimums in screen and non-network TV have and will continue to increase by 3.5% compounded, in each year of the agreement, for a total increase of 10.9% during the term. Foreign and domestic television residuals based on the minimums in the 1998 MBA will also increase by 10.9%. Daytime serial breakdown minimums will increase by 4.0% compounded for a total of 12.5% during the term. Network Prime Time minimums (ABC, CBS, NBC, FBC) will increase 3.0% compounded each year, for a total of 9.3%.
Residuals for prime-time reruns on the Fox Broadcasting Company were increased by 10%, and increased again by 10% on May 2, 1999. A second run in primetime on FBC now pays 66.6% of applicable minimum.
There were significant increases in residuals for Made-For-Pay-TV and Made-For-Video programs. For Pay TV movies, break amounts were eliminated and replaced by a 2% royalty after 10 Pay TV exhibition days or one year.
The contracts also included provisions, for the first time ever, so that contributions to the Pension Plan and Health Fund apply to purchases of literary material.
Other improvements included: security interest provisions to guarantee residuals payments in bankruptcies, the extension of a Tri-Guild residuals audit fund, expedited arbitration procedures for Tri-Guild residuals cases, expedited arbitrations for other residuals cases where the paying company is economically irresponsible or unstable, expedited arbitration for reacquisition of original material in screen.
CLAIMS AND ARBITRATIONS
In the 12 months ending April 1999, the WGA resolved 468 formal cases (up from 368 last year) and collected an impressive $9.7 million for members (up from $7.8 million last year). The cases involve the major studios and hundreds of small, independent production companies. The prosecution of cases under WGA contracts is provided to writers at no charge beyond their regular dues.
TV RESIDUALS NEGOTIATIONS IN RESEARCH PHASE
The 1998 MBA initiated a Residuals Negotiation to address Foreign, Basic Cable and Made-For-Pay-TV residuals. The process was started within the prescribed two weeks after ratification and subsequent research and preparation has been ongoing. The talks are set to progress to a conclusion in early to mid-2000.
The negotiation has entered its first stage—a research phase. The research will include an exchange of data between the WGA and the companies, but the effort will also include a wider survey of relevant economic and strategic data. This added information will provide the WGA negotiators, leadership and membership with the strongest possible arguments in favor of the increases in foreign, basic cable and other television residuals being pursued through these talks.
The WGA’s current interaction with the AMPTP regards the definition of the information to be exchanged and the structure of the talks for this first period.
AGENCY RELATIONS & OUTREACH
As part of the Guild’s continuing effort to enhance enforcement of the MBA, the WGA maintained its educational outreach program for the agent community. The Guild conducted seminars with the theatrical and television literary departments of the William Morris Agency, Creative Artists Agency, ICM, United Talent Agency, Broder/Kurland/Webb/ Uffner and the Endeavor Agency.
The WGA also sponsored an outreach luncheon, which attracted over 100 agents from 46 franchised agencies. The primary focus of these meetings was to address the problems of uncompensated writing and timely payments, as these are among the highest priorities of writers and the Guild’s Board of Directors.
In the course of the last year, the Guild distributed three Writer/Agent Alerts. The topics of the alerts were; the Upset Price, new MBA Pension and Health provisions and the presentation of the Guild’s Standard Form Contract.
There are over 5,500 Current Active members represented by 435 Guild-franchised agencies. The Agency Department receives more than 150 telephone requests daily for member representation and contact information. In order to expand the Guild’s ability to provide contact information to potential employers, the WGA Web site will soon contain this information.
CREATIVE RIGHTS TAKE FORM
The Guild advanced a number of initiatives in 1998 to further protect the creative rights of writers.
For example, the Guild recently created a useful standardized form to improve the compliance of companies with Article 18 of the MBA. Article 18 requires that a Company notify a writer, prior to employment, of the names of all other writers who are, or have previously been, employed by the Company on the same material, or from whom the Company purchased the material on which the writer is to be employed.
The Article 18 Notice form was created as part of the Guild’s continuing effort to improve MBA compliance, particularly creative rights provisions. The form is increasingly used by writers, or their representatives, and included in correspondence to the Company while negotiating a deal. The information on the form may determine whether or not the writer elects to accept the employment, or whether additional terms and conditions should be negotiated. Assuring the Company provides this important information to the writer prior to employment will aid in this endeavor.
Guild staff is available to provide direct support to writers. Should there be questions about Article 18, or the standardized form, writers or their representatives may contact the Guild’s Contracts Department at (323) 782-4501.
STANDARD WRITING SERVICES CONTRACT
Another initiative recently undertaken in the quest for greater protection of writers is the development of a Standard Writing Services Contract for employment in theatrical motion pictures by the Guild’s Contracts Department. (Other standard contracts will be available in the future.)
The contract can be tailored to reflect the negotiated terms of any writing services contract. Writers are encouraged to use it in place of deal memos or those quickly jotted notes often used to confirm contract terms.
The standard writing services contract is available in two versions one for directly employed writers and the other for writers employed through loan-outs.
Copies of the Standard Writing Services Contract are available for downloading from the WGA Web site, or can be requested from the Guild’s Contracts Department.
Using the new contract will make life easier for writers and their representatives both at the time the deal is negotiated and in those unfortunate instances when a dispute arises at a later time. The goals underlying the contract are to get writers paid sooner, to reduce disputes over contract language and to eliminate the inclusion of unexpected and unwelcome provisions that too often are discovered after a contract is signed.
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