Writers Guild of America, west, Inc.
Engaging the Public Agenda
The Guild continued its legislative program in fiscal year 1998-99 with an agenda from Washington, D.C. to California.
In Washington, Senator Kennedy championed our efforts to amend the Copyright Term Extension Act. The Casablanca amendment (named because of Julius Epstein, who co-wrote the film and lobbied extensively on behalf of our amendment) would have required the studios to negotiate with the Guild for residuals for pre-1960 film and television if it had passed.
When the Guild won the pension and health plans in the 1960 negotiations, the agreement called for residuals only on that product produced after 1960. Since that time the U.S. Copyright Act has been extended twice. Our amendment would have recognized that the added value to the pre-1960 work should be shared with the creators.
We did win a hortatory statement (reflecting the sense of Congress, but not creating binding law) in the Act that the studios should negotiate with the guilds. Our new Executive Director, John McLean, is the lead negotiator on behalf of the WGA, SAG and DGA. We have held one bargaining session with Jack Valenti and AMPTP representatives to negotiate on behalf of these writers, directors and performers. To date there has been little movement in these talks and the Guild is prepared to reintroduce our legislation to assure equity in copyright for writers and other artists.
The Guild is also researching changes to Internal Revenue Service rules that would allow writers to utilize Schedule C for their deductions on income reported to the IRS on a W-2. Those changes are unlikely to occur in tax year 1999. Updates on this issue will be provided as the information becomes available.
In California, the WGA’s focus has been in Sacramento and passing our bill to prohibit cities from imposing permit, license and business tax regulations on writers. The WGA is leading a coalition of entertainment, literary and journalistic guilds and organizations in this effort. Writers sent more than 2,100 postcards in support of the bill. Recently, our bill AB 83 cleared the Assembly. Hearings are pending in the California Senate.
Simultaneously, the Guild is taking steps to address a potentially detrimental bill for writers, AB 385. This bill, if passed, would grant the authority to charter cities to obtain the name, addresses and tax information from those that claim business deductions in their state tax filings. We have successfully added an amendment to the bill that exempts writers and other artists.
The Guild has appealed a decision in WGA vs. City of Los Angeles. The lower court ruled that a city business tax issue could not be handled by a court of law. A hearing before the California Appellate Court is not likely before the end of the year.
DOMESTIC & INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES
Once again, the City of Lights, City of Angels film festival in April brought the French and American film communities together. The Franco-American Cultural Fund (FACF) combines the efforts of the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Motion Picture Association and France’s Society of Authors, Composers and Editors of Music. The FACF, which is funded by levies imposed on the sale of blank videotapes sold in France, sponsors master classes in France with American writers, directors and producers; an international scholarship exchange program for French and American film students; international film forums and the annual Los Angeles City of Lights, City of Angels French Film Festival. These efforts encourage ongoing communication between the French and American filmmaking communities.
The Public Affairs Department continues to coordinate the Guild’s participation at film festivals in the U.S. and around the world. The Guild currently takes part in the Sundance Film Festival, AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, the Acapulco Black Film Festival and others. The department coordinates and oversees the operation of Screenplay Coffeehouses, where writers of the films appearing at the various festivals discuss their work. Through this successful program, festival-goers are given the opportunity to engage in informal discussions with today’s hottest screenwriters. In addition, writers’ panel discussions, script readings and on-site intellectual property registration have raised public awareness of writers and the Guild, and have proved to be a highly effective way to reach independent filmmakers.
HONORING THE PAST
In the past year, the Guild through its Public Affairs Department has co-sponsored two high-profile events that brought attention to the Guild’s history and how it relates to today’s writers. Last August, the WGA hosted the nationally publicized events surrounding the 100th anniversary of the birth of writer-director Preston Sturges. Sturges’ career, which included some of Hollywood's greatest comedies, was celebrated in a variety of ways. Featured during the industry-wide celebration were a six-week film festival at LACMA, a panel discussion featuring current screenwriters discussing Sturges’ influence, the screening of a documentary on Sturges and a special Academy tribute featuring Eddie Bracken, who starred in two of Sturges’ best known films, Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. The programs were co-sponsored by the Guild, the Writers Guild Foundation, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Universal Studios Home Video.
Another event which brought the spotlight to bear on writers of the past was a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) which focused on the work of early women screenwriters like Frances Marion (one of the founders of the Guild), Anita Loos, Adela Rogers St. John, Jeanie MacPherson and others.
LACMA hosted a month-long festival of films written by women in the early days of Hollywood, and the WGA’s Public Affairs Department coordinated a panel of some of today’s most prominent women screenwriters. The panelists compared life for women screenwriters today to the golden age of the 1920s when more than 50% of the screenwriters were women, earning considerably more money than their male counterparts. The events were co-sponsored by the Mary Pickford Foundation and Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment Company.
WRITERS AND THE MEDIA
The Guild continues its highly successful series of press receptions which bring together hundreds of writers and key entertainment journalists. The gatherings are a superb opportunity for writers to develop relationships with critics and other entertainment journalists, relationships that often lead to increased and improved media coverage of writers and their work all of which helps to elevate the status of the screen and television writer.
Through the ongoing efforts of the Guild’s Media Relations Committee and Public Affairs Department, the WGA holds five annual press receptions: Summer and Winter Screenwriter Receptions (featuring writers of the films being released during that season), Television Critics Association Reception (a hugely popular event where writers not only interact with members of the media, but also their colleagues on staff at other shows), Emmy Nominee Reception and WGA Award Nominee Reception.
It should also be noted that aside from these receptions, the Guild’s Public Affairs department fields hundreds of calls from journalists around the world, assisting news organizations in, among other things, arranging interviews with film and television writers. For example, Guild members were recently featured in a segment on 60 Minutes regarding ageism just one of innumerable instances of the Guild facilitating the use of writers in news stories on a broad range of subjects.
Written By magazine continues to be a successful showpiece for the Guild, providing valuable information and a wide range of perspectives and subject matter. Recently, Richard Stayton was brought on board as the new Editor of Written By. He replaces former Editor Lisa Chambers, who has moved to TV Guide in New York. Stayton, a playwright and former theater critic for the Los Angeles Herald, previously served as Executive Editor and Managing Editor of the magazine Westways. He has written on the entertainment industry for a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. Among magazines, Stayton has published work in Harper’s Bazaar, Mediaweek, Interview, American Theatre and Weekly Variety. He was also theater critic for L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Times. Also of note, Stayton’s play After the First Death won the Goshen Peace Prize and has been produced throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad.
With Stayton’s appointment as Editor, along with the appointment of a Publisher for the publication Chuck Slocum (longtime Guild Director of Special Projects) there is a renewed commitment to heightening the magazine’s relevance to professional writers, without sacrificing the potential widespread appeal which would further the progress the magazine has made in promoting writers and writing.
WRITTEN BY MEMBER NEWS
In May of this year, Member News marked its one-year anniversary. This member newsletter has doubled its monthly content since its inception, and has grown to include a broad spectrum of news, updates and information of importance to Guild members. The Member News has transformed the way the Guild communicates with members. It has provided a means to consolidate the once excessive number of Guild mailings, serving as a coordinated means of communication that also gives the additional benefit of substantial savings in printing and mailings costs.
Member News continues to be a key source of information for members about upcoming events, as well as a forum for member discussion of issues. With Written By and the Guild Web site, it has become an integral part of the Guild’s Member Communications efforts.
THE GUILD WEB SITE
The WGA’s Web site has continued to provide the Guild with an excellent vehicle of communication both to members and the public-at-large, both nationally and internationally. (Approximately 10% of the site’s traffic originates from outside the U.S.)
The number of raw hits on the site has risen to an astonishing 25,000 per day (or more than 750,000 per month), with the number of unique users reaching more than 60,000 per month. About 8,000 writers now subscribe to the site’s e-newsletter.
The Web site is poised to re-launch with a dramatically redesigned look and navigational structure. The site will continue to serve the needs of a public curious about the Guild and writing, but will also expand to serve the business needs of the Guild and the industry (such as producers seeking to employ writers).
In the years since its inception, the site has received numerous accolades, and was recently selected by the editors of Writer’s Digest magazine as one of the "101 Best Sites for Writers."
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