The Animation Writers Organizing Committee wants to change that.
Under a WGA deal, a staff writer on an animated series will make between $4,546 and $5,302 a week, and a writer-producer will make between $7,412 and $9,888. A theatrical screenplay for an animated feature will net a fee between $54,561 and $111,694, and a credited animation writer can expect the same residuals they’d make on a live-action project.
However, an animation writer working without WGA coverage is guaranteed less than half of what the MBA would provide them—sometimes three-fourths less.
With animation making up a substantial chunk of the war chests of new content that studios are using to battle one another for streaming supremacy, they have decided to cut costs by racing each other to the bottom at the expense of writers.
Getting a WGA deal for animation has never been easy, but writers have proven time and again that it is certainly possible. Because IATSE Local 839 (TAG) also represents animation writers (under a contract that includes the other animation crafts), WGA coverage in animation is not automatic. Now, an increasing number of animation writers are being told that WGA coverage is a “non-starter” and that they must accept a lesser TAG deal. For writers unfamiliar with this terrain, the ramifications of a non-WGA deal aren’t often clear until it’s too late.
To confront the issue, the WGAW recently formed the Animation Writers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to build a network of support for animation writers who want to get their projects covered by the WGA. The best approach to getting a WGA deal is to secure coverage while the project is still in development. This means alerting WGAW staff early on and getting plugged into the AWOC’s network of support.
“Animation hasn’t been a ‘niche’ form of entertainment for a long time, but studios are using a jurisdictional loophole to treat WGA animation writers as ‘less than’ their live-action counterparts,” said AWOC Co-chair Mike Scully. “The only thing that can stop it is writers demanding equal treatment. That’s why we want to educate TV and screenwriters, along with their reps and producing partners, on how to get their projects covered, what the WGA can and can’t do to help, and how much harder it is if they wait to deal with it and believe studio promises to ‘revisit the issue later.’”
The AWOC’s co-chairs—David A. Goodman, Patric M. Verrone, and Scully—have been fighting for WGA representation for animation writers for over two decades. Verrone and Scully were among the initial group of writers who lead the first successful drive to get WGA coverage in animation in the late 1990s. Writers on iconic animated shows including The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, The PJs, and King of the Hill saw the disparity between what they were paid and what their fellow live-action writers were making, so they started organizing. The writers of these shows uniformly demanded WGAW coverage from Fox and, long story short, they got it! Many of these same writers have continued to push for WGA coverage for animation writers ever since.
Today, writers who prioritize WGA coverage early on, use whatever leverage they have at their disposal, and refuse to accept non-WGA deals continue to prove that the same studios can, will, and do cover the projects they claim are “non-starters.”
“I’m a lower-level writer who has worked on both WGA and TAG-covered animated shows. I’ve experienced the difference in wages. I’ve experienced what it’s like to get residuals for one show and not another. I’ve experienced what it’s like to bounce between two healthcare plans because some of my work contributed to one, and some contributed to another. I’ve experienced failing to qualify for healthcare at all for that same reason,” says Rachel Hastings, an animation writer whose credits include writing on Central Park, Bob’s Burgers, and Freeform’s upcoming Praise Petey.
“The work of the AWOC is important because the more animated shows are covered by the WGA, the less these issues will have day-to-day impacts on the lives of animation writers,” Hastings continued. “The AWOC is going to help both animation writers and writers developing animated projects because it’ll give them a place to go for help and resources they might not have if they were going it alone.”
Says Adele Lim, whose credits include the TAG-covered Raya and the Last Dragon: “Without WGA protections, feature animation writers are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the issue of credit. You could be first writer on a feature animation project and have worked on it for multiple years, but end up without writing credit or getting a lesser credit, which directly affects not just your resume, but your contractual bonuses.
“The process for determining credit on non-Guild-covered features can be arbitrary, and appeals for credit are put through the studio's ‘internal’ arbitration process (i.e. in-house lawyers), which, by definition, can't be impartial.”
In August, the Writers Guild released a pledge signed by animation writers announcing their commitment to getting WGA coverage on their animated projects. The pledge, which is made up of screenwriters, showrunners, and TV writers including such notable names as J.J. Abrams, Amy Poehler, Mike Judge, Seth MacFarlane, Tina Fey, Mike Schur, Lord & Miller, Matt Groening, Greg Daniels, and Wendy & Lizzy Molyneaux, now has over 1,900 Guild members signed on.
The demand is simple: Guild animation writers should be covered by the writers’ union, the Writers Guild of America.
The goal of the AWOC is not just to ensure that animation writers are paid the same as their counterparts in live action, but to also ensure they get the most out of their rooms without losing writers to other shows. “We also plan to sit down with the studios to discuss, from a business perspective, the long-term downside of forcing WGA writers to join a second union for animated projects where they make less money and receive no pension contributions, residuals, or paid parental leave,” Scully says. “Animated TV series and movies bring in big money for studios, not only from the initial projects, but ancillary revenue streams. Friends is a great show, but it doesn’t have a ride at Universal Studios.”
“This pledge is a chance to publicly state what many of us have believed for a quarter century: that the Writers Guild covers animation writing and we won't write it if it isn't covered,” says Verrone.
Any writer looking to get their animated project covered can begin the process by contacting WGAW organizer contacting WGAW organizer Andrew Cohen.