When it comes to working in advance of production or series pickup, negotiating the right contract terms is key.
As shorter episode orders have become more common, so too have what the studios and networks call “mini-rooms,” where groups of writers are gathered in advance of the production of a television series to break stories and write scripts. Writing in advance of production or before series pickup can present issues in terms of how to structure your contract, including appropriate compensation. Here are some guidelines for negotiating contracts for mini-room work for all TV writers—from staff writer to showrunner.
First, while a mini-room is a writers’ room above all, Guild members should understand exactly what they’re signing up for on a mini-room project. Because there is often no production commitment at the start, experienced writers may find themselves working at WGA scale. For that reason, writers should try whenever possible to negotiate an overscale weekly rate for each week in the room. Your work has the same value in a mini-room as it does in a regular writers’ room; your fee should accurately reflect your title and experience.
Second, if the show does get a series order and you have negotiated a guaranteed episodic fee, you may negotiate terms which ensure that any money you make in the mini-room is not charged against your episodic guarantee. If, however, your contract states that those weeks will be credited against your episodic guarantee, those weeks must be counted in the “span” of weeks—2.4 weeks per episode—that your episodic guarantee will cover. (Click here to see if you are covered by span.) Contact the Guild’s Contracts Department to ensure the math is done right.
Finally, mini-rooms can be unpredictable. Without the pressure and deadline of a production commitment, a room that is supposed to last just a few weeks can be extended for several months. Make sure you know up front exactly how many weeks you’re agreeing to work for the fee you’ve negotiated. And, because these rooms often wrap up before a production commitment, it’s important that you are NOT held exclusively for weeks or months on end.
No matter how long you’ve been working as a professional writer or what title you currently hold, you may be asked to participate in one of these rooms at some point. Make sure you’re informed and fully aware of what you’re agreeing to BEFORE you pick up your pen. The Guild is here to provide you with all the support and information you need about working in a mini-room. Please contact Contracts with any questions or concerns.