Never a Writer’s Guild member, always pro-Union. Peditto, why are you writing about something you know not? It’s true, the Union I’m in is not the WGA. It’s PFAC, meaning part-time faculty, serving the lowly Adjunct teachers of Columbia College-Chicago. The fact that I’m not one of the chosen few of the 2015 WGA doesn’t preclude me from noticing a trend or two. I’m thinking, Good Reader, this might be of interest to you too… before we get to these, you might want to check out the WGA Writer’s Report which gives you an overview of current conditions.
- DANCING THE ONE-STEP
Let’s start with this disquieting little tidbit from Variety about the proliferation of one-step deals. Sure, the article is from 2010, but you can bet this nasty trend didn’t go away with the Recession. What’s a one-step deal? From the article:
“Rewrite gigs are a gold mine for the top tier of scribes, but for many other writers, a twist on an old motto rings true: Will work for free.
For writers who have sold a script or landed an assignment, studios have gone from making deals that included a traditional first draft, two sets of revisions and a polish to what are called “one-step” deals. It’s essentially payment for that first draft, with fees for additional work left to be determined.
In a landscape of waning producing deals and fewer pictures in the pipeline, writers say it’s become especially difficult to insist on getting paid for rewrites — even if they end up doing more than a dozen drafts. Their fear: not getting a next assignment.
“Jobs have become so few and far between that writers are willing to keep on writing until they’ve gotten it to the finish line,” says one manager, who, like many, declined to be identified for fear of antagonizing studio execs. “When a writer really wants to be the writer on a project, they’re willing to take a lot of abuse. One of mine did 70 different rewrites on a franchise film.”
You can imagine a younger writer getting squeezed in this environment, not wanting to come off as a Diva, wanting to keep getting considered for assignments, keep getting paid. The squeeze is on.
“When I came up in the business, there was an understanding of what producers would feel was appropriate to ask of writers in terms of a courtesy pass that would take a reasonable amount of time. But that’s all gone out the window,” says Petrie, whose credits include “Beverly Hills Cop” and “The Big Easy.”
Younger and less experienced writers are more susceptible, particularly on projects with multiple producers.
One scribe, who’s been on the staff of two TV series and has a feature going into production this month, said she felt like a “rented mule” on her first gig. “There were 13 rewrites because the producers didn’t know what they wanted,” she recalls. “I was killing myself, and my agent finally demanded that I stop.”
The bottom line is that with studios making fewer movies and cutting back on producing deals, even writers with a proven track record are having to work on spec and generate their own work.
- PAPER TEAMS
This Deadline.com article is from 2014 and proves the money guys are still up to plenty of shenanigans. What the hell is a paper team? From the article:
“Always looking for the crooked angle, some unscrupulous film and TV companies have found a way to hire two writers for the price of one. Taking advantage of young, mostly inexperienced writers, these companies pair them up to form what’s called “paper teams” – two writers who are forced to work together for half the pay. Even some older experienced writers have caved to the companies’ demands that they work as a team. It’s a violation of the WGA’s contract…”
Y’think?! How do they expect to get away with this? Easy. The landscape hasn’t changed from the 2010 article. Paranoia and fear are rampant, it takes cujones to call bullshit when they’re paying you $5,000 or $10,000 a week. Not that I wouldn’t know what it feels like to get paid at that rate. I do know I’m not enough of a poker player to call a bluff with those stakes(especially when it’s likely not a bluff at all). I’d crumble and say yeah, sure, I’ll work for half-price, as so many are seeming to do.
“’That’s the scam — to get two writers for the price of one,’ a guild source told Deadline. “It’s one of those areas that in hard times, writers, in economic self-interest, will say, ‘I need a job so bad, I’ll take it even if it’s half-scale.’ It’s been going on as long as unscrupulous producers have been taking advantage of hard-pressed writers.”
The practice has been a dirty little secret for a while, employed mostly in cable but also on some broadcast series, agents say. It could bring together strangers who might or might not be compatible as writing partners. ‘It’s a way for a show to get as many people in the writers room as possible (for the budget),’ a TV lit agent said.”
- BBC PAYING 2 POUND AN HOUR?
This article looks like it’s from The Onion. Alas, it’s for real. A world-class organization like the BBC is paying its scriptwriters the equivalent of a couple bucks an hour. These “shadow schemes ” are described here:
“The BBC is paying writers working on potential scripts for soaps such as EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty as little as the equivalent of £2 an hour, according to the head of the writers’ union.
Bernie Corbett, the general secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, has written a letter to BBC director general Tony Hall calling for scriptwriters on so-called “shadow schemes” for long-running TV series to be paid the minimum wage.
Writers working on these schemes are paid a single script fee of £1,000 and are required to produce up to three drafts of a trial script over a three-month period, according to Corbett. There is no guarantee of a commission at the end of the scheme.
Corbett said that the rate of pay works out at about £2.38 an hour; the national minimum wage is £6.70, the London living wage is £9.15.”
How do you know if you’re meant to be one of these bloodsuckers? Look in the mirror after paying a writer less than the national minimum wage…
You good with what you see?