WGA Strike Roundtable: Film Writers Who Go ‘Months Without Pay’ Lobby for 2-Step Payment on Script Rewrites (Video)

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While TV gets much of the focus of the WGA strike, screenwriters say that studios can no longer expect free labor

While much of the focus on the Writers Guild strike has been on television and the existential threat to writers’ rooms, screenwriters who primarily work in the film industry say that Hollywood is trending towards a new normal where they are pressured to work more without seeing their pay increase with it.

In TheWrap’s latest strike video roundtable, WGA West vice president Michele Mulroney joined “X-Men: First Class” screenwriter Zack Stentz, “Blue Beetle” writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and “Collateral” screenwriter Stuart Beattie to discuss the WGA’s push to lock in a two-step payment structure for film writers.

A two-step pay structure would ensure that writers not only get paid at the start of the project and when they turn in the first draft but would also ensure that they would get at least one smaller payment for a rewrite. Mulroney says that over the past 20 years, writers have not been guaranteed payments for rewrites, creating a status quo where producers and sometimes studios pressure them to do multiple redos of a script before it is officially turned in without any compensation.

“One of the WGA mantras is that there’s actually no such thing as a one-step deal,” Mulroney said. “Usually, if you’re on a one-step deal, you find yourself often being pressured to do a second step or a third step, or even a fourth step for free, sometimes working for weeks and weeks or months and months without pay.”

And similar to how the rise of minirooms in television has led to younger writers being deprived of the ability to be a part of the production process as they are only hired before a show is greenlit, Beattie says that pressuring younger writers to get the first official draft right takes away their ability to learn from the process that film development operated on for decades and to make a script that is satisfactory not only to the producers, but to the directors and actors that also sign on to work on the film.

“You need one step just to get everybody on the same page and agree that this is the movie we’re making, and then you can take people’s notes and refine it and make it into the movie that everyone wants. A one-step deal cuts that out,” he said.

Beyond two-step pay, Zack Stentz called out the “perverse” residual pay structure that streamers like Netflix give to writers, which is based on a percentage of the film’s budget rather than viewership data, which streamers refuse to divulge. While writers would usually be incentivized to write a script in a way that it could be produced as cheaply as possible, the new normal with streaming incentivizes them to do the opposite.

“You see a bunch of $150-200 million direct-to-streaming movies where you wonder, ‘Where did all the money go?’ And it’s literally because all of the incentives are to pump up the budget, because that’s the only place that people are getting paid,” he said. “It’s the opposite of a Clint Eastwood movie where he takes scale until he recoups the budget and then gets paid some huge amount of the gross.”

Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, whose past works include the thriller “Miss Bala,” may be watching his next film “Blue Beetle” hit theaters from the picket lines when it comes out in August. But as hard as the strike has been, he has taken strength from his fellow writers.

“I’ve always believed very deeply in syndicalism. And it’s lovely to see it in action. It’s how the many little people can get together against the few powerful, and it’s very affirming.”

Watch the full panel in the clip above.

For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.