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WGA Wants Higher Streaming Pay, Foreign Film Residuals in Talks With AMPTP

Hikes in pension/health fund caps and minimums were also among the list of high-priority goals outlined in the memo to members

The Writers Guild of America listed eight major goals its negotiating committee is pushing towards in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, including increased minimums and larger residuals for films released overseas.

The email was sent as part of a series of notices from the committee to WGA members to keep them informed of the guild’s position in these talks. The guild usually holds a series of meetings prior to the start of negotiations to answer members’ questions, but such meetings were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Talks with the AMPTP began last week remotely after an initial start date in March was postponed by the pandemic.

If included in the contract, this would be the first time that feature film writers would receive residuals based on their films’ foreign box office performance. The WGA argues that writers should be included in the profits studios are taking in from growing box office markets, particularly China.

“When residuals for feature films were first negotiated in 1960, the foreign box office was miniscule,” the guild’s memo read. “Today, the foreign box office is three-quarters of the worldwide total. It’s long past time for screenwriters to share in the generated revenue and receive a foreign box office residual, just as writers do with foreign television.”

The current contract between the AMPTP and WGA expires on June 30, the same date as the AMPTP’s contract with SAG-AFTRA, which is also currently in negotiations. Read the full memo below.

Dear Members,

We are bringing a range of proposals to the table addressing issues of particular interest to screenwriters.  We wanted to highlight some of them.

MINIMUMS:  We want to substantially raise feature minimums, in large part to protect those who may not yet have the clout to earn above-scale fees.

STREAMING MINIMUMS:  We’re seeing the convergence of longform programs and theatrical films made for streaming (SVOD).  We need feature minimums to apply to all feature-length SVOD projects, whether they are contracted as made-for-SVOD or as a feature.

FEATURE TEAMS:  We seek to increase minimums for writers working in teams of two or three.  Health fund contributions for individual writers on teams of two currently cap out at $125K.  This leads to many screen team members struggling to keep their healthcare coverage while working on a project for more than a year.  It’s a similar problem for the pension plan – contributions for writers on teams cap out at a portion of what they would be if the writer worked alone.  We are proposing that the full pension & health benefit contribution cap (currently $250K) apply to each member of the team, rather than the lower ceiling that applies now.

PENSION & HEALTH CAPS:  We are proposing an increase in the contribution caps to $400K for both pension and health.  This would ensure that more writers receive the benefits they deserve for their work and could help writers on long-gestating projects avoid losing healthcare coverage.

COMPENSATION FOR REPEATED PITCHES:  Writers understand that crafting a pitch to get hired is part of the job.  However, with sweepstakes pitching, cherry-picking of ideas, and endless bake-offs, the pitch process can devolve into an unpaid months-long think tank.  We are proposing a two meeting rule: if a buyer asks for a second meeting to work on the pitch, this will trigger a guaranteed payment for the writer’s time and effort.

GUARANTEED 2ND STEP:  In the last decade, the proliferation of one-step deals has exacerbated free work abuses.  For screenwriters earning less than 200% of minimum, a second step should be guaranteed.  The reality is that most writers are already doing 2nd, 3rd and even 4th steps in their so-called one-step deals.  This is a low-cost solution that will help return the industry to better past practices.

PAYMENT STRUCTURE:  Unpaid producer passes and late payments are clear violations of the MBA, yet both are rampant.  These free passes often delay both the delivery of the completed script and the writer’s delivery check.  To address this and compensate writers throughout their employment on a project, this no-cost proposal would give the writer the choice of being paid on a weekly pro-rated basis instead of two lump sums.

FOREIGN BOX OFFICE RESIDUALS:  When residuals for feature films were first negotiated in 1960, the foreign box office was miniscule. Today, the foreign box office is three-quarters of the worldwide total. It’s long past time for screenwriters to share in the generated revenue and receive a foreign box office residual, just as writers do with foreign television.

Whether writing theatrical tentpoles, features for streamers, or indie passion projects, taken together these proposals would ensure screenwriters secure gains and protections they need and deserve in our ever-evolving feature film business.