This week John August and Craig Mazin of Scriptnotes talk about the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) negotiations. It is important to understand that the WGA is a union, which is a collective specialized entity organized to benefit the members providing minimums, pensions, and healthcare. While the debate about the relevancy of unions, given the numerous government regulations that exist, is a topic for another day, the issue of negotiation is something that is worth investigating.
“In order to work as a WGA screenwriter you have to work for one of these companies. And these are the companies who we negotiate with every 3 years to figure out the contract and what those rates are going to be. So, the rates for residuals, how money is going for health and pension, how we are going to schedule the minimums for the kinds of work we do. Together, all these signatories are the AMPTP (The Association of Motion Picture Television Producers)” – John August
Depending on the contract that is drawn up, the WGA could look different in the future. While drastic changes are unlikely, and many of the issues will simply be revised and renewed, what happens with the WGA is important because it determines the working environment of screenwriters. Of course, more research will have to do be done in order to fully understand the negotiations, but looking at the business side, particularly the activities of the various unions involved is a skill that many film students could stand to learn; especially if they have any hope of taking film with any degree of seriousness.
This is especially true because of the breath of jobs that screenwriters perform depending on where they are and the kind of things they write. The contract will most certainly deal with finding a uniform solution to longstanding problems such as work hours, content providers (Netflix, Amazon), and the ability to collectively bargain in an environment that is constantly changing coming up with new ideas and heading in different directions. As Craig Mazin notes:
“… all of this is putting enormous pressure on whatever the old models were; and our bargaining and our contract, it is all steeped deeply in the tradition of the time of which it was first convinced which was post World War II America.”