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WGA Strike – Fast Answers for the Uninformed Screenwriter

Posted by bobheske on November 11, 2007

If you are like me (a non-WGA writer), chances are you’re in the dark on the recent WGA Writers Strike and the impact to WGA and non-member writers. What is the strike about? What is the impact on striking writers and those of us not yet in the WGA club? What should writers do during the strike and is there any chance to get scripts sold without being labeled as a “scab”?

For a quick primer on the WGA strike, check out the YouTube video below called WHY WE FIGHT:


If you have a free hour to spare, listen to this audio where Strike Captain X Gives the Inside Scoop in the Writer’s Strike.

Or, if you simply want a fast read, read this article from Creative Screenwriting’s weekly e-newsletter, CS Weekly:

The Answers You Seek: The WGA Strike FAQ
By Peter Clines
CS Weekly tries to clear up some of the mystery and questions surrounding the WGA strike.

The writers strike has left many aspiring writers a bit confused about where they stand and what they’re allowed to do. In the days leading up to the strike, and especially in the days since, dozens of questions have popped up on message boards, in live chats, and some have even been emailed directly to our offices. CS Weekly has spent the past week prodding experts and gnawing through the WGA’s block of strike rules (available for download here) to provide our readers with simple, straightforward answers to their questions. In the days and weeks to come, we’ll add to this list on our website. Check for updates here.

Why is the WGA striking? What’s the issue? There are two main issues that the WGA wants addressed. First is the residuals paid to writers for the sale of DVDs (established after the 1988 strike at four cents per sale), which they would like increased to eight cents. It’s worth noting that just before the strike, the WGA removed this proposal from the table, but negotiations ceased almost immediately afterwards.

The second issue is the increasing use of the internet as a medium for both viewing and sales. At present, since this is new territory, writers are paid nothing when their work is “aired” online. The WGA wants to establish payment and residual guidelines for material used or sold in this way.

Q: Does the strike affect every studio in Hollywood?

A: No, it does not. The WGA is striking against the specific studios that it has signatory agreements with, a complete list of which is available here on the Guild’s website. There are still several production companies that operate independent of the WGA, which are often referred to as non-signatory companies.

Q: What is a signatory company?

A: Signatory companies have agreed to the terms of the WGA’s Basic Agreement. These terms include minimum pay rates, pension and health plan contributions, and residuals. All of the major studios and networks have signed this agreement with the Guild. During the strike, all signatory companies are being struck.

Q: What is a scab?

A: Anyone who performs screenwriting services of any kind for a struck company is considered a scab, whether they are a Guild member or not. Guild members who scab write will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I sell to a non-signatory company?

A: WGA writers cannot write or sell work during the strike, but non-guild writers can still sell to non-signatory companies, since this violates neither side of the signatory agreements.

Q: I’m not a member. Can I still sell to struck companies, or does that make me a scab?

A: Non-member writers who sell scripts or perform any sort of screenwriting work for struck companies will be considered scabs and barred from future membership.

Q: I won a screenwriting contest that promises money and production as their prize, but what if they don’t pay me until after the strike starts? Am I a scab?

A: If the production company that would make the movie is one of the struck companies, then, yes, this would be scab work.

Q: I’m a non-guild member, someone bought my first script and I’ve already signed a contract. Can I still do rewrites?

A: If the purchasing company is a struck company, doing rewrites would violate the strike and be considered scab work. Guild members who perform scab writing will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: A company in another country wants to buy one of my scripts. Would that make me a scab?

A: There are signatory companies outside of the country. If the purchasing company is a struck company, selling a script would violate the strike and be considered scab work. Guild members who perform scab writing will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I just work for free now and get paid later?

A: The point of the strike is not to perform any work, not to avoid being paid for work. Anyone who performs screenwriting services of any kind for a struck company is considered a scab. Guild members who scab write will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I still try to get an agent or a manager during the strike?

A: Yes, you can. Some reps have even said they’ll be using the time they aren’t working on deals or contracts to catch up on their reading and submissions. However, others warn that they are focusing even harder on their existing clients to be ready once the strike ends. In short, the challenge will still be attracting someone’s attention with good writing.

Q: The WGA says if I scab I can never be a member, but aren’t all the studios allowed to buy specs from non-members anyway?

A: Technically, this is true. However, non-guild members cannot be hired for any assignments or other writing work once the strike ends, receive no benefits, and have no retirement plan.

Q: Will joining picket lines get me into the WGA?

A: No. While the writers appreciate any support, the normal rules and requirements for WGA membership are still in effect.

Q: How long will the strike last?

A: No one can say for sure. Many industry experts are already predicting five or six months, while some hold out hope for a quicker resolution. At the moment, neither side has announced plans to resume negotiations.

Q: Does this mean I’ll never learn how Sylar lost his powers?

A: Possibly. Several television series have already stopped filming for both political and practical reasons, while others will continue to make episodes as long as they still have scripts. Some showrunners (such as Tim Kring of Heroes) made last minute changes before the strike began so their shows can have a degree of closure if there is an extended work stoppage.

Finally, for a list of struck companies go to this link on http://www.wga.org.

And if all else fails, keep writing and building your portfolio until the dust settles.

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5 Responses to “WGA Strike – Fast Answers for the Uninformed Screenwriter”

  1. Nick Jenkins said

    I found a web site that lists a lot of the non-signatory production companies that non-union writers can submit to: http://www.ideaprovince.com/2007/12/list-of-non-str.html

  2. bobheske said

    Nick:

    Thank you for the list of non-struck WGA companies. Just what a screenwriter wants under his Christmas tree! I’ve passed it along to a few film confidants. Come back and visit the site often.

    Happy Holidays.

    Bob

  3. Beet said

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Beet!!

  4. I highly enjoyed reading your post, keep up writing such interesting stuff!!

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