And Now, the WGA’s New Year’s Message

Yesterday, we reported on a couple of the specifics in this Writers Guild of America, West e-mail to members. Now we bring you – wow! – the whole thing:

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Fellow Members,

Happy New Year to all of you.  We hope that it will be a fine and productive one for each of you, and for all of us, together, as a Guild.

We made a decision, at the end of last year, to forgo a year-end letter in favor of this, a message that looks forward instead of back.  2013, in particular, demands it. By December we will be at the doorstep of our next negotiation. Success then depends on the work we do now, and over the next twelve months – both in exhaustive preparation, and in effective communication.  We are committed to both.

We begin the year with two pieces of very good news.

First, we are truly pleased to announce that as of today we are rescinding theStop Work notice that we sent last November, asking you to refrain from writing for Central Productions (Comedy Central’s production company). After months of negotiation, we have reached agreement with the company in an overall deal that achieves all of our principal goals.  These include the adoption of our industry-standard residual formula, and protection against Central Productions’ past practice of hiring writers without a Guild deal in place. This means hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in writers’ pockets over the term of the agreement, and, crucially, the end of frantic show-by-show negotiations for dramatic, comedy-variety, non-dramatic and Quiz & Audience shows produced for Comedy Central.

We owe thanks for this success to the staff of the Guild, whose work, under the most difficult circumstances, made this deal possible; and to the Board, whose guidance and determination were indispensable. Most of all, every writer in this Guild owes a deep and abiding debt of gratitude to those relatively few writers at work on uncovered projects at the time we issued our advisory, on whose shoulders fell the brunt and burden of this negotiation.  Though we all lent our support, it was they who bore the risk.

The fact that compliance with Working Rule 8 is required of all of us does not make what they did any easier. They put down their pens and walked away from shows and pilot scripts, some even on the eve of production – projects that they knew might never return and that were, for some, the culmination of a life’s work. They did this all during the holiday season, when the prospects for other employment were dim or non-existent.  This deal, which will benefit countless writers for Comedy Central in the years to come, we owe to them.

The path to this victory, however, did not begin in November. It is the result of a process that had its roots in 2007, when the first Comedy Central shows were organized.  It started with a group of writers determined to work under Guild agreements and was strengthened over the years as, show-by-show, Guild members contributed to Comedy Central’s success.

Second, we can announce the signing on January 11 of a Guild agreement with Prospect Park that covers writers on the made-for-internet continuation of the daytime dramas One Life to Live and All My ChildrenOne Life to Live aired for some 43 years before going off the air last year; All My Children ran for 41 years.  Both shows were mainstays of the ABC daytime schedule and are classics of this extraordinary form of storytelling. (Guiding Light, for instance, which began in the days of radio and continued for some 72 years, is arguably the modern era’s longest continuous narrative.)

Even as viewing habits and viewing platforms change, the Guild will continue to look out for those daytime writers whose contributions to these very-long-form narratives changed the face of American culture.  Now that they are “migrating” to the Internet, we needed to insure that Guild standards for writers migrated with them.  We struck for 100 days to ensure this principle, and we’re not about to abandon it – even when, perhaps especially when, some employers would find it easier and cheaper to work union-free.

As independent companies like Prospect Park step in to cover territory that used to be staked solely by the legacy media, we’ll be there.  The increased competition, and increased availability of work, can only be to our benefit.

None of these fights was easy. And in no case was the outcome certain (nor will it be in the future).  Every move to extend the reach of our agreement requires risk on our part. But, as Frederick Douglas famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” That is worth remembering as we move through this year and towards the negotiations of 2014. As of today, however, and through much patience, dedication and concerted writer action, Central Productions is a WGA signatory. That makes it a very good day and a great way to start the New Year.

But it’s only a start.  Through this new year – and beyond – we need to remain forward-leaning and forward-thinking. If we merely play a defensive game, protecting Guild contracts with legacy media, we run the risk of becoming the last generation of writers able to make a living at it.

To this end, one of our primary areas of focus is extending the reach of the MBA, particularly in New Media, nonfiction programming, video games, transmedia, and the like.  As the work of writing moves to screens of all dimensions, as our employers become both larger and more multifarious, it is vital that Guild coverage expands.

And of course, you don’t need us to tell you that the work of screenwriters has never, in recent memory, been harder to come by.  A confluence of one-draft deals, diminished development budgets, and the near-flatlining of studio-financed drama, has weighed on all of us who seek to make a career in the business of features.  The Guild’s Committee for the Professional Status of Writers (CPSW) has been meeting with heads of studios, and with their creative staffs, to discuss such matters as sweepstakes pitching, free pre-writes, free re-writes, late pay – the issues identified by you in last year’s Screenwriters’ Survey.  The conversations are frank and cordial, as we maintain that eliminating these abuses isn’t just good for writers – it’s good for cinema.

In particular, we are committed to focusing on enforcement and the epidemic of late pay that has become the bane of writers and their representatives alike.

Finally, as we prepare for next year’s negotiations, we’ve begun a multitude of outreach efforts to insure that we are in good sync: that we know your concerns, and that you know what we’re thinking. We’ve had outreach meetings organized geographically; we’ve had outreach meetings based on work area (with screenwriters and with showrunners); and we continue our show visits.  As we come together in anticipation of the contract expiration, our hope would be that every member of our Guild has ample opportunity to join with his/her brothers and sisters to voice, and share, our individual concerns and common goals.

We’ve learned again and again that an engaged membership is essential for union democracy.  But it’s also a considerable source of leverage.  By standing together – as the Central Productions writers have shown – we can stand against attempts to erode our jurisdiction.  And we can win.

The good news: it’s in our DNA as writers to share deeply in community, and to use that community to provide us all with a better future. That is our hope as we face the challenges of 2013, together.

Chris Keyser, President
Howard Rodman, Vice President
Carl Gottlieb, Secretary-Treasurer