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2/13/2024 • Evan Henerson
The choice for the Writers Guild Awards venue was easy.
As the industry adapts to production during the pandemic, some employers have tried to circumvent key aspects of writers’ pilot and series services deals and Articles 13 and 14 of the MBA. Series writers, if you experience any of these questionable practices, contact the Guild’s Legal Department via email or by phone at (323) 782-4521.
1. You receive script assignments during hiatuses, suspensions, or after your room has closed.
Since the onset of the pandemic, writers have reported companies increasingly assigning scripts during a hiatus or room suspension, after the writers’ room has closed, or after a writer’s contract term has expired. During these periods, companies sometimes fail to pay writers their weekly compensation. This is the companies’ way of having their cake and eating it too. They get the benefit of your uninterrupted writing services while paying you substantially less than they would if the writers’ room was “officially” open.
While the Legal Department would need to review your contract and analyze the facts of your case, if you’re asked to write outlines or scripts during any of these periods but are not being paid your weekly rate, you may be owed additional compensation for the time you spent writing your script. Under most circumstances, no writing can occur during a hiatus or suspension without the corresponding payment of weekly compensation to all writers in the room.
Similarly, if you are being told the writers’ room is closed or that a term in your employment agreement has expired, but you’re being asked to perform the same kind of services you were when the writers’ room was open, the terms of your weekly series services agreement may nevertheless continue to apply. In these instances, you may be owed additional weekly compensation, even if the company classifies your script writing services as purely “freelance.”
Finally, even if your scriptwriting services do qualify as freelance employment, please keep in mind that MBA Article 13.B.8. requires payment for each rewrite and polish you deliver.
2. Your overscale compensation has been withheld during production.
COVID-19 has disrupted the entertainment industry and increased the time that it takes to produce a season of television. To save money, and to protect themselves against future COVID-19-related disruptions, some companies are withholding writers’ overscale producer fees even after production has begun or resumed. As a result, mid- and upper-level writers who negotiated for substantial episodic fees prior to the pandemic have been earning scale for weeks on end.
If you’d like guidance as to whether your contract requires a company to pay you the producer portion of your episodic fees once production has started, the Legal Department can assist you.
3. You’ve been paid sub-minimum weekly payments before the room opens or during post-production.
The MBA requires that television writers be paid at least Article 13 or Article 14 weekly compensation for all weeks during which they provide writing services. Despite this, the Guild has witnessed an uptick in instances in which writers are being paid below scale before a writers’ room opens or during post-production.
Writers have reported situations where companies try to get a head start on an upcoming season by asking them to write story outlines or scripts before the room officially opens. These writers are paid script fees but not the corresponding weekly compensation they are owed under their contracts or the MBA. If a company asks you to perform writing services of any kind before your room opens and fails to pay you weekly compensation for your time, the Legal Department may be able to seek unpaid weekly compensation on your behalf for the time you spent working before your room opened, as well as interest for the late payment of that compensation.
Some companies have also tried to undercut writers by paying them below scale during post-production, claiming that the MBA minimums don’t apply. However, if you’ve been hired as a writer, the company shouldn’t be separating writing from production work to underpay you and avoid paying your benefits. Writing and re-writing during post-production are exceedingly common, and you should continue to receive your weeklies even if you only performed minor script editing sometimes done by non-writers (the so-called “(a) through (h)” services—such as cutting for time or adding bridging material as listed in MBA Article 1.C.(1)(a)), because those are writing services when performed by someone hired as a writer. If you were hired as a writer on a series, but you’re being paid less than minimum in post, please contact us. You may be entitled to your full weekly scale payments, plus pension and health contributions on that compensation.
When negotiating your contracts, make sure that your agent or attorney rejects any language that purports to allow the company to pay you below Guild minimum during post-production. If your agreement says that company can pay you less than minimum in post, let us know.
(This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)