By Jeremy Pikser, Vice President, Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE)
Newsflash: it’s hard and getting harder for most writers to work in films.
I won’t bore you with the reasons. You know them all. If you’re like me you fall to sleep (or fail to fall asleep) many nights listing them in your head.
The last thing anyone needs or wants is Guild rules to make it even harder. And as financing and technology have made lower and lower budgets both possible and necessary that has increasingly seemed to be the case.
The Minimum Basic Agreement, that thing that gives us our most basic protections regarding minimum payments, health and pension benefits, residuals, everything that makes a middle class life for professional screenwriters a possibility was designed to work in the context of the studio system.
Truly independent films and truly low budget films have never worked very well with the rules and requirements the Guild has managed to negotiate with the studios.
For many of us this has been a drag; a sad fact that has made making a living and writing what we want to write often at odds.
Several years ago the Guild pioneered a new “Low Budget Agreement” that made it much easier for producers to make lower budget films from scripts by guild writers, with initial compensation deferred and lower minimums. But it was only for sales of scripts written on spec.
Now. the new Low Budget Agreement makes it possible for independent, low budget films, to HIRE a writer to work, which, unlike the sales agreement, includes health and pension contributions. But more than that (and that’s a lot) it allows for much more freedom for writers.
On more than a couple of occasions, I’ve been approached by producers with a book or an idea that really appeals to me, one that I would love to write. But it’s obviously going to be a small, independent production by the very nature of the material. And there’s no way the budget can sustain the 85k or so required for a guild screenplay. You can’t really write it on spec—it’s not an original idea, the producer has to have some stake it in. Not legally, under guild rules, anyway. And how many of us have been put in the position of being forced into this kind of agreement where you work for nothing on script you don’t even own. Sucks, right?
Now, under the new Low Budget Agreement, a low budget, work for hire deal becomes possible.
The Guild’s new Low Budget Agreement includes:
- Lower budget breaks, including reduced minimums for projects under $200k.
- Opportunities for writers to receive health and pension contributions for their work on low budget films (unavailable under the previous low budget agreement).
- Option of work for hire or screenplay purchase contract.
- Option of upfront or deferred payments.
- Residuals and creative rights as established in the Guild’s Major Basic Agreement.
These new contract provisions are open to anyone working on a Guild covered, low budget project. Moreover, writers who live east of the Mississippi River and are not yet members of the WGAE can join the Guild on any project covered under the new Low Budget Agreement.
We at the WGAE don’t want to be in a different creative universe from the fantastic independent film community in NY and throughout the east. We have been and continue to find flexible, realistic ways to to work together making sure that filmmakers working at all levels of production have basic rights and protections.
Likewise, producers who want to work with WGA writers should not find the cost of doing so prohibitive for a small production. Writers, directors, producers of small budget, mini-budget, hell, even micro-budget films, the WGA wants to work with you to make Guild coverage work wherever possible.
For more information on using the Guild’s Low Budget Agreement please contact Ursula Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-767-7836.