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Credits Survival Guide
The Guild provides a unique service to the entertainment industry in determining writing credits. The system for determining writing credits has been developed over several decades by writers for writers. The purpose of this information is to provide writers with a plain language guide to the credits determination process and practical tips writers should know to help protect their interests in credits.
This guide is not a substitute for the Credits Schedules of The WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement (MBA), or The Credits Manuals, and is not intended to, and does not, alter their provisions in any way.
Table of Contents
- Before You Make a Deal
- While You Are Writing
- End of Production
- Guild Investigations
- Pre-Arbitration Hearings
- Preparing for Arbitration
- Policy Review Board Hearings
- Final Credits
The Guild has the sole authority to determine writing credits on theatrical and television projects written under its jurisdiction. A company cannot guarantee that you will receive writing credit, or any particular form of writing credit. Before you enter into a deal with a production company to perform writing services or to sell your written material, there are a few important questions you need to ask.
Is It Covered by the WGA?
Make sure you are dealing with a company which has become signatory to the WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, commonly called the Writers Guild Minimum Basic Agreement or MBA. Guild Working Rules prohibit members from working for a company which is not signatory to the MBA. A company that has asked for, or signed, an application to become signatory may not have completed the process. It is important that you personally call the Guild’s Signatories Department to check the company’s status. Do not rely on an agent, manager or attorney to check for you. If you are employed by a company which has not become signatory to the MBA, then in all likelihood, the Guild will not determine the writing credits.
Are You A Professional Writer?
If you are selling material to a signatory company, you must be considered a “professional writer” to be eligible for writing credit. The MBA generally defines a “professional writer” as a person who has received employment for a total of thirteen weeks as a television or theatrical motion picture writer; or received credit as a writer on a television or theatrical motion picture (including series); or received credit for a professionally produced play or a published novel. You may also negotiate with a company to be treated as a “professional writer” even if you don’t meet the MBA criteria. Writers Guild membership does not automatically qualify you as a professional writer. If you have questions about whether you qualify as a professional writer under the MBA, please contact the Guild and we will help apply the MBA contract language to your situation.
Are there other writers on the project?
You should know whether there are other writers who have worked on the project before you or are currently working on the project. Article 18 of the MBA requires a Company to notify you of any writer assigned to the same project, whether that writer wrote prior to, concurrently or, in certain circumstances, subsequent to your work on the project. If you are invited to pitch on a project, you should inquire as to whether an invitation has been extended to other writers. Don’t rely on the Company to volunteer this information. You should raise this issue with the Company before you agree to write or sell anything. Also, you should inquire as to whether there is any assigned source material. Generally, source material is defined in the MBA as published material written outside of the Guild’s jurisdiction such as a novel or a produced play. It is important to know whether other writers have worked on the project since this information is critical in making informed employment decisions. It also may affect the likelihood that you would receive writing credit. If you are writing on a remake, the credited writer(s) of the earlier television or theatrical motion picture(s) will be eligible to compete for writing credit on the remake so long as the prior motion picture was written under the Guild’s jurisdiction. The Guild has an “Article 18 Notice” form letter available to facilitate your request for information from the Company regarding other writers on the same project. Please contact the Guilds’ Contracts Department to obtain this form, or download it now.
Are You Receiving Credit as a Producer or Director?
If you are employed as a director or a producer in addition to your writing services, or if you negotiate any form of producer credit, whether or not you actually perform services as a producer, when the credits are determined you will be subject to specific rules pertaining to production executives. This means the writing credits will be subject to the automatic arbitration provisions of the MBA if the production executive is proposed for credit and there are other writers on the project who are not production executives. In screen arbitrations, this may change the percentage necessary for each writer to receive credit.
What Do I Put On the Cover Page?
Guild rules require that until the final determination of credits, the cover page of each piece of material include the name of the first writer followed by the word “revisions” and then the names of all subsequent writers. If you are a subsequent writer then indicate your contributions by putting the words “current revisions by” followed by your name and the date the material is submitted to the company. Do not remove the names of earlier writers even if you believe that not one word of their material remains in your draft. The cover page may not necessarily reflect the appropriate writing credits for the film. It simply is intended to reflect which writers have worked on a project. The final credits will be determined by the Guild at the end of production. If you would like a sample cover page, please contact the Credits Department (212) 767-7804 or download it now.
Keep A Copy of All Material Submitted and Deliver Your Filmography With Your Final Draft
If there is a credit arbitration, the Arbitration Committee can consider only literary material that was submitted to the company or an authorized representative of the company. In some cases a producer or director will be the company’s authorized representative. A writer is sometimes required to show proof that one or more pieces of material were delivered to the company – months or even years after the fact. Therefore, keep copies of all your materials and accurate records of delivery dates. When delivering material to the company, be sure to attach a cover memo or letter with the name of the person to whom you are submitting materials, the date of delivery and a description of the material. If you transfer material electronically, include this information in a “cover e-mail.” Do not rely on registering your material with the Guild to meet this record-keeping requirement. Guild Registration of your material may help to establish if and when you wrote something, but it won’t prove that you delivered a story or script to the company. Also, when delivering your draft to the company, please remember to include a copy of your filmography. This will help to ensure that your filmography is included in publicity materials if you receive writing credit.
The MBA defines a team as two writers who have been assigned at about the same time to the same material and who work together for approximately the same length of time on the material. When it comes to credit, writing partners cannot divide their joint work into separate material written alone. The MBA does not permit more than two writers to work as a team unless the Guild has granted a waiver prior to commencement of writing services, or certain economic minimums are increased in cases of bona fide 3-person teams.
If one member of the team is a production executive (director or producer), then there must be a collaboration agreement under terms approved by the Guild. In addition, the production executive may be required to fill out certain forms with the Guild. Please note that a production executive who gives instructions, suggestions or directions, whether oral or written, to a writer regarding the literary material generally does not fall under the MBA definition of a writer. You should recognize that you have a choice in accepting work as part of a writing team. If you question the validity of the team collaboration, it is strongly recommended that you do so by contacting the Guild’s Credits Department at the time the writing is being performed. The Guild will not divulge your objection to the other person in the claimed team, or to the employer, without your consent. Do not wait until the time when the Guild is determining the credits to raise your objection.
Look For A Notice of Tentative Writing Credits
All writers employed by the company on the project or “professional writers” who sold literary material to the company are considered “participating writers” and are eligible to compete for credit. At the end of principal photography the company must send a Notice of Tentative Writing Credits (“Notice”) and a copy of the final shooting script (“FSS”) to the Guild and to each participating writer. The Notice will include the names of all participating writers and production executives, the company’s proposed writing credits and source material credit, if any. If you have not received a Notice and you know that principal photography has been completed, please contact the Guild’s Credits Department immediately. Delays can seriously interfere with your rights.
Residuals and other ancillary rights are based on credit. For instance, if the Guild receives a residuals payment but never received a Notice to determine the writing credits, this may result in a delay in distributing residuals checks to writers. This is another reason it is imperative that you notify the Guild immediately if a project you wrote is produced and/or released and you do not receive a Notice. This is true even if you are the only writer on the project.
Make Sure the Company Has Your Current Contact Information
Although it is the company’s responsibility to send the Notice properly, it is in your best interest to make sure the Guild and the company always have your current address information to ensure proper and timely delivery. Frequently, a writer’s contract will contain a provision directing the company to send all correspondence or notices to an agent and/or other representative of the writer. If you have a provision like this in your agreement(s), you should take due care to ensure that this information is updated whenever necessary. Remind your agent or other representative to forward all notices to you in a timely manner so that you do not miss important deadlines. If you have changed agents, it is even more important to make an effort to inform the company where to send your copy of the Notice and FSS.
Are You Receiving Credit under the Proper Name?
In reviewing the Notice, make sure that your name appears exactly as it is on file with the Guild. It is Guild policy that writers must take credit exactly as their names appear in Guild records. For example, if your name in Guild records is Deborah R. Jones, you cannot take credit as Debbie Jones unless you have registered this nickname/pseudonym with the Guild. If you listed your name with a middle initial at the Guild, make sure that the middle initial appears on the Notice. Following this policy will avoid the confusion of two writers receiving credit under the same name.
Agreement Among Writers
The MBA provides that all participating writers have the right to agree unanimously among themselves as to which of them shall receive writing credits. Participants also have the right to agree to the form of credit so long as: 1) the form agreed upon is in accordance with the terms of the MBA; and 2) the agreement is reached in advance of arbitration. If there is a chance that you would agree to a particular credit, then please inform the Screen or Television Credits Administrator. The Guild will help by facilitating communication between the writers. In the case of an automatic arbitration, as discussed below, the Guild has the right to make the final determination of writing credits.
How Do I Initiate An Arbitration?
A writer’s timely protest of the company’s proposed tentative credits is what triggers a Guild arbitration in most cases. The Notice will list a date by which you must protest the tentative credits or they will become the final credits. Before deciding whether to protest the tentative credits, you should read the final shooting script carefully to determine how much of your writing contribution remains. If you decide to have the Guild arbitrate the credits, you must send a written protest to the Guild and to the company before the deadline stated on the Notice. Your protest should state that you are protesting the company’s tentative credits, the name of the production and how you believe the final credits should read.
It is not necessary to send a protest if the credits are subject to automatic arbitration. The provisions in the MBA and Credits Manuals for automatic arbitration generally cover five instances:
- a production executive is proposed for writing credit and there are other non-production executive writers;
- three writers are proposed to share screenplay or teleplay credit;
- a “screen story” or “television story” credit is proposed;
- when an “Adaptation by” credit is proposed and
- in the case of television only, when a “Developed by” credit is proposed. (Please note: “Created by” is not subject to automatic arbitration.)
In the case of an automatic arbitration, or if there is a timely protest, an employee in the Guild’s Credits Department will contact you to discuss arbitration procedures.
Occasionally, the Guild may need to investigate a particular issue related to the determination of credits on a project. The most common investigations are those to determine whether a writer is entitled to be included as a participating writer on a project, and, therefore eligible to compete for credit. During the course of such an investigation it may be necessary to enlist the assistance of an expert reader.
What Is an Expert Reader?
An expert reader is used to analyze literary material and give an opinion on an issue based on his/her reading of the material. Expert readers are drawn from a pool of writers who are very experienced in Guild rules and procedures. Generally, an expert reader has served as an arbiter on numerous arbitrations and may also be a member of the Screen or Television Credits Committee. An expert reader will not be asked to serve as an arbiter or in any other capacity in the determination of credits for the same project.
When To Request A Hearing
If there is a dispute concerning the materials to be considered in a credit arbitration, then any participating writer or the Guild can request a Pre-Arbitration Hearing. For example, if there is a dispute concerning the proper chronological sequence of the written work, this question may be raised at a Pre-Arbitration Hearing. Other issues decided at Pre-Arbitration Hearings include disputes as to the authenticity, authorship, completeness or identification of materials.
A Special Committee consisting of three members of the Guild conducts the Pre-Arbitration Hearing. These panelists also serve as members of the TV or Screen Credits Committee and have vast experience as arbiters. Generally, the writer requesting the hearing meets with the Special Committee first to explain the nature of the dispute and presents information or documents relevant to the issues raised. Other participating writers are then given the opportunity to meet individually with the Special Committee and respond to the information presented and give any additional input. Generally, the tenor of these hearings is informal. Although some writers choose to bring a representative, such as an attorney or agent, to these hearings, it is not considered necessary or required. The entire credit determination procedure should be viewed as a writer-to-writer process.
Decision of the Special Committee
After the Special Committee has received all available information relevant to the dispute, it considers each issue carefully and makes a decision. Generally, this happens immediately after the hearing unless there is other relevant information that is not available at that time. Each participant is informed of the Special Committee’s decision by phone, which is followed by a letter confirming the decision and summarizing the reasoning of the Special Committee. The Arbitration Committee must follow the decision of the Special Committee. For example, if the Special Committee sequences scripts in a given order, the arbiters must use this order of writing in weighing each writer’s contribution. Writers may not make reference to anything contrary to the Special Committee’s decision in their statements to the Arbitration Committee. If a writer disagrees with the decision of the Special Committee, this writer may raise it as an issue on appeal to be reviewed by a Policy Review Board panel after the arbitration decision is known. A writer may disagree with a pre-arbitration ruling on one or more pieces of material, but nonetheless end up with the credit sought. The disagreement then becomes moot, and an appeal usually would not be requested.
Read the Credits Manual Carefully
The Credits Manuals contain many specific rules that govern how writing credits are determined. It is critical that you read the Manual carefully before the arbitration process begins. If you need a copy of the Manual or have any questions regarding it, contact the Credits Department immediately and someone will assist you.
The Guild’s exclusive authority under the MBA to determine credits exists for a specified number of days. Time is almost always in short supply. There is a deadline for every step in the process. No writer can afford to delay learning credits fundamentals, or important rights may be lost.
Verify All Materials
At the time of arbitration, the company is required to submit three copies of each writer’s literary materials to the Guild, and in some cases, copies of source material. The underlying work for an adapted script, such as a published novel or produced stage play, would be “source material.”
Once the materials are received, someone from the Guild staff will contact you to verify that the materials are accurate and complete. If your materials are not complete, you may be asked to provide a copy of the missing materials to the Guild, which will then be sent to the company for further verification.
It is each participating writer’s responsibility to verify the accuracy and completeness of materials to be submitted to the Arbitration Committee as authored by you. It may be necessary for you to come into the Guild to review the materials. Verification of materials must be done before the Guild sends them to the Arbitration Committee.
Anonymity of Participating Writers-“Coded” Arbitrations
“Coded” arbitrations generally refer to arbitrations in which the names of the writers are not revealed to the Arbitration Committee. Each writer is referred to as “Writer A”, “Writer B”, etc., depending on the sequence in which the writers worked. In television, all arbitrations are coded automatically. In screen, arbitrations are coded whenever any one of the participating writers makes a written request to do so. The other writers may not concur, but the Credits Manuals require all participating writers to abide by the coding procedures when writing their statements.
Statements To The Arbitration Committee
Each participating writer has the opportunity to submit a statement to the Arbitration Committee to support a claim to credit. There is no one right way to prepare your statement. There is no minimum or maximum length or magic formula. In some cases, a writer’s statement simply says, “I agree with the tentative credits proposed by the company.” If you decide to write a more detailed statement, it is important to focus on your contributions as they remain in the final shooting script. This is the most relevant information you can provide since the Arbitration Committee is required to base its decision solely on how they analyze the literary materials, and in particular, each participant’s relative contribution to the final shooting script.
Statements should not contain information pertaining to the development process that is not directly germane to the arbiters’ analysis of the literary material. For example, the fact that a project was “greenlit” after a certain draft is NOT important in determining credits. The Arbitration Committee must base its decision on each writer’s relative contribution to the final shooting script, and not on the perceived quality of certain scripts or other extraneous factors. In addition, statements may not contain information irrelevant to the written work, which may unduly prejudice any writer in the process. For example, statements should not refer to another writer’s difficulties in working with executives or failure to turn in drafts on time. Your statement may not mention compensation issues, such as a contract calling for a bonus payment based upon credit.
Under the Credits Manuals, each writer has 24 hours after being notified that there will be an arbitration to prepare a statement. The Guild may be able to extend this time depending on the circumstances and time constraints of a particular arbitration.
Statements for Television Arbitrations
Since television arbitrations are automatically coded, writers must be careful in writing their statements not to make any comments which might reveal their identity, the identity of any other writer or whether a writer also functioned as a production executive. No references should be made to reveal the name of the production company or any of its staff. Be sure you use the correct letter code (Writer A, Writer B, etc.) to refer to yourself and the other writer(s) consistently throughout your statement.
Statements for Screen Arbitrations
The writer does not have the same restrictions in screen unless the Guild tells you that the arbitration is coded.
Deletions to the Arbiters List
A list of all eligible arbiters will be provided to each participating writer prior to the arbitration. Any participating writer may delete a reasonable number of names from the list of potential arbiters for any reason. Although the Guild does not inquire as to why a writer deletes certain potential arbiters, the main purpose of deletions is to give writers an opportunity to strike arbiters from the list for any perceived bias or prejudice.
The Arbitration Committee
The Arbitration Committee is made up of three members of the Guild. The criteria for eligibility are outlined in the Manuals. Each Arbitration Committee is assigned a consultant who is available to answer any questions an arbiter may have regarding rules and policy. The consultants are members who have years of experience as writers and arbiters. The names of the arbiters and the consultant are held strictly confidential so that they may perform their duties free from concerns of retaliation or outside pressures. Neither the company nor the participating writers are told the names of the arbiters or the consultant. Each arbiter’s identity is unknown to the other two arbiters.
Submissions to the Arbitration Committee
Each participating writer may submit any or all of their verified literary materials to the Arbitration Committee. Generally, you should submit only those drafts necessary for the arbiters to properly assess your contributions to the final shooting script. Every draft need not be submitted. The members of the Arbitration Committee receive copies of each writer’s selected literary materials which have been verified for submission to the Arbitration Committee, including the final shooting script. The Arbitration Committee also gets the following: copies of the writers’ statements; the credits manual; a cover memo from the Guild which includes a statement of the tentative writing credits as proposed by the company on the Notice; a list of the writers’ materials in chronological sequence; references to applicable rules specifying the contributions necessary for given writers to receive credit; and a suggested deadline for their decision.
Decision of the Arbitration Committee
Each member of the Arbitration Committee reads the materials and deliberates independently, and then reports his/her decision to the Guild and to the consultant. The majority decision of the arbiters becomes the decision of the Arbitration Committee. Once a decision is reached, a Guild employee in the credits department will notify each writer or the writer’s representative by telephone. Once you have been notified, you have 24 hours to appeal the decision by requesting a Policy Review Board. To be fair to all writers, this 24-hour period is strictly applied (i.e., if you are notified of the Arbitration Committee’s decision at 10:00 a.m., you have until 10:00 a.m. the following business day to request a Policy Review Board.) If the 24-hour period expires, and none of the participating writers has requested a Policy Review Board, the Arbitration Committee’s decision becomes final.
If you are considering asking for a Policy Review Board, you should request copies of the written opinions submitted by the Arbitration Committee. If such a request is made, the Guild will provide copies without revealing the identities of the arbiters.
When to Request A Hearing
This is the appeals stage of a credit determination. Within 24 hours of notification of the Arbitration Committee’s decision, any participating writer may request a Policy Review Board (PRB). A writer should submit a written statement setting forth the grounds for their PRB request as outlined in the Credits Manuals. Writers may request a PRB within the 24-hour period, and follow their request quickly with a statement of reasons for the appeal. The PRB can consider only whether there has been any serious deviation from Guild policy or procedure in the way the arbitration was conducted. If a writer simply disagrees with the Arbitration Committee’s conclusion, this is not an issue the PRB has authority to address. The PRB cannot reverse the decision of the Arbitration Committee in matters of judgment in analyzing the literary materials.
The PRB panel consists of three members of the Guild who serve on the TV or Screen Credits Committee. Prior to the hearing, the PRB reviews information and papers relevant to the hearing, including the arbiters’ written decisions and the writers’ statements submitted to the arbiters. THE PRB DOES NOT READ AND ANALYZE THE LITERARY MATERIAL SUBMITTED TO THE ARBITRATION COMMITTEE.
Generally, the writer requesting the hearing meets with the PRB panel first and provides information relevant to the issues raised in the appeal. Other participating writers are then given the opportunity to meet individually with the PRB and respond to the information presented and give any additional input. Like Pre-Arbitration Hearings, the tenor of a PRB hearing is generally informal. Although some writers choose to bring a representative, such as an attorney or agent, to these hearings, it is not considered to be necessary or required. The entire credit determination procedure should be viewed as a writer-to-writer process.
Decision of the Policy Review Board
Once the PRB panel has all available information relevant to the appeal, it considers each issue carefully and makes a decision. The PRB usually deliberates and makes its decision immediately after the hearing. Each participant is notified of the decision by phone, followed by a letter confirming the decision and summarizing the reasoning of the PRB. If the PRB concludes that there has been no violation of Guild policy or procedure, the PRB result is to let the Arbitration Committee decision become final. In other cases, the PRB has two options: (1) to send the materials back to the original Arbitration Committee for reconsideration, usually with a clarification of a specific rule or procedure; or (2) to direct the Guild staff to form a new Arbitration Committee to re-determine the writing credits. In the relatively rare case when a second Arbitration Committee determines the credits, the participating writers have another opportunity to appeal to a PRB after the second arbitration decision is known.
Once the Guild has made a final determination of credits, the company and all participating writers must abide by the Guild’s decision. All advertising, publicity and, of course, on-screen credits must comport with the Guild-determined final credits. Prior to receiving the Guild’s final determination of credits, the company may use what it considers to be the good faith credits in advertising and publicity.
Writers are not allowed to claim credit contrary to the Guild’s final determined credits. In addition, the Guild believes that it is in the best interest of all writers that certain facts relating to any particular credit determination should remain confidential. Writers and their representatives are encouraged to report inaccurate or incorrect writing credits immediately by calling the Guild at (212) 767-7804.
The Guild understands that a writer’s credits are essential to building or sustaining his/her career. This guide gives you an overview of some important ways to protect your interests in the credit determination process. If you still haven’t learned everything you wanted to know about the credits process, and need to ask, please contact the Guild’s Credits Department at (212) 767-7804 in New York. If you would like a copy of the Credits Manuals, please contact us or visit the manuals online.