Protecting Overscale Pay for TV Writer-Producers
Since 2017, the MBA’s span provision has protected overscale pay for many writer-producers working on short order episodic series. The provision defends against the erosion of overscale pay that can occur as writing and production schedules extend over long periods of time, by limiting the period of time covered by a writer-producer’s episodic fee to 2.4 weeks of work. If a writer-producer works longer than 2.4 weeks, multiplied by the number of episodes (e.g., 24 weeks for a 10-episode order), additional compensation is due.
Because the provision has an earnings cap and is limited to work on short-order, dramatic series (the provision specifically excludes work on “multi-part, closed-end series”), it is important to consider whether your employment qualifies for span protection. More details are given below about what’s excluded.
- Article 14 writer-producers (co-producer level and higher)
- A writer whose deal provides for a payment per episode (“episodic fee”)
- A writer working on a broadcast series with a full season order of 12 or fewer episodes
- A writer working on a basic cable, pay TV or high budget SVOD (HBSVOD) series with a full season order of 14 or fewer episodes
- Note: By its terms, the span provision does NOT apply to a writer-producer working on a multi-part, closed-end series. Closed end series – which, by their very definition, may NEVER be picked up for additional episodes or a subsequent season – are treated differently than episodic series or serials throughout the MBA (for example, different rules apply for purposes of creative rights and P&H contributions, among other areas). Contact the WGAW Contracts Department for more details about whether the mini-room or limited series you are working on meets this exception.
- Initially, the earnings cap for span protection was $350,000 for contracts made on or after May 2, 2018 (in other words, writers who made that amount or more were not covered by span).
- In the 2020 MBA, the cap increased for contracts made on or after August 2, 2020 as follows:
- $400,000 for writer-producers working on broadcast, pay TV or HBSVOD short order series (as defined above); and
- $375,000 for writers-producers working on basic cable short order series.
- Generally, the earnings cap is calculated using the writer-producer’s negotiated episodic fees. Script fees are excluded, but other compensation may be included for existing contracts. For contracts made on or after May 2, 2021, only the episodic fee may be used to calculate the earnings cap.
If Span Applies:
If you are a writer-producer covered by span protection, your negotiated episodic fee can cover no more than 2.4 weeks of work. This means if you are working on a 10-episode season order, the total episodic fees cover 24 weeks of work. If you work longer than 24 weeks, you are owed additional compensation at a weekly rate of your episodic fee divided by 2.4. (If your episodic fee is $24,000, you are owed $10,000 per week for each additional week worked.)
Because the span provision states that each episodic fee covers 2.4 weeks of work, it can be applied to calculate your “effective weekly rate”—that is, the amount you should be paid for each week of work on the series. That rate is calculated by dividing your episodic fee by 2.4 (for example, the effective weekly rate for a writer earning a per-episode fee of $30,000 is $12,500; use this handy calculator to calculate your own effective weekly rate ).
*Please note that the timing of the payments under span may vary according to the language in your contract. For example, if the contract states that the fee is due when an episode is produced, the additional compensation owed under span may be paid during production rather than when the writing is done.
If Span Does Not Apply:
If you are a writer-producer working on a series with longer season orders, a writer employed on a multi-part, closed-end series, or you are making more than $400,000 (or $375,000 on a cable series), the MBA’s span provision will not apply. However, you and your reps can and should negotiate for overscale span protections to ensure that you are paid appropriately for your work.
Even if the span protection doesn’t apply, try to negotiate:
- A set weekly rate that you’ll be paid for every week you work on the series, and
- A specified limit on the total number of weeks you will work for your negotiated episodic fees, or that each episodic payment will cover only 2.4 weeks (or some other specified number of weeks) per episode.
These terms will ensure that you receive your actual overscale pay, instead of being worked for so long that you only make Guild minimum. Please use the weekly pay calculator to determine what your overscale weekly rate should be.