New WGA Agreement Brings Needed Improvements
By now you have heard that the Writers Guild of America, East and Writers Guild of America, West strikes against the members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has come to an end. The 2023 strike lasted 148 days, making it the second only to the 1988 strike which lasted 153 days. Close second, I would say.
Though the Screen Actors Guild remains on strike, the great news is that productions can ramp up in anticipation of the SAG strike resolving. With writers able to work again for AMPTP projects, they can revisit scripts that were in development and even those that were in preproduction. Producers can dust off the productions that were halted because of the strike and essentially start preparing for production to resume.
Many productions that were underway in Georgia had to go dark when the WGA strike began, and most remaining productions went dark when the SAG strike began on July 14, 2023. Though cameras could not roll, productions were still being maintained in a state of suspended animation. For example, productions paid to rent the stages where sets sat dormant. Significantly, the Georgia Department of Revenue issued guidance that producers of films and some episodic series can treat the expenses they incur holding studio space and maintaining sets as qualifying expenses for the tax credit as long as the productions resume filming in Georgia post-strike.
While productions that were already in the works get set to resume, writers and producers are ramping up development of future projects. The terms that the WGA and AMPTP negotiated to end the 2023 strike will be effective until May 1, 2026. Across the board, the costs of employing a member of the WGA will be slightly higher with minimums: increasing 5% upon ratification of the new terms with additional increases of 4% on May 2, 2024, and 3.5% on May 2, 2025. The agreement also addresses how residuals will be calculated on streaming, as well as payments to pension and health funds.
The contract also provides for some changes to how writers of feature films will be paid for their services. This includes a provision requiring that a writer who is paid less than 200% of the minimum for a project be engaged to write a second draft in an effort to redress the growing issue writers faced providing “free work.” (I can attest that this was a problem that increased exponentially during the past five years… it’s been awful.)
Many of the terms in the revised contract relate to the engagement of writers to work on episodic series. Before the strike, there was growing concern that writing for television was not a sustainable option for a writer. According to those working on shows, writing for television began to feel like a gig instead of a job. Additionally, many writer-producers who lead shows (i.e. showrunners) were concerned that they could not train new writers to become showrunners in the future.
Moving forward, the WGA and AMPTP have created a framework that will allow for both opportunity and flexibility depending on how many episodes are being produced and who the showrunner is. A showrunner who writes all the episodes of a project - like Tyler Perry and Mike White do on occasion - will not have to hire writers to work on the project. However, other writers - like David Caspe and Jonathan Groff - value the writers room not just for the diversity of voices it provides but the opportunity train up the next generation of showrunners. David Caspe’s show “Happy Endings” resulted in 21 of the 23 writers over the three seasons becoming showrunners on other shows.
Finally, the new terms directly address, and possibly redress, the risks generative artificial intelligence poses to writers. For example, a network that uses AI to create a story off of which they want to develop a series would not be able to deny the writer of the pilot the creator credit under the WGA agreement. Additionally, the WGA has reserved the right to prevent members of the AMPTP from using its members materials to train AI. Therefore, AI won’t be able to write the sequel to a film denying the writer the ability to participate in the derivative.
Prager Law has significant experience representing both producers and writers through the lifecycle of films and episodic projects. We have always been acutely aware of the terms in the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement and are grateful to the parties for taking the time to redress many of the issues our clients have faced (slow pay, free work).