Monday, November 30, 2015
If two writers form a partnership they understand going in that they’ll be paid essentially the salary of one writer. They choose to do that because they feel the product is ultimately better, their careers will rise faster as a result, and it’s a perk in hiring because the showrunner gets two for the price of one.
But here’s what studios and networks are doing, especially for entry-level positions: They’ll take two young writers, who have been writing solo, and just tell them they’re now a partnership. As a result, each makes only 50% and the studio gets two-for-one. Think: shotgun weddings.
NOTE: To be clear, these writers are being hired on STAFF, not just writing a script. And often if you're just a staff writer you don't even get a script assignment. You're just working full-time for half the salary.
The young writers of course are powerless to do anything about this. If they refuse, the studio just shrugs, and gets the next person. I know young writers who worked full-time on staff and didn’t make enough money to qualify for health insurance. Meanwhile, each writer pays full dues to the WGA.
This is a despicable practice, and what hurts the most is that WRITERS are letting it happen. Showrunners are not standing up to the studio and saying they refuse to go along. I mean, you expect the studios to screw us royally. But writers are permitting this unconscionable practice to continue. To me, that's disgraceful. They're worse than scabs.
The WGA claims they don’t receive too many complaints about this. Well OF COURSE NOT! A young writer trying to break in is not going to blow the whistle on a major Hollywood studio. Get real.
It’s OUR job as writers to stop this. I know the incoming WGA president, Howard Rodman, is aware of this problem, and I hope he takes steps to address it. But the real culprits are the showrunners who are allowing their fellow members to be victimized. I’m sure there are a few asshole showrunners who actually LIKE this practice because they can take advantage of it. But I am hoping the majority are decent people who realize what an injustice this is, and have empathy for young writers just as someone had for them when they broke in. This practice ends when showrunners have the balls to say to studios they won't accept it.
And if a young writer pays full dues and works full-time on a show he at least should be entitled to health insurance. What kind of a union are we that we can't even provide THAT?
Obviously, this is not an issue we are going to go out on strike for, but it’s serious, and makes us writers look toothless and heartless.
Stop Paper Partners. Young writers deserve better.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM