Monday, November 30, 2015

Writers are getting royally screwed... AGAIN

There is a new insidious practice studios and networks are getting away with.

PAPER PARTNERS

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.  

17 comments:

Carol said...

Maybe this will cheer you a little, Ken. The Village Players of Hatboro held our first audition for A or B? last night. We had an excellent turn out, and everyone was laughing at the various scenes we had the actors perform. It was so cool to see your words come to life like that.

We're holding a 2nd round of auditions on Tuesday and then call-backs on Sunday. I think we'll be able to pick two actors to do justice to your play.

I SO regret being 20 years too old to try for Abby, because that is such a stellar part for a woman, not always an easy thing to find. Abby is so much fun!

Readers of this blog - if you live anywhere near Montgomery County, PA and want to come see Ken's show, it will be the first 3 weekends in April. Here's the website for the theatre: http://www.thevillageplayers.com/.

Rock Golf said...

Okay, walk me thru this.

Writer A produces one script. Writer B produces another. Studio makes A & B paper partners.

So wouldn't Writer A get 50% for his/her own script and also 50% of Writer B's fee for his/her script and vice versa? Isn't the studio still paying full amount for two full scripts? I think I'm missing something.

Rock Golf said...

(Back to back reference to A or B totally unintentional)

Carol said...

@ Rock Golf - I think what's happening is instead of hiring two writers to write individually, they hire two writers, but instead of hiring Fred to write one script, and Sheila to write a second one, they tell them to write one script together. So Fred and Sheila get paid for one script between the two of them, rather than each of them writing one script and getting paid for that script individually. So Fred and Sheila get paid $100 for one script and get $50 each, rather than Fred getting $100 for Script A and Sheila $100 for Script B.

kent said...

So if the studio is paying the same fee per script they aren't saving any money but they are getting the creativity of two for the price of one. This of course presupposes the two heads are necessarily better than one. Perhaps this is a good thing for writers who aren't as ready to fly solo as they believe they are. Perhaps the studio is just telling them that they need to do what Ken and David chose to do for the same reasons, to produce a better script and thereby have a better career.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Aw man . . . why do I smell yet another WGA strike about to happen? Either way, yet another example of Hollywood corporate influence polluting the entertainment industry. Why can't Hollywood take a hint from Canada or the U.K., where they actually care about what they create? Oh yeah, that's right, because other countries like Canada and the U.K. do it for the art, not money, and that's what America is built on.

Herschel said...

What's the point of having a union if the union members don't look out for each other, especially the next generation of writers?

fred said...

The big picture??
Doesn't matter what kinda union it is. As long as the top 1/2 is getting what they want. They could care less what the bottom 1/2 wants. Part of the problem is, if you try to get something fixed. Then "management" says, let's negotiate. If you think the top 1/2 is giving up anything, think again.
Insurance? I'm sure the top 1/2 of the WGA has plenty of insurance...

Lisa said...

Speaking out should start with you, Ken. Name some names so we know which show runners are doing this.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

If I've got this right, the studio hires the same number of staff writers but saves on some of them by forcing them to be designated "partners" and each get 50% instead of 100%. So the studio saves a little money now, and in the longer term pushes the average salary for writers downwards. I agree, it's the showrunners and senior writers who have to stand up for their staff and object to this (and if they don't, they're in denail about being next in line for such treatment).

And while, granted, *some* young writers may not be ready to fly solo, there's every difference in the world between deciding you need a partner and selecting someone you work well with and being assigned one by the company accountant.

wg

MikeK.Pa. said...

The studios started doing this some years back with screenwriters. First and second rewrites are often included with the script price. Writers are their own worst enemies. Unfortunately, if they don't take the deal, they know someone else will.

Stephen Marks said...

And yet the first thing we hear from showrunners or lead actors on a show is "It starts with the writing"

halojones-fan said...

Ha! I grew up in Hatboro and I've still got family there. I'll let them know things are happening.

mmryan314 said...

Reading this makes me sick. We have gone back decades in arming young talents, telling them to work hard and get educated so that they could be armed with the credentials to break into the business and the " Corporates" go for a " 2fer". Sadly, the best are smart enough to say- F-You.

mmryan314 said...

Or should I say " Smartest and wealthiest" enough to say F-You.

Ted said...

To be clear, the writers are not being forced to become actual partners - they're just being forced to take a 50% pay cut. What and how they write doesn't change. They're only partners on paper - that's why Ken calls the practice "paper partners."

MikeN said...

So what? The writers strike established that the writers do not have the financial ability to do a strike, and thus will continue to sink to whatever price the studios offer.

The writers need to create their own studios if they think it is unfair.