Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Writer's Guilds

Last night I attended a reception on Fairfax in West Hollywood put on by the Writers Guild of Canada, or WGC as we all say. And why would the WGC come to West Hollywood all the way from Toronto?

Well, they have WGC 400 writers in and around Southern California and many of them are members of both guilds, WGC and WGAw (Writers Guild of America West). WGAe is mainly New York.

Both guilds, while differing in how they work are probably the closest allies of any guilds. I met a few people I knew but mostly strangers and of the 400 only about a hundred showed up, which is typical of our Guilds.

And again, I noticed that 90% or more were men, which reflects both guilds more or less. But what's interesting is how they get along and what they are like.

I've always found that WGC is much easier to deal with, being smaller they tend to know more of us members, Maureen Parker, Exec Director of the Guild was very easy to talk to and she knew me very well. It doesn't quite work like that with WGC, it's difficult to talk to the higher-ups unless you're John Wells.

The difference shows right at the front door, the WGC offices in Toronto are warm and friendly while the WGA offices are ruled by security guards who seem to think they're guarding the White House and demand proof that you are who you say you are. It even goes to the parking attendant in the underground parking lot who feels it's his duty to make sure you have business there.

And not remembering that they and everyone else in that big building across the street from Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax,  get paid by dues that we pay.

I've met a few WGA people and they're pleasant enough, but generally, they're tougher than the Canadian Guild people, no doubt the typical difference between Americans and Canadians. Naturally this reflects the size of the Guilds, it's estimated that WGA has anywhere from 7500 to 10,000 members, it seems nobody really knows the numbers and if you ask, they rarely offer more.

How the Guilds interact is interesting too; for example, if I want to work in Canada on a Canadian project I have to ask WGA permission, and IF they give it to you (usually they do but they begin to act very protective), the rate of pay has to be equal to the basic scale fee of WGA.

They like to remind you that they are permitting you to work in Canada.

There's another interesting agreement both guilds have and that's foreign levies. This in itself is interesting. Foreign levies are taxes collected whenever my movies (or anyone's) are shown in foreign countries. I've never quite understood it and have never really had anyone else explain it well.

What comes into play here is copyright. Copyright is usually held by the writer, which means he/she owns the property even if it's sold. But here something shows how greedy American studios and networks are;

In Canada a writer cannot sell his right to the screenplay. He can sell it of course, but he never loses the copyright.

However in the U.S., the writer has to sell his copyright, and loses much income because of this. Why?

It's because studios and networks won't buy the screenplay unless the copyright is included. They figured out long ago that writers shouldn't be able to make a little more money. The U.S. is the only country that does this.

So what does it mean?

It means that if I do a Canadian movie, I get all the royalties from the foreign levies due me. In the U.S., I get half. The other half goes to the studio or producer or network. And this is something that WGA apparently supports.

But the good side of the Guilds is simply this; without them writers would never get paid. And I'm not exaggerating. I've had to fight for money a dozen times and without the guild's powers I wouldn't have been paid.

I think it's partially because writers are the only ones who do their job away from movie sets and locations. We go away and come back in a month or so and hand them a screenplay and they have to pay us.

Even if the movie is made or not!

Our screenplay is there before the actors are, before the crew, before anybody except the producer and sometimes their financing falls through. It's happened to a few of my screenplays.

But all in all, it's good to have them covering your back.

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