Monday, November 19, 2012

The Bear and me...

About two weeks ago I received one of those green envelopes from the Writer's Guild of America. It's the envelope every writer loves to see because of it's contents.

Commonly called "Residuals", it comes down to this; money we get for not doing anything.

A lot of writers at this point will say "No, Jim, we've earned that money."

But a lot of others will say "it's free money." Even my director friends, who also receive residuals agree. It's kind of like you're walking down the street and someone hands you $100 or $2000 just like that.

What are residuals? It's a payment for every time one of my shows, either feature film or TV series, is played somewhere in the U.S. and Canada and all over the world, sort of. I'll explain the world later.

These residuals usually add up in formulas I never quite understand, sometimes annually and sometimes bi-annually. The amounts vary from $2000 to as low as $1. An actor friend of mine actually received a residual for $00.00. It cost 47 cents to mail it.

And the bear?

Well, that's Gentle Ben, a movie I wrote in 2000 and that plays or sells dvds all over the world. The residual check I got recently was for $2000 so that bear is working for me. I get a complicated list of where it played and how much it earned but the bottom line is that it's essentially "free money."

Why do I say that? Well, I was paid Writer's Guild Minimum for writing the screenplay. They paid me when I handed the screenplay over. Done. The cameraman gets paid and they're done. The editor is paid and they're done.  The lighting person is paid and they're done.

Only writers and actors and directors get residuals. But there is a catch with writers, naturally, in which we lose a little of that free money. And this ties in with foreign "royalities" ( another word for residuals).

It goes back to copyrights. When I write a screenplay I own the copyright in much the same as someone can copyright an invention. It belongs to them no matter what and forever. 

Except in America.

Studios, notorious for cooking their books (aka stealing from us) learned long ago to "buy the rights". But how can they when international law says the copyright stays with the writer? Well, they figured out that if they hire the writer under the category "Work For Hire". What this means is that they have bought the copyright and you don't own it anymore. Regardless of international law. And guess who shares your residuals? 

Yes, once again the big guys figure out how to get back some of that money they paid you.

However, Europe and Canada  and other countries collect and pay writers a royalty (also called a "foreign levy) that is based on usage, how often the program/movie is played. And the writer gets all of this money. So even if Gentle Ben is paying US residuals I also get the foreign money once a year and it's for several of my movies and totals around $2000 a year.

So that's why I see it as free money. I didn't work for it, I didn't write a word or even ask them for money, they just send it to me. And the bear has been feeding me for 12 years so far.

Thanks, Ben.

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