Friday, August 15, 2014

It's Friday, Friday...

Well, this is one week I don't mind forgetting; I didn't do much this week except finish the 2nd draft for the actor and director. I was bummed out with two greats passing, Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. Both different but both iconic, one 63 and one 89. Nobody like them.

On the lower end I got stuck on the screenplay I am writing for the Actor and Director. Unfortunately the hook here became WGA, short for Writer's Guild of America. I say unfortunately for them as my guild (actually a union) is going to require that the producer (probably the actor along with a seasoned producer) will have to do two things;

Pay me for what I've done up to now. And more importantly, they have to become signatory to WGA. Basically they have to sign a contract in which WGA has all the benefits. All.

This means that if there is any dispute between me and the producers, I win. Simple.

An example?

What if the producer or actor wants to say they want credit on the screenplay, i.e. Written by JM and Other Name.  Here, other name would have to actually written at least half of the screenplay. Otherwise the credit remains By JM. (abbreviations, of course).

And then there's the money.

WGA has recently come up with a low budget agreement, this being that a lot of movies now are very low budget, consider writer/director Ed Burns, who made Newlyweds for $9000! If you haven't see it, you should. It's a damn good movie.

Alot of people thin us writers make hundreds of thousands of dollars for screenplays and there are a handful who do, maybe two handfuls. But most of us stick to what's officially called "Minimum fees".

What are these minimum fees?

There are variations with such confusing things as spec script, first draft, 2nd draft, fork-for-hire etc. But to make it simple, here's a typical deal;

Basic screenplay minimum is $45,556. Notice the word minimum. You can ask for more but those days have gone by, as the studios and networks are tightening their belts.

Now let's go to Low Budget Agreement (LBA), which gives us minimums for 3 different budgets;

$200,000 and under min fee is $11,389.  (25% of the above $45,556)
$200,000 to $499,999 min fee is: $22,778  (50% of same)
$500,000 to $1,200,000 min fee is:  $45,556 (100% of same)

There is one unusual exception here and that is a deferment. What is a deferment?

Well, it's where the writer gets screwed.

For example, if I were on the $200,000 category the lowest the producer could pay me is the $11,389 fee. And a deferment. So what is a deferment?

It means I would be deferring the rest of the $45,556. Simply said, it means I get 25% of the full budget and the rest would be recovered by the profits of the movie. 

That sounds okay except for one thing; writers or anyone else who's taking a deferment will more than likely not see a dime. Why?

Because most movies don't make profits and also there's another shaving the producers do; the writer doesn't get the Gross Profits (money that comes in from the distributor to producer) but rather after all the bills that have to be paid and then the writer might see some money. It happens, but very rarely.

So what does it all mean?

I probably won't get much more than the minimum fee. But at least I'll get that and sole screenplay credit (unless they hire someone else who would write at least 50% and that probably won't happen).

And if I wasn't in WGA, I would be lucky if I got anything.

I know what you're saying, why would anyone allow this to happen? 

Well, let's say the fee was $11,389. Considering that the budget would be under $200,000 then the writer would probably get the most money of anyone else on the movie. 

WGA figures that it's better for a writer to get a little bit of money from a little bit of the full budget than writers sneaking around WGA.

Welcome to show business.

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