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Writers Guild Relaxes Indie Conditions

11 Jun, 2002 By: Hive News

The Writers Guild of America, East and West has announced a new program targeted to encourage independent filmmakers to produce films under the jurisdiction of the guilds.

For the first time, the guilds have established a low-budget agreement allowing writers to defer initial payment for scripts and the first rewrite. It is designed to promote production of low-budget independent films while assuring basic economic and creative protections for writers.

"The writers of lower budget films need the guild every bit as much as the writers of big budget films. I hope that this agreement will be the first of many ways to give the benefits of union membership," said Herb Sargent, President, WGAE. "We are all looking forward to working with this group of innovative filmmakers."

"This is an era when, due to the vertical integration of companies, the opportunities for both guild members and non-members to sell their work are severely challenged," said Victoria Riskin, president, WGAW. "We also recognize that many writers prefer to see their work produced independently without the constraints of the studio development process. There is a world of wonderful stories being written that audiences may never see. This agreement affords writers the opportunity to see their work produced in the low-budget, independent arena while assuring the protections of the guilds' contract. It is writer-friendly and producer-friendly."

The agreement lets writers defer payment of their compensation. Deferment is available for the screenplay purchase and first rewrite only, not for additional development, for films budgeted under $750,000. The agreement may be requested only by the writer/s, not the producers.

Under the agreement, in exchange for deferring their compensation, writers of original screenplays may not be rewritten without their permission. Writers of adapted material also have the right to do the first rewrite.

By creating a community of independent film writers within the guilds, the guilds' goals are to address the needs of writers in independent film and to advance the interests and careers of these writers.

The new agreement addresses both the desires of established screenwriters with a personal story to tell and emerging writers. For the first time, writers in this arena will be guaranteed guild contract protections including residuals. Writers will also have the right to their material if the film hasn't been produced within 18 months. Films produced under this agreement will be eligible for consideration for the Writers Guild Award.

The guilds' basic agreement with the studios requires minimum compensation of $33,729 for a screenplay when the production budget is $5 million or less.

Both the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have offered low-budget agreements for a number of years. Usually at the time a director and a performer have been brought onto a project, the production budget has been raised. Producers use the screenplay to raise the capital for a production and to attract the director and performers. Prior to the new agreement, WGA members could not defer their compensation without a waiver that the guilds granted on a case-by-case basis only.

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