Screenwriting : WGA/ATA Dispute by Sharon Hankins

Sharon Hankins

WGA/ATA Dispute

I was recently reading up on the WGA and ATA dispute and I just don't get Hollywood. You can't have a movie without a script, yet writers are the least respected group in the business. Why is that? Why do agents/agencies feel they deserve more money that the people who actually have to write the script?

Craig D Griffiths

The DGA has managed to make sure their people are highly respected. Things like there can only be one director. But there can be many writers.

Since the Director and the Writer are the most important through line in the production of a film, one has to be considered the more important.

Directors have the face to face relationships with the actors. Actors traditionally bring the audience. Therefore the director is more important. Hence more power in the production.

Gus Van Sant will not do a film unless he has time to “rewrite it”. Actor say they improv all the time. All these statements devalue writing.

That is unfortunately where we are in the chain. We are too far from the money to exert influence. No influence, no power.

I love the WGA and their move at the moment. Eventually, after a long and painful dispute, people will see the importance of writing. Perhaps respect will come with that. Agents on the other hand will eventually be replaced with technology. Like all “middle man” industries eventually do. Not today, but eventually.

CJ Walley

To be frank Sharon, you're not doing all the reading up you need to if your conclusion is that agencies simply feel they deserve more money than writers. The issue is multifaceted and revolves around agencies being beholden to investors, the profit model of packaging fees, and massive conflicts of interest that can exist when they own or produce their own content.

I also feel your assumption that writers are the least respected group in the business is a little off the mark. In many cases, particularly on an indie level, writers are above the line and closer to producer and directors than anybody else.

John Ellis

And in TV, especially in this new paradigm of "peak TV," writers are king. Especially in the indie world (yes, there is an indie world of TV production - and I'm part of it!).

Kay Luke

A script is just a blueprint. And a Filmmaker can indeed make a film without a script, but a Writer can't make a film without a Filmmaker.

Plus, EVERYBODY is a writer-- just ask them. Producers, Actors, the Coffee Guy, Screenwriters all. And everyone of them knows how to improve your script, so they're all pretty sure they don't really need you. Besides, how many scripts do you suppose are available just from Stage 32 members alone? Ten thousand? Everybody has a script or ten.

It's the law of supply and demand to some extant. Writers are cheap and plentiful-- why shouldn't scripts be, too?

All this is why Writers should not work for free.

CJ Walley

While there may be a lot of people trying to break-in to screenwriting, it's my experience that industry members, especially in the indie scene, treasure screenwriters with strong craft, a distinct voice, and a professional work ethic. They are savvy enough to know that's rare to find.

This impression that writers are treated like dirt by the industry seems to exist mainly as an axiom shared by those who've yet to work within it. Yes, it's highly competitive and yes, it's tough, but no more than any other desirable role on a production.

The main issue screenwriters face is they have no star-power in film due to the way our culture works, much the same as how directors have little star-power in TV.

Sharon Hankins

CJ Walley I agree with you mostly except for the part where you said "This impression that writers are treated like dirt by the industry seems to exist mainly as an axiom shared by those who've yet to work within it." If that were the case, there wouldn't be a fight going on between the WGA and ATA, seeing as you have to have actual writing credits to be a member of WGA. Thousands of writers fired their agents. Those are the writers that are in the industry.

CJ Walley

The fight going on between the WGA and ATA is one regarding transparency. Most of those high-profile writers were very happy with how they were being treated by the agents at the time. The issue is they've since come to learn they were being stiffed on these packaging deals so the agency could take in fees that exceeded any ten percent cut. They now feel lied to by the people they thought were in their corner. But they weren't the only people getting stiffed as the agencies were trimming back every fee they could with their entire client base. It's just that writers, by our nature, tend to be pretty meek and compliant compared to directors, producers, and actors.

Look, Hollywood is rife with people trying to screw one another over for a few dollars here and there. Getting "rat f*cked" by at least one person per day is pretty much business as usual. It's one of the reasons there's so many unions in the first place.

Plus, as ever, I have to pose the question, if you truly believe screenwriters are treated so poorly by the industry, why on earth are you so keen to break into it?

Sharon Hankins

Kay Luke I don't think you understand what the issue is with the WGA/ATA. Yes, a director can write a script, many do it. A screenwriter can director a script. An actor can write or direct, that is not what the conversation is about. Agents are putting their own self interest above the writer they represent. Agents are supposed to work for their clients and not the other way around. They are getting more money than the writer and blocking writers from certain opportunities because it doesn't align with the agencies own self interest. Why pay an agent if they are making more than you? Think of an athlete's agent getting paid more than them, people would say its ridiculous because the athlete is the one who does the actual foot work, the agent just makes the deal happen. This issue is mostly with TV writers and packaging practices. With screenplay writers, they can sale a script to a studio themselves and cut out the middleman if they want. TV writing contracts are much different.

Kay Luke

I understand the issue intimately. With all due respect, much better than you do. It's my job to understand it.

You only have one side of things.

The issue is that the WGA insists on an upward sliding scale of control in the future. As a Writer, I don't need big brother, and as a Producer, I don't either. It's a WGA power grab that's blowing up in thier face. I was in the last strike, and the support for this is nothing like that. I don't know a single writer who feels he's being cheated the way the propaganda you recited claims.

And no, I'm not a WGA member. I was cheated out of membership by ABC and subsequently admitted to the WGA stepchild organization, TVWriters.org.

But I am and have been a professional, and the WGA is out of bounds this time.

CJ Walley

Here's a writer's account of how he feels about being cheated. David Simon in fact; https://davidsimon.com/but-im-not-a-lawyer-im-an-agent/

Doug Nelson

Sharon, I haven't been involved with the WGA for a couple of decades so I don't pay much attention to them anymore. I will say that making a movie (big studio or Indie) - from idea to screen - is a long & involved process that requires the active participation of a whole lot of folk working in harmony. As a writer, Director, Actor,,, you are a member of that team; or you are not (if you're a whiner, you're not).

Dan MaxXx

You don't have to join the WGA. And you don't need an agent to work/sell either. There is a long list of WGA signatory agencies who have signed WGA's code of condult policy. But the top 4 agencies - CAA, WME, ICM, UTA - have not agreed and they collectively are the deal makers to 80% of all Hollywood movies, tv, streaming, music, books- everything. Their leverage is their talent roster.

This dispute is not a work stoppage. Folks are still writing, staffing, making deals.

The big showdown is next year when WGA’s contract with AMPTP expires.

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