Script goes as planned: WGA signs off on new deal

A 'new beginning' in digital age

The WGA contract has passed muster with guild membership.

About 93.6% of members approved the new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, officials said Tuesday. Voting was conducted by mail in recent weeks and also at meetings held in Beverly Hills and New York on Monday, with a total of 4,060 ballots cast.

Announced Feb. 9, the contract provides annual hikes in basic pay terms of 3%-3.5%, depending on the writing category. Terms of the pact are effective from Feb. 13 and run until May 1, 2011.

The WGA West and WGA East voted by a 92.5% margin Feb. 12 to end their 100-day strike, and ratification of the contract was expected if not guaranteed.

About 39% of the roughly 10,500 qualified members cast ballots in the contract voting. Just 3,775, or about 36% of the affected membership, participated in the previous voting to end the WGA strike.

"This contract is a new beginning for writers in the digital age," WGAW president Patric Verrone said. "It ensures that guild members will be fairly compensated for the content they create for the Internet, and it also covers the reuse on new-media platforms of the work they have done in film since 1971 and in TV since 1977. That's a huge body of work that will continue to generate revenue for our members for many years to come as it is distributed electronically."

Under the agreement's "separated rights" terms, WGA members secured assurances regarding licensing rights on entertainment projects exploited on certain ancillary platforms, like when Web-based content spawns film or TV spinoffs.

For those and other gains, WGAE president Michael Winship called the pact "groundbreaking."

"Not only does it establish WGA jurisdiction in new media, it gives writers the same separated rights provisions in new media enjoyed by the creators of original TV and motion picture scripts as well as residuals for the reuse of movies and television programs on the Internet and in new media," Winship said. "Those residuals will be based on distributor's gross — real money for our members — that we'll be able to audit and monitor more effectively than ever before."

Like the DGA's recently approved pact with the AMPTP, the writers' agreement indeed provides important new residuals for several types of new-media content. In fact, the WGA contract features terms that could prove modestly more lucrative than the directors secured for TV content streamed over the Internet.

A top exec at a major media company said that the DGA has been told it can request tweaks to its deal if guild officials choose.

Similarly, WGA brass has been assured that any gains by SAG over the WGA's new contract terms also would be available to writers, the company source said (HR 2/11).

SAG officials have yet to announce when their own film and TV contract talks with the AMPTP will begin, with the actors' current pact set to expire June 30. It appears SAG might hold preliminary, off-the-record talks with studio execs in March but delay formal negotiations until later in the spring.

An AMPTP statement released shortly after the announcement of the WGA contract vote sounded a hopeful note regarding talks with the actors.

"Now that our industry is back in business, our goal is to collaborate with everyone in the industry — writers, directors, actors and stagehands alike — to produce the highest-quality entertainment products without any further interruption," the AMPTP said.

"Screen Actors Guild congratulates the WGA on the overwhelming membership ratification of their new contract," SAG president Alan Rosenberg said. "We applaud the WGA's solidarity and the dedication of their membership in the struggle to achieve an agreement that serves the interests of professional writers."
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