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WGA News: June/July 2011

Annual earnings, court decisions, and awards updates are in the June/July WGA News round-up.

2011 Annual Report

The July 1 release of the WGAW’s 2011 Annual Report delivered some very mixed news for its members:

  • Writer earnings totaled $928 million in 2010, a 2.9% decrease from 2009, and the number of writers reporting income from covered services declined 4.5% to 4,244. 1,615 feature film writers reported earnings compared to 1,818 in 2009, meaning that their earnings decreased 9.9% over 2009. Earnings of television writers grew in 2010 to $532.1 million, 2.9% more than the last year’s record earnings. However, total television employment decreased 1.1% to 3,142, about 6% lower than the recent high-employment level of 3,350 in 2007 and 19.5% lower than the all-time high of 3,903 in 2000.
  • On the bright side, residuals collected by the WGA in 2010 increased by a healthy 10% over 2009, to an all-time high of $315.81 million. This is the first year that receipts exceeded $300 million. Residuals increased in both television and screen, with both areas reaching record-high collection totals. Television was the stronger area, increasing 12.8% to $160.43 million. The continuing highlight was reuse of programs made for basic cable, which increased 32.5% to $20.94 million. The second most notable increase came in foreign reuse of television programs, which increased 18.9% to $29.49 million. Primetime reuse increased 4.6% due to more repeats on the networks. Home video reuse of television program retrenched, but pay television use, mostly foreign, grew. New-media reuse grew 23.7% to $2.63 million in the third year of collections in that area. Total feature film residuals grew 6.1 percent to a total of $141.78 million. DVD and Blu-ray revenue dropped to 3.2% to $40.57 million. Pay television residuals worldwide grew 17.2% to $54.29 million. New media grew to $1.22 million.

Prometheus Radio Project Decision

On July 7, the WGAE issued the following statement in response to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on media ownership in the Prometheus Radio Project case:

“We applaud the Media Access Project’s success in this case and we look forward to working with the FCC in crafting a new approach to media consolidation and its effect on the public. We recognize the economic challenges faced by news organizations but we do not believe the appropriate response is to permit a relative handful of giant companies to control the market. The American people deserve thoughtful journalism and diverse viewpoints. This means well-funded public media, new models of non-profit newsgathering, and robust private entities with economic and editorial independence.”

NLRB Complaint Against ITV/Kirstall

On June 29, after a three-month investigation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a formal complaint against ITV/Kirstall for firing a long-time producer for his support of the Writers Guild of America, East’s (WGAE) efforts to organize ITV employees. The NLRB hearing is expected to begin in late July.

A majority of writers and producers at ITV Studios, which produces shows including The First 48 and Four Weddings, voted for WGAE representation in a secret ballot conducted in December 2010. Since that time, the company has tied up certification of the majority vote with various legal maneuvers. About 80 people will become WGAE members when the vote is certified and will bargain for health and pension benefits, improved compensation, and reasonable working hours.

“We are pleased the NLRB is pursuing this case. No one should be fired for supporting a union and seeking a voice on the job,” said Lowell Peterson, WGAE Executive Director. “While the NLRB’s decision is good news, ITV continues to ignore its employees’ vote for Guild representation. We urge ITV to reinstate the employee and to come to the bargaining table so we can negotiate a fair and equitable contract for all the employees who do the work that makes the company successful.”

ITV is one of three NLRB elections the WGAE has won its industry-wide campaign to organize the largely non-unionized non-fiction sector of the TV industry. Other wins include Atlas Media (BiographyDr. G: Medical Examiner, American Eats) and Lion Television (Cash Cab for Discovery Network, Megadrive for MTV, and History Detectives and America Revealed for PBS).

The Loving Story

On June 25, the WGAE named Nancy Buirski and Susie Ruth Powell as recipients of the fourth annual WGA Documentary Screenplay Award at the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Festival. Buirski and Powell wrote the documentary The Loving Story (USA, 2011, 77 minutes), which depicts the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple behind the 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.

The WGA Documentary Screenplay Award goes to the qualifying screenwriter of a feature-length film who demonstrates screenwriting excellence in the documentary genre. Bernardo Ruiz, writer/director/producer of Gardens of Paradise and American Experience: Roberto Clemente and co-producer of P.O.V.: The Sixth Section, presented the award to Buirski and Powell at the festival’s awards ceremony held Saturday, June 25 at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD.

“Documentary writing is a unique form in which the spoken word interacts with visual imagery, sound, and other resources to tell a real-life story. The Guild East’s Documentary Screenplay Award recognizes the rare talent and skill that can weave all these elements together to create a terrific work of both truth and art,” said WGAE President Michael Winship.

"We are thrilled to collaborate with the Writers Guild of America for a fourth consecutive year, recognizing the critical role of writing in non-fiction filmmaking. We celebrate their choice to honor Nancy Buirski and Susie Ruth Powell and their film The Loving Story and think that this film is the perfect embodiment of the WGA's mission -- to honor excellence in writing for film,"said Silverdocs' Festival Director Sky Sitney.

The WGA Documentary Screenplay Award carries a prize of $1,000. In addition, the winner is granted a five-year membership in the WGAE Nonfiction Writers Caucus.

During the past few years, the Writers Guild has increased its outreach and organizing efforts to build a strong community of nonfiction writers, with an aim to bring more documentaries under WGA contracts. The WGA’s Documentary Screenplay Contract enables writers to write and sell documentary screenplays using partial or completely deferred fees while receiving Writers Guild benefits and protections. Questions regarding joining the Writers Guild through documentary work may be directed to Justin Molito at (212) 767-7808 or email:

2012 Writers Guild Awards Set

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced the 2012 Writers Guild Awards will be held on Sunday, February 19, 2012 at simultaneous ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York. The Writers Guild Awards honor outstanding writing in film, television, new media, videogames, news, radio, promotional, and graphic animation awards categories.

News compiled and edited by Ray Morton.