Screenwriting, in a lot of ways, is a fairly unique profession. Unlike a more traditional job at an office, or a retail store, or a school, a screenwriter’s job has a workflow that can vary greatly, unpredictable payment schedules, and a lot of effort put into a lot of opportunities that don’t go anywhere. And, on top of all that, there’s no clear professional ladder to climb; high-level success requires intangible components like luck and good timing in addition to perseverance, hard work, and quality output.
One way in which screenwriting isn’t so different from other professions is that salary history comes into play when it comes to the money you earn.
In a previous post, I wrote about the Writers Guild of America labor union, which most professional screenwriters end up joining sooner or later when they do enough work on guild-signatory projects. But what about all the writers that work on non-guild projects and don’t have the protections of the WGA in place?
At the very beginning of most entertainment contracts, there’s an important section called the conditions precedent. It tends to get overlooked because there are way more interesting sections like the compensation, credit, and perks like premiere tickets, but the conditions precedent is a critical area that shouldn’t be ignored.
In order to make sure everyone’s on the same page for these blog posts, I think it’s important to outline some definitions that will be used frequently in my posts. A lot of these are taken from the Writers Guild of America‘s (WGA’s) Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), with some other thrown in. Please keep in mind these are just general definitions and many will be elaborated upon in later blog posts.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is the labor union for professional writers of audiovisual material. It represents the interests of its members by collectively bargaining with producers and production companies to create a set of policies and minimum requirements that protect the working conditions of its writers. These include, among other things: defining the types of writing work performed, the minimum pay for that work, how writing credit is determined, benefits like pension and health plans, and a host of other little details.
So you’ve beaten the odds and actually received a response from your query letter, cold call, etc. asking you to send in your material for consideration… but then the company gives you a submission release to sign before sending in your work. Depending on the document the company uses, a submission release might be a simple 1-2 page form, or a long, dense legal document that’s several pages long.
In order to have any kind of proper conversation about business matters, we first have to understand how negotiations work. And in order to have any kind of proper conversation about how negotiations work, we first have to understand the power dynamics at play.
So here it is, at long last. After much deliberating and planning, I’m finally jumping into the blogosphere! I’m pretty much the polar opposite of an early adopter at this point, but I decided to start blogging now for a very specific reason.