TV Business

When I started TV Calling nine years ago, we were at the end of the great writers’ strike of 2007-2008.

Hulu had barely started, The WB’s post-CW dedicated online presence was about to launch alongside the now-defunct Strike.TV. Plus Childrens Hospital was but a twinkle in Rob Corddry’s Brazilian eyes.

(For you young whippersnappers who barely remember it, or if you’re just masochistically nostalgic, check out this documentary about the writers’ strike called “Pencils Down! The 100 Days of the Writers Guild Strike“)

Time is a flat circle, which means the WGA is deep in renegotiations with the AMPTP, which means the AMPTP isn’t very forthcoming, which means a strike authorization vote is looming.

What’s all this, then?

First, let’s talk about the demands.

There’s been a lot of misinformation (especially in the trades) these past few weeks, specifically regarding the WGA’s goodwill. Here’s the gist of the writing issues:

TV writers are getting paid less due to fewer episodes, shorter seasons, exclusivity clauses, and longer amortization; all while healthcare plans are potentially about to be rolled back.

But on the plus side, Peak TV!

In a contract bulletin, the WGA went over the five critical reasons why the average TV writer is seeing their income go down:

1) The number of episodes, and therefore, episode fees are half the traditional number on many series.

2) These fewer episode fees are being amortized across more than two weeks per episode.

3) Writers are held exclusive and under option even when not working on these short season series.

4) Residuals are too low in the emerging rerun markets.

5) Script fees remain unequal to the network rates for the growing areas of the industry.

Despite the huge increase in TV content, median earnings from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016 have dropped 25% for co-producers and above.

And the even more painful rub is the aforementioned exclusivity option, which forces writers to forgo other work until their current show returns (spoiler alert: it may not be renewed or picked up).
Less money + shorter periods of work = unhappy campers

Oh, and that’s not even bringing up the health plan issues.

Health costs are expected to grow 10% per year overall while contributions based on writer earnings are only expected to grow 3% per year. If nothing changes, the plan could end up broke by 2021 (!).

And since deficits have been funded by reserves (themselves funded by employer contributions — which have also been lower for writers than directors), the potential rollbacks by the AMPTP aren’t looking so nice.

The Guild is clear:

In this negotiation, we don’t seek a better health plan, only a solvent one.

To put it in piggy-bank terms, the total WGA ask for these issues is one-third of one percent of last year’s gross profits from the AMPTP’s top dogs. Profits, not revenues. That’s 33¢ to their net $100.
The WGA’s ask from the big six multi-billion dollar media corporations is estimated around $117 million a year. Their CEOs alone made $308+ million in 2016.
For more perspective on this drop in the ocean, follow the aptly-named WGA Perspective on Twitter.

So, those are the broad WGA asks.
But what about the negotiations themselves?

A few informative (as opposed to misinformative) resources have covered them:

– The WGA’s 3rd/Fairfax podcast did an extremely useful podcast regarding the 2017 contract negotiations, featuring a conversation between co-chairs of the WGA Negotiating Committee, Billy Ray, Chip Johannessen, Chris Keyser, and Negotiating Committee member Kate Erickson.

– John August/Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes also delved into “WGA negotiations 101” with an episode last month, as well as a special mini-episode posted yesterday.

– For an even more basic intro to the situation, Amy Berg posted on Medium a FAQ about the WGA contract talks. It’s been a couple of weeks so it’s not breaking-news-updated but it covers a lot of the important talking points.

Where we stand today:
The WGA and the AMPTP have agreed to a brief recess in the negotiations until April 25. (The guilds’ current contract expire at midnight May 1.)

Which brings us to what’s going to be happening between now and then.

This week is the strike authorization vote.
It’s a leverage tool. It doesn’t meant there’s a strike. But voting YES is crucial.

As Amy Berg put it:

I received an email from the Guild about a strike authorization vote. What does that mean? Are we going on strike?

No. An authorization vote does not mean there’s going to be a strike nor does it lend itself to one. […] All a “yes” vote does is empower our leadership at the negotiating table with the threat of a strike. Voting “yes” does not mean you want a strike. No one wants a strike. Strikes suck.

If you’re curious why voting YES is vital, the Guild sent out this nice video with writers explaining the importance of saying yes to the strike authorization vote.
It features Eric Wallace, Matthew Weiner, Luvh Rakhe, Kate Erickson, Zoanne Clack, Glen Mazzara, Aaron Mendelsohn, Meredith Stiehm, and Carleton Eastlake.

Still thinking of voting “no” because strikes suck?
David Slack came to Twitter to explain how a “no” vote could actually lead to a strike.

TL;DR: Vote YES.

Current active WGAW/WGAE members who have earned at least $33,701.25 under the MBA during the last six years and/or have at least 15 qualified pension years are eligible to vote.
The member meetings are happening on Tuesday and Wednesday in LA and NY. More info on them at the WGA’s strike authorization page.

The strike authorization vote begins in person today (Tuesday, April 18), and online at 8:30PM tomorrow (Wednesday, April 19). Vote ends Monday, April 24 at 12:00PM (all times PDT).

And if you’re wondering about my thoughts in all of this, they’re straightforward:

I stand with the WGA.

Or to put it in profile picture terms…

I Stand With the WGA

Write on.

Alex and Nick discuss how to make supplemental income and getting side-jobs while working in TV or breaking in.

How do you stay financially secure before and after breaking in the entertainment industry? How should you balance work and writing? What are some freelance jobs worth pursuing as a writer? What are the benefits and drawbacks of being an independent contractor?

The Paper Team files their 1099…

SHOWNOTES

Content

1 – Benefits and drawbacks of finding supplemental income or freelancing (00:22)
2 – Ways of making supplemental income as a writer (12:26)
Takeaways and Resources (38:34)

Links

Managing Finances as an Assistant and Staff Writer (PT16)
Stage 32
Roadmap Writers
Virtual PitchFest
Gig economy
Friedman Agency
AppleOne
Care.com
UpWork
Chuck Tingle (NSFW)
“Easy and Healthy French Recipes” – Claire Rose
Swagbucks
Amazon Mechanical Turk
Patreon

Resources

r/BeerMoney (reddit)

Special thanks to Alex Switzky for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Alex and Nick discuss television writing competitions, their personal experiences with them, and whether or not they’re worth participating in.

Which TV writing competitions are out there? What should you consider before paying and submitting your script? What do you actually get out of them? What if you win and nothing happens?

The Paper Team submits their entry fee…

SHOWNOTES

Content

1 – What are screenwriting competitions? (00:32)
2 – Why you should enter TV writing competitions (01:56)
3 – Competitions that are out there and our own experiences (09:44)
4 – What you should consider before entering a competition (22:50)
5 – What if I win and nothing happens? What if my win is old news? (27:41)
Takeaways and Next Week On (31:42)

Links

Academy Nicholl Fellowships
Tracking Board’s Launch Pad
TrackingB
“Answers to the questions I’ve been asked” – Mickey Fisher
Austin Film Festival Competition
JHRTS Pilot Competition
How to Meet People in LA (When You Don’t Know Anyone) (PT03)
PAGE Competition
Final Draft’s Big Break Contest
Script Pipeline

Special thanks to Jason J. Cohn for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Alex and Nick are joined by Jimmy Nguyen, executive producer of the documentary Showrunners, to discuss independent producing, collaborating with other creatives, and lessons he’s learned over his years working in Los Angeles.

What is the role of a producer? How did the documentaries Showrunners and Barista came to be? How does he approach creative and professional collaborations? What are some tips to getting started and networking properly?

The Paper Team gets good at the ask…

SHOWNOTES

Content

1 – Moving to Los Angeles, connecting with people, and getting involved in Showrunners (00:37)
2 – Working as an independent producer, their collaborative role, and helping make Showrunners/Barista (08:39)
3 – Inspirations and other projects (38:04)
4 – Tips and advice for aspiring producers (47:15)
Resources and Next Week On (53:48)

Links

Jimmy Nguyen on Twitter
Showrunners (Documentary)
Showrunners (Book)
Barista
Comic Book Sunday
Des Doyle
Ryan Patrick McGuffey
Jason Rose
Wally Schrass
Irish Film Board
Jane Espenson
Damon Lindelof
The Pirate Tapes
Indie Game: The Movie
Charles Mruz
Going Clear
The Imposter
The Family
The King of Kong
Shut Up and Play the Hits
Helvetica (Documentary)
Searching for Sugar Man
Man on Wire
The Jinx
O.J.: Made in America
Mayor of Sunset Strip
The Kid Stays in the Picture
Heroines (Short)
The Big Short
Rachel Moore
The Champ
Search Party
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Trollhunters
Top of the Lake
Essen Game Fair
Roy Lee
“Adventures in the Screen Trade” – William Goldman
The Ring
Gravitas Ventures

Resources

“A Pound of Flesh” – Art Linson
“Save the Cat!” – Blake Snyder

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Hi there!

Alex Freedman

I'm Alex Freedman, the writer behind TV Calling.


I started this site in 2008 to chronicle my own journey in television writing.

675 posts and 9 years later, TV Calling has also become a comprehensive resource dedicated to the full TV writing industry — from spec to success.


Everything here is written by yours truly (unless otherwise credited), so feel free to blame me for any missed deadlines.


I hope you'll answer your television calling, and join me in this creative journey.


Write on.


P.S.: New around? You should start here.

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