Saturday, January 19, 2008

Writer's Strike by Librado Romero/The New York Times

Times Topics

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Writers Guild of America

Librado Romero/The New York Times

The Writers Guild of America, West and East divisions, represents more than 12,000 movie and television writers in their contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Among the Writers Guild's members are television writer-producers who take home up to $5 million a year. On the other extreme are junior writers who ­ if they work at all ­ make $50,000 or less

About 48 percent of West Coast members are unemployed, according to guild statistics. (No such statistics exist for East Coast members.)

The union went on strike on Nov. 5, 2007, after three months of acrimonious negotiations. It was the first industrywide strike since writers walked out in 1988. That strike lasted five months and cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million.

The strike centered on, among other things, writers’ demands for a large increase in pay for movies and television shows released on DVD, and for a bigger share of the revenue from such work delivered over the Internet. Producers argue that companies like the News Corporation's Fox studio and network or General Electric's NBC and Universal Pictures operations must use new revenue to cover rising costs.

The result of this standoff was expected to be a gradual halt in the production of all television shows, except for reality and news programs, and of new movies. The first affected are entertainment talk shows like "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," "The Colbert Report," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "the Tonight Show With Jay Leno," which depend on current events to provide material for monologues and other entertainment.

Some daytime TV, including live talk shows like ''The View,'' which typically tape about a week's worth of shows in advance, are next on the list.

The strike will not immediately have an impact on the production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.

Under the contract that expired on Oct. 31, the six major film studios must pay a minimum of $106,000 for an original screenplay, while networks must pay at least $20,956 for a teleplay or a prime-time comedy show and $30,823 for a prime-time drama.

But many writers earn much more. The writer of a major film studio release can expect a paycheck of at least $1 million, according to union members, while “name” screenwriters might earn in the $4 million range per picture. The average working writer in Hollywood takes home about $200,000 a year, according to the studios and networks, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

But everything is relative. Writers compare their paychecks with those of many actors, directors and studio executives and see a need for a major re-alignment. According to the Writers Guild, guild-covered writer earnings have risen at less than half the rate of entertainment industry profits. —Nov. 5, 2007

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