Guilds and Unions


The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is the collective bargaining representative for writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, interactive, and new media industries. The guild's history can be traced back to 1912 when the Authors Guild was first organized as a protective association for writers. Subsequently, drama writers formed a Dramatists Guild and joined forces with the Authors Guild, which then became the Authors League. In 1921, the Screen Writers Guild was formed as a branch of the Authors League, although the organization operated more as a club than a guild.

Finally, in 1937, the Screen Writers Guild became the collective bargaining agent of all writers in the motion picture industry. Collective bargaining actually started in 1939, with the first contract negotiated with film producers in 1942. A revised organizational structure was initiated in 1954, separating the Writers Guild of America, west (WGAw), with offices in Los Angeles, from the Writers Guild East (WGAE), in New York.

While it may be difficult to determine how many people claim to be Hollywood screenwriters, it is even more difficult to assess how many writers in the industry actually make a living from their writing efforts. According to the WGAw, 4,525 members reported earnings from writing in 2001, while 8,841 members paid dues in at least one quarter of that year. Based on these figures, the guild reported a 51.2 percent employment rate. However, only 1,870 of those reporting earnings were designated as "screen" writers, and that group received a total of $387.8 million in 2001. The Guild also points out that there is a 20 percent turnover among their members each year.

While the minimum that a writer must be paid for an original screenplay was around $29,500 in 2001, much higher amounts are often negotiated. Writers also receive fees for story treatments, first drafts, rewrites, polishing existing scripts, and so on. Other important earnings come from residuals and royalties.

Another area of crucial importance to writers (and others involved in film production) is the issue of screen credits, or the sequence, position, and size of credits on the screen, at the front and end of a film, and in movie advertisements. Credits are a vital issue for many Hollywood writers not only because of their impact on their reputations, but because bonuses and residuals are based on which writers receive final credit. Credits or billing issues may be significant negotiating points in employment agreements and the guilds have developed detailed and often complex rules. The WGA rules generally require a 33 percent contribution to the screenplay from the first writer for credit, while subsequent writers must contribute 50 percent. However, when an executive on a project also becomes a subsequent writer, that executive must contribute "more than 50 percent" to receive credit or, if part of a team, "substantially more than 60 percent" for credit.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) represents directors, unit production managers, assistant directors, and technical coordinators in television and film. The Guild was formed in 1960 from the merger of the Screen Directors Guild and the Radio and Television Directors Guild. The organization's membership was about 13,100 in 2005.

While the producer manages the overall film project, the director is in charge of production and is usually considered the "primary creative force" in a film's manufacture. The director controls the action and dialogue in front of the camera and is therefore responsible for interpreting and expressing in a film the intentions of the screenwriter and producer as set out in the screenplay. The director is usually hired by the producer, although some directors also become involved as some kind of producer in some films. Interestingly, most directors make only one movie, while only a handful make ten or more.

The DGA negotiates a basic agreement for its members, who then arrange individual contracts with the producer or producing company with terms and conditions applicable to a specific film. Director's agreements include employment terms (salary, and so forth), but also issues relating to creative control such as details regarding the director's cut and final cut of a film. Prompted especially by the introduction of colorized films, the DGA has lobbied strongly for a moral rights law for creative personnel to prevent changes in their work.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was organized in 1933, after several other organizations had attempted to organize film performers, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Clark and Prindle). The history of SAG was at first dominated by the attempt to establish a guild shop (a system under which all actors employed on a film must join the guild), and then by gaining compensation for actors in the constantly expanding forms of distribution (television, video cassettes, etc.). SAG's concern with such compensation is not an insignificant issue considering that its members gained more than $1 billion in 1987 merely from residual payments for TV reruns of old films. Much more revenue has been earned from home video and other new distribution outlets.

Like the DGA, SAG negotiates a basic agreement for its members; however, individual actors and actresses also contract for individual films, sometimes using agents or managers to represent them.

In 1992 the 3,600 members of the Screen Extras Guild (SEG) became a part of SAG's union coverage, primarily because SEG lacked the clout to deal with producers and most extras were working nonunion. Serious discussions of a merger have also taken place between SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). AFTRA was formed in 1937 to represent radio and then television performers. The organization's primary jurisdiction is in live television, but AFTRA shares jurisdiction with SAG for taped television productions. As of 2005 AFTRA represents over 70,000 performers in radio, television, and sometimes, film.

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) represents musicians across many industries, including film. The trade group, which was formed in the 1890s, has negotiated contracts with the film industry since 1944, and has been especially concerned with new technological developments in sound recording.

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