Jeff Lowell for Board of Directors
Have you ever been on a set where everyone is running around shitting themselves because they’re about to go one minute over and it’s going to cost eighty thousand dollars in overtime?
Studios know that the unions involved in production are watching, and they know they’ll be held to the contract. They know that IATSE and the Teamsters and the DGA and SAG and AFTRA will enforce every working condition and collect every penny. All the people on set don’t have to risk their employment by blowing the whistle – the union is the bad guy who monitors everything.
So why is it so different for us?
For example, here’s what our contract, the MBA, says about paying us on time. After we deliver, they’re supposed to use their best efforts to pay us “within forty-eight hours after the delivery.” If they miss that deadline, “in no event shall any such payment be made later than seven days after delivery of such material.” If for some reason the pay is later than seven days? They have to “pay interest of one and one-half percent per month.”
I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing.
I booked a feature job earlier this year. Here’s a letter from the producer on April 20th: “I asked the studio to cut you your check.” Here’s a letter from a lawyer at the studio to my agent on July 6th: “As per your request, please note that payments for Jeff Lowell are in process. I can’t give you an eta, but it’s usually 5-10 business days once the checks are issued.”
Honestly, the fucking blatant disregard for the contract they signed... They acknowledge they owe me money, let me know that there is some kind of mysterious internal operation of indeterminate length to “process” the payment, and then, when that’s done, it’ll take five to ten business days to get the check from them to my agent.
I’m not a spry man, and I could walk the fucking check from every studio in L.A. to my agency in less than five to ten business days. And, as I’m sure I don’t need to point out, that range is beyond the 48 hours they’re supposed to do it in, and possibly beyond the range where they’re supposed to start paying penalties. And they freely admit it! In writing!
I’m running for the BOD on one issue: enforcement. But of course, it’s really not one issue – it’s residuals and free rewrites and late pay and minimums and credits and pension and health and separated rights and and and... It’s everything that writers have negotiated for in the history of the guild.
We’ve got a great contract. We do a shit job of enforcing it. It’s not the fault of one group of leader or board... it’s in the culture of the guild. And it’s got to change.
Here’s my first proposal: have a guild staffer call everyone who gets a job, TV and features. The studios have to check with the guild to make sure a member isn’t in arrears before they hire them, so the WGA should know who’s working and where. That should trigger someone making a phone call and doing two things: reminding the members of their rights, and asking them about their working conditions.
And then follow up. Did you turn in a draft? When? Were you paid? Did you get to meet with the director? Did your name stay on the cover page if you were replaced? Did you get to watch a cut of your episode or movie?
Every writer, every job. Let the studios know that the guild is watching, that the guild is the bad guy, that the guild will do the enforcing.
Will it cost us some money to hire people to do this? Absolutely. Is there a better use of our money? I can’t imagine it.
Just once, I’d love to see accounting departments running around shitting themselves because a feature writer’s commencement check or a TV writer’s weekly check is going to be a day late.
One last thing – I hate the idea of slates. But there are a few people running that I think the guild needs. Chris Keyser, John Aboud, Carl Gottlieb, Nell Scovell, Billy Ray, Ian Deitchman, David Goyer and Jay Kogen are all smart, non-dogmatic writers.
Thanks for your time,