Company/Organization Profiles | Screenwriting

Strength in Numbers: A Look at the Writer’s Guild of America

1 Aug , 1999  

Written by Dave Avdoian | Posted by:

Ever wonder what's behind these closed doors? Well, here you can find out the details of the Guild -- costs, benefits, etc.

The Writer’s Guild of America believes there’s strength in numbers. One of the founding principles of the Guild maintains that the power of both the individual and the Guild increases as each new writer joins. Thus follows the other founding principle: No writer should have to face alone an employer who has violated his or her rights. These principles serve as the enduring beliefs behind the Guild’s mission and existence.

The Guild itself actually consists of two independent unions–the Writer’s Guild of America, East (WGAE), and the Writer’s Guild of America, West (WGAW)–whose members share similar benefits and Guild Constitutions. The entire membership of both guilds consists of some 10,000 professionals involved in film, television, or radio. Though linked by a common purpose (the legal protection of the rights of the writer), the two unions hold separate elections to determine officers and Council. A National Council consisting of top leadership from both unions maintains unity by outlining common goals and actions. (The information contained herein refers specifically to the Writer’s Guild of America, East, though, obviously, there’s much overlap with the WGAW).

WGAE members must be employed to write literary material for, or sell material to, a company that is a signatory to a Guild Agreement. The actual induction process consists of an application and a copy of the contract as proof of employment. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of an initiation fee of $1,500 for freelance members ($1,000 for members covered by staff collective bargaining agreements), basic dues ($25 per quarter), and percentage dues (1.5% of earnings for writing services and sales under the WGAE’s jurisdiction). Certain "staff" positions (such as editors, graphic artists, researchers, PAs, and producers) require $100 to join, with the understanding that the remaining $900 will be deferred until promotion.

Membership has its privileges. The WGAE negotiates member contracts with not only major film and television producers, but radio as well. The Guild staff will work with the member’s lawyers, agents, or other representatives to guarantee the legality of contracts. The Guild also works to ensure its members swift payment for their services by tracking down residual payments and using the arbitration process in resolving disputes. It’s responsible for determining the accuracy and fairness of on-screen credit and for organizing committees which address issues of concern to writers, including, but not limited to, censorship, women’s issues, and Guild awards. The WGAE also offers members a Pension and Health Fund, a newsletter, travel packages, and strike fund.

Among the most important functions the WGAE offers is its Script Registration

Service. This service is open to both members and non-members. The cost varies from $10 for members to $57 for non-members looking to register massive manuscripts with all the frills. Poor, independent screenwriters who aren’t members can get their lean, mean script (150 pages and less) registered for $22. In addition to complete scripts, the author can also register outlines, treatments, ideas, synopses, and scenarios. The registration proves the writer’s right of authorship to a work (as well as its date of completion). It is essential to register the script before presenting it to a producer. If the author shows the work to a producer before registering, his/her proof of authorship could be legally refuted. The process of registration involves submitting the work the WGAE in a sealed envelope, where it will remain until it is needed as evidence of authorship. The registration is good for ten years, after which time the author can choose to re-register with a renewal fee.

For more detailed information regarding membership or Script Registration, please refer to the, or call the Writer’s Guild of America, East at 212-767-7800.

For more detailed information regarding membership or Script Registration, please refer to the, or call the Writer's Guild of America, East at 212-767-7800.