When Do You Get Paid?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Q. All of the sudden it kind of hit me, after spending years learning everything I could about writing, there's one thing I've never seen anyone talk about: getting paid.

If you wouldn't mind; when the heck do TV writes get paid? Before you "lay pen to paper" so to speak, when you hand in the final draft, when the episode airs, right after the studio goes bankrupt?
There are multiple payments due on signing, delivery of treatment, delivery of first draft and second draft.

Note that the checks are due upon delivery, not "approval." The WGA and WGC take care of issues like this but if you're pre-Guild, watch out for anything that ties payment to "approval." They will have you rewriting endlessly for free.

On a working television show, checks come pretty fast. You let your agent know when you've been given a script, and they start invoicing. The contracts are standard, so there's nothing to negotiate. Your staffing salary gets paid every two weeks same as the rest of the world.

Outside of a production, payments are almost always late. It's rare that you can wait for the completed contract to start writing; you usually wind up having to trust producers. Which is awkward, since they sometimes do not deserve that trust.

With professional producers (by which I mean producers who behave like professionals), you usually get paid for each step within two or three weeks of invoicing. More than that, and there's a problem, and you should stop writing until the problem clears up. Every now and then I make the mistake of continuing to write for a producer who owes me money. There's a respected Canadian producer who owes me about $33,000; he would owe me less had I ignored his constant pushing to be writing, and had waited to make sure that he was living up to his obligations. I went ahead because I trusted him and because I hate to stop working in the middle of a project. Ah, well. Part of the reason you get paid so much in this biz is that you don't always get paid what you're owed. Over the course of my career I'm probably out about $75,000. It's rarely worth suing over, so you just go on with the next project.

Producers also often pay options late. However this is risky business for producers. If their option payment comes late, you can refuse to cash it, and notify the producer that the option has already expired. (You are not obliged to notify the producer of the option's expiry; the fact that he failed to pay the option renewal payment triggers expiry. Unless your contract says different, of course.) That's the moment where you can clear up any ambiguities in the contract in your favor, or flat out ask for more money, if the project has become much more valuable due to studio involvement, bankable elements, commencement of pre-production, etc. (If it hasn't become more valuable, don't try to renegotiate it!)



Addendum: If you're Canadian, download a copy of the IPA (Independent Producers' Agreement) from the website of the Writers Guild of Canada. It will tell you everything you need to know. As in, scale for one hour episode of television is about $15,000 until such time as it is produced when the "Production Fee" kicks in which represents 50% plus of the monies you can receive. It works the same for longform.

If your episode is never produced, you never get that part of the fee.

This is not the case in the US. Where the script fee depends on what kind of network is the home of the show. And then you can add a production bonus on top of that fee. The WGA Minimum Basic Agreement is available online but can be difficult to decipher.


By Blogger deborah Nathan, at 1:23 PM  

What's a `check'?

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:46 PM  

Thanks Alex.

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 8:46 PM  

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