Go Guild or not Go Guild?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Q. Does the Canadian writers guild require a writer to get something more than the purchase of rights to a screenplay? It looks like I'm on the verge of selling a script to a Canadian studio, and I'd like to know if I'll be getting a percentage of the budget, a percentage of box office receipts, etc... something more than just the purchase price of the script.
Yes. The WGC Independent Producer Agreement (IPA) requires that writers be paid a Production Fee, payable on production of the movie, of about 2.5% or so of the movie's budget. On a $10,000,000, it's $230,000, minus whatever else you've been paid so far. Also, you get a distribution royalty.

Are you a member of the WGC?
Q. I'm actually not a member of the Guild, although my script is registered there. Do I need to be an actual member of the guild in order to get the production fee?
Er, yes. Registering a script can be used as evidence that you wrote a script, but it doesn't entitle you to WGC minimums. (Copyrighting a script is much better than registering one, but that's another post.)

If a producer is signatory to the IPA, then you must get a WGC contract, and you are entitled to join the WGC. You can choose not to join the WGC on your first contract, but c'mon, don't be a putz. The WGC also protects writers' credits, and will talk to producers for you if the producer is not abiding by their agreement. That's handy since you don't want to sue producers if you can avoid it.

You can always try to negotiate WGC minimums whether or not you are a member of the Guild; just put the same payments in your contract. But producers will rarely give them to you when they don't have to.
The executive producer (who is also my agent) is in the States, but the studio who's financing the movie is in Canada.
Uh oh. Your producer is your agent? That's not good. That's a clear conflict of interest. Who's negotiating your deal with your producer? Your producer?

Under California law, an agent can't be a producer, for just this reason. (A manager can be a producer, but the law requires that your deal be negotiated by an agent or lawyer.)
Would you recommend I become a member of the Writers Guild of Canada in order to get the most money I can out of this deal? Or would that matter a whole lot?
I can tell you of at least one screenplay deal I signed, long ago before I joined the Guild, where I wound up having to accept $15,000 instead of $50,000 because I wasn't Guild yet.

I only know one busy writer who's not Guild. He's always doing low-pay gigs for overseas producers. I can see that he's concerned that he'll lose out on some gigs if he went Guild. And maybe he would. But I think he'd get at least as much money overall, and that would mean he could spend more time on fewer gigs and take more time with each screenplay. I think he'd be a better writer, and possibly a richer writer, if he went Guild.

So yeah, I recommend going Guild if you can. Also, get a real agent.

(Full disclosure: I'm the Quebec Delegate to the WGC National Forum, so I won't pretend to be neutral. But if I didn't fervently believe in the WGC, I wouldn't have run for the job.)

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Is there a criterion for joining the WGC? Can it also protect you if you sell a script in Hollywood?

By Blogger JamaicanInToronto, at 12:13 AM  

Sorry, we only have jurisdiction in Canada.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:51 AM  

So the criterion to join...?

By Blogger JamaicanInToronto, at 11:54 AM  

It's on the WGC website, but basically it's signing a contract to write for a signatory company.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:02 PM  

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