At a time when the global content business is moving faster than ever, many writers feel they are still stuck in second place due to the out-of-date nature of chain-deal contracts.
Currently, networks, studios and launchers can keep writers and talent under exclusive deals for anywhere from nine months to more than a year in some cases, according to standard chain agreements. This prevents them from booking other jobs at that time without a complicated process of approvals, hampering clerks’ ability to seek other job opportunities. Actors are running into the same limitations at this moment of prime television employment levels for experienced actors.
Restrictions have been part of writers’ deals for a long time, but they were put in place at a time when broadcasts were the only game in town and writers worked eight or nine months out of the year on seasons of at least 20 episodes or more.
But now, many talented and illuminating agents who spoke with them diverse Say they have lower- and mid-tier customers who are losing out on business due to exclusivity, exacerbated by multiple factors such as the year-round development cycle and short demand seasons of 13 episodes or less. Writers get paid less because they work on fewer episodes, but they still face long-term contracts.
Tension has been building for some time. The Writers Guild of America has attempted to address the problem in recent major contract negotiations with major studios and networks. But industry veterans say problems persist with contract terms that are outdated for today’s market.
“short [season] “Demands are a major cause of this problem,” says one talent agent. “My clients work fewer weeks and therefore make less money in a particular job, but then are held under these exclusive deals for the same amount of time as if they were working on a 22-episode season.”
Laurie Espinosa, WGA’s senior contract manager, says complaints about short orders date back nearly a decade to when cable networks began rushing into prestigious dramas. Espinosa says Article 67 of the union’s basic agreement was negotiated in 2014 to place limits on how long writers can be subject to exclusive rule.
“So far as we are concerned, in terms of exclusivity, for those writers to whom the provision applies, they cannot be considered as exclusive after the last payment under their agreement is due,” she says.
Espinosa says that writers who earn less than $350,000 in a given year are covered by the allotment and that after 60 days of work interruption or work interruption, they should be free to pursue another business. But there is only a gap if there are no writers working on a project.
“The vulnerability isn’t really a gap if you have the display manager and the second administrator working on rewriting scripts, or polishing scripts,” she says. “This is actually not a real gap. So we had some difficulties with that.”
Of course, it’s entirely possible for networkers and streamers to sign someone for another job if the dates match. But there’s no guarantee that this will happen – and the mid-level actors are feeling queasy. A-list stars have the agility of hopping between outlets and signing one-year deals for limited series prestige, while others aren’t so lucky.
Getting approval can take time, and agents say that if it doesn’t come fast enough, the other project can move on to other people for the open roles.
Network executives understand that the status quo is untenable and that changes to the current system are inevitable.
“I’ve definitely seen exclusivity fade as demand dwindles,” says one network executive. “And as long as we provide safeguards for marketing and publicity, or broadcast dates that won’t clash with our shows, I certainly find we support them more.”
It remains to be seen whether or not this support will extend to all major networks and streaming services. What is clear, however, is that they will need to adapt if they are to avoid further conflict with the creative community moving forward. Given that labor organizations such as the WGA and IATSE have made impressive strides in recent years, change seems inevitable.
“I don’t see how they can continue like this,” a TV-lit agent says of the suspension of networks and streaming services on the book. “If this continues, they will burn a lot of bridges.”