Saturday, June 13, 2009

Free-re- 2

I have been asked in response to my posting on the practice of producers demanding free-rewrites why we simply do not refuse to do them. The answer to this question is twofold.

First, refusing to perform free work is invariably met with threats of early termination. In other words, if you don't agree to the free re-write, you will be fired, and another writer brought in to rewrite you. This other writer, presumably, is one who will agree to work for free at the producers' demand.

Second, any writer who acquires a reputation for refusing to perform free work will probably not be employed. And any writer who exercises his right as a Guild member and reports the demand for free work will be blacklisted.

Now this latter point is critical. We are occasionally asked by the Guild whether we have been required to do free re-writes, and then asked to name the producers who have demanded them. And this is where the problem lies. If we report such demands, which violate the Writers Guild's minimum basic agreement with the producers, we will become known as trouble-makers. And trouble-makers are seldom, if ever, hired.

I do not recall during the recent strike (of which the Guild continues to boast) that the issue of free re-writes was ever mentioned, let alone negotiated. This represents just another aspect of the destructive failure that was the strike. While the Guild was militating with much bravado for a 'window' in the third year of the contract, and other such abstruse concessions, nothing was said or done to prevent the producers demanding that Guild members work for free. Yet I dare say that the amount of income lost to writers through producers' polishes probably cancels out any gains which the Guild secured. In the example which I cited in the previous post on this subject, we lost over three weeks of work, that is to say, of income, in the course of a writing job that should have taken about ten weeks. That is a net loss of thirty percent, in time and money. And I doubt that the Guild can boast that it managed to wrestle gains of more than thirty percent in any aspect of the contract obtained by a strike that cost us nearly six months of work.

I am sure that there are several ways in which the Guild could redress the free re-write problem, and I would be grateful to hear any suggestions on this point. One solution which has been proposed to me, however, seems fairly straightforward. It is this:

Every time a Guild member signs a contract with a producer, the terms of that contract should be filed with the Guild. Then, every draft written by the member should be sent to the Guild, which could track compliance with the number of steps contracted for. Thus, if the writer's contract specifies three steps, and four drafts are submitted, the Guild would have de facto proof of the demand for free work, and could move quickly to stop it. It would also have an ongoing record of producers who violate the Guild's rules. And instead of writers being blacklisted for refusing to perform free work, it is the producers who demand it who can be held to account, publicly if necessary.