It is not uncommon for writers in a credit determination to learn, with great surprise, that other writers have also worked on the same television or theatrical project. Writers are often dismayed to learn they are not the first writers on the project, or that others have written at the same time or even after them.
Article 18 of the Writers Guild Basic Agreement ("MBA") requires the following:
1) At the time a writer is assigned to a project, if the writer is already employed by the Company, or before a writer is employed to work on a project, the Company must notify a writer of the names of all other writers then working on the project, all other writers who have previously written on the project, and/or all writers from whom literary material has been acquired on which the writer is employed.
2) On television motion pictures ninety minutes or longer, the Company must notify all participating writers of the names of all subsequent writers within a reasonable period of time after employment of each subsequent writer.
3) On theatrical motion pictures, at the writer's written request, a participating writer must be notified of the names of any writers employed subsequently.
4) With regard to pilots, or projects with competing stories, teleplays or screenplays for the same production, the notice to the writer of the names of all writers then or previously employed or from whom material was acquired shall be given to the writer before the deal for services has been concluded, without the writer having to request those names.
The value of this information is great. At the beginning of a project, writers should know if prior material exists which will affect their credit, their rights, and/or their creative contribution. A writer may choose to turn down a job because s/he is not starting from scratch, but cannot do so unless informed of prior material. The writer may also choose to read all of the prior material before writing, to determine the appropriate course for the next draft. It is advised that writers read pre-existing material; for credits in theatrical motion pictures, if there are significant similarities between earlier and subsequent drafts, the later writer will be presumed to have read the earlier drafts. Reading the earlier material will increase the writer's ability to make informed decisions.
[As a note, the Guild's Working Rule #12 requires writers, upon being assigned to work, to learn the names of any other writers then employed and notify them of such assignment. There is no requirement the writer notify writers previously employed.]
Writers are also at times employed simultaneously on competing stories with the same concept or the same actor, and must be informed if other writers are working at the same time. Some writers may choose not to work on such an assignment, others may accommodate their work to such information. In either instance, the writer must be notified of the other writers employed. [There is no Guild rule prohibiting hiring writers simultaneously, only that each writer must be informed that other writers are employed.]
After writers have stopped working on a specific project, they may wish to know the status of that project; whether it is in active development, and if another writer has been employed to work on it. The 1995 MBA provides that writers of television motion picture 90 minutes or longer will automatically be notified of the names of all subsequent writers within a reasonable period of time after employment of each subsequent writer. On theatrical motion pictures, the names of writers hired subsequently will be provided upon the written request of any participating writer.
In essence, these rules provide that writers should never be surprised upon receipt of the Notice of Tentative Writing Credits (submitted by the production company upon completion of principal photography) to learn that others have worked on the project, or when they did. The Company is obligated to notify the writers of all other writers employed, before, during and after. While these rules affect a writer's esteem, they also have practical impact; they affect credits, residuals, creative rights, etc.
If a Company fails to notify a writer as required, it is a violation of the MBA, and should be reported to the Contracts Department at (323) 782-4501 or to the Claims Department at (323) 782-4521. While an individual infraction may appear minimal in nature, the enforcement of this provision will benefit all writers and ensure Companies are aware of its importance to writers.