No Free Lunch and No Free Rewrites

(November 1996)

Simply stated, the WGA Basic Agreement provides that there are no free services.

Many producers assert additional services are included for payment of WGA minimum, and that payment is not due when services are to be performed in order to make the material more "marketable" to a given star, director or Company. The cause of these misstatements may be innocent confusion or intentional hubris; yet the clearer the rules, and the more knowledgeable all the parties, the less likely the producer will attempt to demand uncompensated work, and the less likely the writer will agree to do such work. The WGA has heard many complaints about this attempted practice in Outreach meetings with writers as well as with agents.

No Free Services

Each piece of material written under employment, at the Company’s direction or with its consent, requires a separate payment. There is a separate screenplay minimum for a first draft, and for a first and final draft. Payment for a screenplay does not include a rewrite, but there is an exception in television employment (Article 13.B.8).

Limited Exception for Television

When a writer is employed to write a story for television, minimum includes one revision of the story if it is requested within seven days of delivery (otherwise additional payment is due). An additional revision of the story is one-half story minimum, unless it is incorporated in the teleplay, it being understood the writer must go to teleplay within fourteen (14) days after submission of the story.

As to teleplays 30 minutes or less, the minimum includes one revision of the teleplay if requested within 14 days of delivery, up to two revisions if the first is requested within 7 days of delivery and the second within 7 days after delivery of the first revision. For teleplays over 30 minutes, the revision must be requested within 21 days of delivery; up to 2 revisions may be requested within that time if the first is requested within 14 days of delivery and the second within 7 days after delivery of the first. Thus, the standard "two sets and a polish" requires payment in excess of story and teleplay minimum.

What is a Revision, Anyway?

There is no specific definition of "revision" in the Basic Agreement, which instead contains definitions of "rewrites" and "polishes"; "revisions" would encompass either or both. A "rewrite" is the writing of significant changes in plot, story line, or interrelationship of characters in a screenplay or teleplay; a "polish" is the writing of changes in dialogue, narration or action, but not to the level of a rewrite (Articles 1.B.7. and 1.C.2). Therefore, modifications in a screenplay or teleplay can constitute no less than a polish, and would require additional payment, except when requested within the parameters described above.

Sales and Option Payments

When material is sold, or under option, a minimum payment buys only the material sold or optioned; any further services require additional payment of not less than WGA minimum. If the purchase price exceeds minimum, monies for the purchase price may be credited (at minimum or at a negotiated amount) against monies due for such services in the event the writer’s contract provides for such crediting, but pension and health contributions must be made on such credited amounts.

Again, writers may not be asked to, nor may they perform, uncompensated services for any reason, including to make the material more "marketable." The request violates the WGA Basic Agreement prohibition on speculative writing (generally, services for which payment is contingent upon the acceptance or approval of the company or on obtaining financing [see Article 20]), as well as the provisions for minimum payments for services (Article 13); and the performance by the writer violates the Working Rules restricting such behavior (Working Rules 5 and 6).

Please call the Contracts Department at (323) 782-4501 if you have questions.