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Pressing World Issues Reflected in Writers Guild Policies

Variety logo Variety 2/17/2017 Dave McNary

Julia Louis-Dreyfus gave the Writers Guild of America some unexpected exposure at the SAG Awards on Jan. 29 after receiving a trophy for lead actress in a comedy series for her work on “Veep.”

Louis-Dreyfus said, “Our sister guild, the Writers Guild, made a statement today that I would like to read because I am in complete agreement with it. Our guilds are unions of storytellers who have always welcomed those from the nations and of varying beliefs who wish to share their creativity with America. We are grateful for them. We stand with them, and we will fight for them.”

She did not have time to read the statement, which had been issued a few hours earlier and began, “It is both unconstitutional and deeply wrong to say that you cannot enter our country because of where you were born or what religion you were born into,” said WGA West president Howard Rodman and WGA East president Michael Winship.

A few days later, Rodman said, “The reactions that Michael and I have gotten tell us that the entertainment community is grateful for this kind of leadership.”

And Winship noted that more than 300 WGA East members had attended the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

It was also a reminder the guild leadership is willing to go public over key issues. The WGA went on strike for 100 days in 2007-08 over new media and has been quietly preparing for a new set of negotiations for a successor deal. The current contract expires on May 1 with Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”), former WGA West president Chris Keyser and Chip Johannessen (“Homeland”) as the chairs of the negotiating committee.

The guild announced in May that it wanted a bigger share of the $49 billion in annual profit for the six biggest entertainment conglomerates at a time when TV programming and streaming are seeing significant increases in volume.

“The industry relies on storytellers who need to be better compensated,” Winship says.

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Once a Warrior:Jason Sudeikis voices the lead character, a warrior from the South Pacific, in the Fox animated series “Son of Zorn.” Courtesy of Fox

The WGA West reported two months later that covered earnings by its 8,000 members for 2015 had edged down 0.9% to $1.176 billion.

“There’s a panoply of concerns by members in series TV, new media and screen,” Rodman says. “We’re listening very hard to them.”

Winship says the expansion of TV writing has lifted the spirits of his 4,000 members along with organizing the digital media sector of key sites including the Huffington Post, Salon and Vice.

The Feb. 19 awards ceremonies in Beverly Hills and New York will have seven of the 10 Oscar-nominated screenplays up for awards — “Arrival,” “Fences,” and “Hidden Figures” in the adapted category, and “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” in original category.

While “20th Century Women” received an Oscar nomination along with two films that were ineligible for the WGA Awards, “Lion” and “The Lobster,” they didn’t get WGA noms because they were not produced under the jurisdiction of a writers guild. Both presidents say there are no plans to amend that policy, which is designed to honor work that’s performed under guild contracts, unlike the rules for the DGA and SAG Awards.

“We revisit the policy occasionally but it’s more important to awards pundits than it is to us,” Rodman says.

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