Writers owed £250,000 for series screened in Europe
The Writers’ Guild has accused two European broadcasters of 'effectively rewarding criminal behaviour' after they screened a major children’s TV drama series for which the writers are still owed £250,000.
The writers, who are all Guild members, claim the move sets a 'bizarre precedent' that could have wider ramifications for creatives across the entertainment industry.
The five UK-based writers of the 26-part series Which is Witch (dubbed into French and broadcast under the title Sorcières Mais Pas Trop!) say producer Phil Ox, of company I Love Television, owes them £250,000 collectively, despite the fact the scripts were completed around a year ago and the series is now being broadcast in France and Belgium.
The writers have spent the last year requesting the money owed to them, and had hoped broadcasters Radio Television Belge Francophone (RTBF) in Belgium and Canal J in France would agree not to broadcast the series until they had been paid for their work. The writers believe they were duped into signing contracts based on Ox’s promises that all the finance for the series was in place.
However, both broadcasters have started showing the drama, with the writers claiming this sets an unwelcome precedent that could see other TV channels follow the broadcasters’ example.
The Writers’ Guild has made a formal protest to both broadcasters, but despite this the drama is still being screened. Requests for the broadcasters’ assistance in obtaining payment from the producer have also been ignored. The broadcasters claim that the producer has supplied them with all the necessary paperwork to enable them to have the legal right to broadcast the show, regarding the situation as a dispute among 'suppliers' and not their concern.
The Guild’s lawyer said: 'Both broadcasters are content to exploit the writers work in full knowledge that they have not been paid while washing their hands of any responsibility. From the writers’ point of view it is little better than theft'.
Nick Wood explains how he became a writer-actor to perform his latest play
Nick Wood in A Girl With A Book (photo by Alex Esden)
There’s a knock on the dressing room door. I follow James the duty manager up the stairs to the back of the stage. I bend to put my keys down under the second step. Before I can straighten up the house lights are coming down. I take a breath. The pre-set is brought up and I walk on to the stage at Square Chapel Halifax for the first night of the tour of my new play A Girl With A Book.
One third of the way through. The words are coming out in the right order. I haven’t tripped over the scenery. Then I cut the last three words of a paragraph. I’ve lost the rhythm. I’ve no idea what to say next. I suddenly realise sweat breaking out your forehead is not a cliché – I can feel it. I look at the chair where I’ve established Malala is sitting. I walk back to the desk, look at my notebook. Look at the spot where her father stands. I have been silent now for at least an hour and a half. I’m thinking do I say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I have no idea what happens next’ or just walk off the stage. From nowhere the word Ziauddin comes out of my mouth and we’re off again.
Afterwards I’m complemented how I had the nerve to pause and let my character, the writer, think about the implications of what her father asked Malala to do. On my own I walk it through to see how long it really lasted. Top estimate? Four seconds. Let’s get things into proportion – it’s not coal mining and nobody died, but, at that moment, it did feel pretty scary.
I wrote the play for another actor. I said. But I didn’t really. I would have been happy if we’d found another actor after the showcase at Nottingham Playhouse. I was overjoyed when it was suggested by my director Andrew Breakwell that I do it myself. I knew what I was trying to do from the start. Use the story, not tell it. But I could see the problems. In one try out where I only did an extract I was asked what did I think I, a white, middle aged, male, had to contribute to the debate? I was able to tell my questioner she had almost quoted one of the lines from the play. ‘What have I a white middle class middle aged playwright of no fixed belief living safely in the West got to say on a subject he knows nothing about?’
At the top of the playtext it says: ‘The writer can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or ethnicity.’
I wanted to do it because I wanted to react to this event. The play isn’t ‘about’ Malala. I wanted the disjoint that would come from seeing a middle aged man wrestling with attitudes and prejudices he finds far too near the surface as he researches the event. Tying himself in knots, making a fool of himself, venting his anger at the evils religious differences have brought on the world, wondering how a father could let a daughter run such risks, before arriving at the one quality that undercuts all our fears of the different – empathy.
Tom Green introduces a case study from a new book he has co-written with Kevin McCann about authors doing it for themselves
In the time that I have been editing writersguild.org.uk and the Writers’ Guild magazine, one of the biggest changes has been the new technology enabling writers to become increasingly independent. The rise of self-publishing has come on the back of a range of innovations, most notably relating to digital printing, e-books and social media. Whereas once an author’s options outside mainstream publishing houses were almost non-existent, now it’s possible to publish and promote a book with little or no outside assistance.
In writing Getting Started In Self-Publishing (Hodder 2013), Kevin McCann and I have sought to provide practical advice on all aspects of the process. The book also contains a number of case studies; an extract of one, by Guild member Martin Cloake, follows below.
Martin Cloake has self-published two mini-books in a series called Spurs Shorts that he launched with his writing partner Adam Powley. One is about Danny Blanchflower, the other concerns Arthur Rowe. They have also republished the first full-length book they wrote, We Are Tottenham, as an e-book after the rights reverted back to them.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
I'm a journalist and I've worked in production for years. I'm also interested in technology and the media business, an area I covered as a journalist. So I've been interested in and involved with new publishing platforms and methods for years. Digital publishing has changed the game in so many ways, one of which is to change the view of, and the opportunities offered by, the self-publishing route. Essentially, digital makes the whole process more nimble. The idea for the ‘Shorts’ series came from the kind of thing The Atlantic Review was doing in the US, and The Guardian in the UK. Those publications are mining their archives to produce collated volumes on particular subjects.
Shortlists have been published for the Tinniswood and Imision radio awards 2013, administered by the Writers' Guild and the Society of Authors.
Tinniswood Award 2013 Shortlist
The Tinniswood Award 2013 is presented to the best original radio drama script by any writer broadcast in the UK over 1 July 2012-31 October 2013. The Award is jointly administered by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Society of Authors with the prize of £1,500 sponsored by the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society. The judges were Louise Doughty, Marcy Kahan and David Pownall. We are pleased to announce the shortlist:
Dusty Won't Play - by Annie Caulfield
In 1964, at the height of her fame, Dusty Springfield was arrested in South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences. Detained, deported and accused of publicity seeking by some fellow celebrities back home, she inspired others to cancel segregated tours. She didn’t change the world, but she did do something
Once Upon A Time There Was A Beatrix - by Lavinia Murray
Combining fact with fantasy, we imagine a day in the life of the young Beatrix Potter as a child, and glimpse at the roots of her creativity. 19th century London: Helen Beatrix Potter is 14 years old and lives in Kensington with her parents. Her younger brother, Bertram, has just gone off to boarding school. Life has changed irrevocably and Beatrix realises that she faces years of isolation and parental indifference. She is on the verge of vanishing within the social mores around her. Today, Beatrix has to find her own life. When she visits the local cemetery, she finds herself at the centre of a rather frightening hunt for a young rabbit, and discovers a way to excel.
Imo & Ben - by Mark Ravenhill
Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, commissioned for the Queen's Coronation Gala in 1953, was, according to Lord Harewood 'one of the greatest disasters of operatic history'. This play tells how Imogen Holst moved to be near Britten in Aldeburgh to support him as he worked on the score in the months leading up to the premiere
Marathon Tales - by Colin Teevan and Hannah Silva
This play ingeniously combines the stories of a number of Marathon runners ancient and modern; the original Pheidippides, Atalanta, Hippomenes, Abebe Bikila, John Tarrant the “Ghost Runner”, Dorando Pietri the “People’s Champion”; pioneer of women's running Kathy Switzer, and contemporary amateur and professional runners preparing for the London Marathon
Mark Tuohy on how self-publishing has helped get his writing back on track
'It's a mighty long way down rock 'n roll… From Top of the Pops to drawing the dole,' as the song says – and that's kind of how its been. My first novel The Tide was published back in 2005 to good reviews and okay not great sales but I kind of thought I'd arrived. I was invited to read from it at the Edinburgh Book Festival and being heralded by some as a great new literary voice. Surely getting the next novel published (assuming I could write one) was going to be fairly straight forward.
Things started well and before I knew it I was writing two very different novels, a literary thriller and Something Brilliant, a challenging but uplifting love story. I even managed to secure a £5,000 grant from the Arts Council. In the meantime I wrote a couple of plays for Radio 4 and then by around 2009 I thought both novels were ready to go.
Well, the good people who published my first novel (Mercat Press) were no longer interested in me and were anyway already headed into the more burly arms of Birlinn. There was to be no place for me there. I wasn't desperately disappointed and was confident I would find a home for my work elsewhere. This was something I'd have to do on my own as my agent, who was more of a theatre person, had already ditched me. But again I felt sure I could stand on my own two feet and that a publishing deal was just around the corner.
Minimum fees for BBC TV writers are going up by 2% with effect from 1 November 2013, bringing the flagship rate for a one-hour teleplay to £11,040 – the second increase this year. The new rate for series/serials is £10,020 per hour.
Children’s drama and comedy, and any scripts under 15 minutes, will be commissioned at a minimum of £184 per minute, with online-only commissions at £92 for teleplays and £84 for series/serials. The minimum for television sketch material is £103 per minute, or £83 for children’s sketch material.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett said: “This is another example of the Guild’s determination that even at a time of large BBC cuts, writers should not get left behind. These increases are fairly close to the latest inflation figure of 2.2% and compare with a pay rise of 1% or £800 for BBC staff.”
A full list of all new minimum rates is available to download. These rates are negotiated under three separate collective agreements by the BBC, Writers’ Guild and Personal Managers’ Association (representing writers’ agents). They were last increased by 1% on 1 January 2013, and will next be revised with effect from 1 November 2014.