Guidelines for theatre writers

on Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:12. Posted in Theatre

David Edgar introduces two new booklets from the Writers' Guild

In the old days, getting a play on wasn’t easy, but it was simple. You’d send a play off to a theatre, and, if they read it, they might decide to put it on. The production would be cast, designed and marketed largely without your input. If the director felt like it, you might attend the read-through and a late run, to check on what changes had been made in your play. After it opened you’d get some money, in the form of a percentage of the box office. In the 1970s and 1980s, all that changed. In collaboration with the Writers’ Guild, a new Theatre Writers’ Union negotiated binding, minimum terms agreements with, first, the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court. Then agreements were negotiated with the rest of the building based sector, and finally with independent, non-building based companies.

These agreements gave playwrights an up-front commission fee (or an option fee if the play wasn’t commissioned) as well as a royalty. It guaranteed the playwright the right to approve or prevent any changes in their play, to be consulted over the choice of directors and actors, as well as over casting and marketing, and to attend rehearsals. Despite dire warnings by theatres, these changes didn’t lead to a drop in the number of new plays being presented, but, over time, the reverse.

Over the last couple of decades, things have become more complicated. Encouraged by the Arts Council, expanding literary departments came up with schemes to develop young playwrights in particular, including seed money schemes, attachments, mentoring, readings, workshops and scratch productions of various kinds. There is a growing number and variety of co-written plays, and playwrights are increasingly working outside theatres in the community and in schools.

None of these forms of development fitted within the existing agreements, and playwrights found some aspects of them irksome and even exploitative. On the other hand, these schemes were designed in good faith and led to many more new plays being done, particularly over the past 10 years (during which the number of new plays presented in the building-based subsidised theatre has more than doubled).

In order that playwrights can get their plays on, but also get the best deal for their work, the Writers’ Guild has collaborated with the Antelopes playwrights’ group to produce two sets of guidelines: Agreements and Contracts outlines the current agreements the Guild has with theatres in (we hope) comprehensible language. Engaging with Theatres describes the various schemes to develop writers and their work which lie outside our current agreements, with examples of best (and worst) practice and guidelines for playwrights and theatres to follow.

The idea of these booklets is to inform and arm playwrights and their agents, and also to help theatres and companies to get the best out of playwrights. As we seek to preserve and improve our agreements, we hope that theatres will endorse and implement our recommended guidelines.

Please let us know of your experiences of the theatre- playwright relationship – where it goes right and where it goes wrong. We are also keen to hear how our agreements and guidelines work, and how they might be improved.

Since our first agreements were negotiated, the number of working playwrights has expanded hugely. Good agreements, contracts and guidelines are vital to keep new work at the core of the British theatre.

David Edgar is President of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain

Lobbying in the midst of a storm

on Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:47. Posted in General

Jayne Kirkham reports from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton
Photo: David Laws MP, Minster of State for Schools

david lawsBrighton is supposed to be a sunny, rather hedonistic place isn’t it? Not sure that’s how I would describe the Lib-Dem conference there this week. The weather was cold, wet and blustery and, given the furore about Nick Clegg’s apology and their position in the polls, you might think that would describe the conference too. But, while politicians are always full of wind, everything was rather… fuggy: warm and soporific with any genuine angst or anger covered in a blanket of goodwill.

It is of course a gathering of the clan and, Lib-Dems are no different to the other parties in the midst of a storm: smiling while holding their skirts down firmly lest the wind woofs up and shows us their pants.

So do I have anything new to report? Anything that you couldn’t read in the main papers or hear on TV? Quite possibly I do. Because my agenda was not that of the main press nor of the Lib-Dems. I went as a writer. And a children’s writer at that – someone who believes children deserve the best we can give them. So I went looking to hear from ministers and spokespeople for Education, Culture, Media and Sport about their policies on art, media, children’s art and media, art in education, education, soft education, hard education (beginning to sound like toffees), the creative industries, intellectual property rights…

I didn’t hear very much. On some subjects I was the one doing the telling: about how the new English Baccalaureate will affect the teaching of and children’s access to theatre, music and art; how British children’s TV is the best in the world, yet crippled by an un-level international playing field; how so little public arts funding is spent on children.

What was very satisfying was that they were listening. Now, of course, the important bit is the follow up – will those meetings I had really result in questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time? Have I really found new advocates that will do rather than just say? Will we see changes to policy regarding arts in schools or the funding of children’s arts? In his speech, David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools (pictured above), said ‘A good education is the cornerstone of a liberal society. A good education for all is the cornerstone of the society our party wants to create. My job is to deliver just that.’

My job then is to not let him forget it.

Jayne Kirkham is Chair of the Writers’ Guild Children’s Committee

Howard Read interview

on Monday, 24 September 2012 15:58. Posted in Podcasts

Darren Rapier talks to Howard Read about stand-up, the differences between writing comedy for adults and children, and creating Little Howard - an animated alter ego.

Also available as a podcast on iTunes, or via the Writers' Guild app for iPhone and iPad.

Eva Figes 1932-2012

on Sunday, 16 September 2012 19:03. Posted in Books and Poetry

By Nick Yapp

Eva Figes

Eva Figes, who died last month, grew up the hard way. She was born in Berlin in April 1932, just six months before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. During the Nazi persecution Eva’s father was arrested and spent some time in Dachau concentration camp before being inexplicably released. Eva, her sister and her parents escaped from Germany in 1939 and came to live in Britain. Fear gave way to bewilderment, but in 1953 Eva left Queen Mary College, University of London with a good degree, and with the determination to become a writer. As such, she became internationally famous, writing both prize-winning and experimental novels, literary criticism and polemics, of which the most famous is Patriarchal Attitudes: Women In Society, published in 1970.

Stubborn, outspoken, passionate and deeply concerned for the welfare and standing of writers in society, Eva became a member of the Guild as soon as book writers became eligible to join, in 1974. Two years later, she and Tim Jeal, both newcomers to the Authors’ Committee (forerunner the Books Committee of the Guild), worked together to draw up a draft Minimum Terms Agreement (MTA) between writers and publishers. It was a mammoth task, combing through an immense pile of existing publishers’ contracts to select and collate the best practicable terms. Then came the struggle to persuade publishers to accept the MTA. The draft was mailed to 50 leading publishing houses. Almost without exception, publishers dismissed the idea that there was any need to depart from the old system of gentlemanly exploitation of writers. Eventually, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, Managing Director of Hamish Hamilton, entered into voluntary negotiations with the Guild, and the first MTA was signed in July 1977. Sinclair-Stevenson’s brave initiative may well have been influenced by the fact that three of his leading writers at the time – Brigid Brophy, Maureen Duffy and Elizabeth Jane Howard – were all members of the Guild’s Authors’ Committee.

Writers' Guild Awards 2012 shortlists

on Friday, 14 September 2012 10:58. Posted in General

The shortlists for the 2012 Writers’ Guild Awards have now been decided. The winners will be announced on Wednesday November 14 at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill.

Best Continuing Drama Series

  • Casualty: Saturday Night Fever - Sasha Hails
  • Coronation Street: Becky’s Final Farewell - Debbie Oates
  • Hollyoaks: A Little Film About Love by Jason Costello - Nick Leather

Best Play for Children and Young People

  • Angel - Kevin Dyer
  • Hare & Tortoise - Brendan Murray
  • Holloway Jones - Evan Placey

Best Videogame Script

  • Batman: Arkham City - Paul Crocker
  • Risen 2: Dark Waters - Gordon Rennie, Alan Barnes, Emma Beeby
  • Zombies, Run! - Naomi Alderman

Best First Feature Film

  • Black Pond - Will Sharpe, Tom Kingsley
  • Resistance - Owen Sheers, Amit Gupta
  • Wild Bill - Danny King, Dexter Fletcher

Best Children’s TV Script

  • 4 O'Clock Club: Maths - Dan Berlinka
  • Horrible Histories - Dave Cohen, Ali Crockatt, Gerard Foster, Giles Pilbrow, Laurence Rickard, David Scott, George Sawyer, Ben Ward, Steve Punt
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Curse of Clyde Langer - Phil Ford

Best Radio Drama

  • Life and Fate - Jonathan Myerson, Mike Walker
  • Pandemic - John Dryden
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys - Hattie Naylor

Best Screenplay

  • Even the Rain - Paul Laverty
  • Tyrannosaur - Paddy Considine
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear

Best Fiction Book

  • Alys, Always – Harriet Lane
  • The Last Hundred Days - Patrick McGuinness
  • Then - Julie Myerson

Best Short-Form TV Drama

  • Appropriate Adult - Neil McKay
  • Sherlock - Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Stephen Thompson
  • This is England '88 - Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne

Best Theatre Play

  • Grief - Mike Leigh
  • The Kitchen Sink - Tom Wells
  • The Westbridge - Rachel De-lahay

Best Radio Comedy

  • I, Regress - Matt Berry
  • Another Case of Milton Jones - Milton Jones, James Cary
  • In and Out of the Kitchen - Miles Jupp

Best TV Comedy

  • Holy Flying Circus - Tony Roche
  • PhoneShop - Phil Bowker
  • Grandma's House - Simon Amstell, Dan Swimer

Best TV Drama Series

  • Being Human - Toby Whithouse, Tom Grieves, John Jackson, Lisa McGee, Jamie Mathieson
  • Scott & Bailey - Sally Wainwright, Nicole Taylor, Amelia Bullmore
  • Prisoners Wives - Julie Gearey, James Graham and Chloe Moss

New Guild Executive Council

on Sunday, 16 September 2012 17:22. Posted in General

The new Writers' Guild Executive Council met for the first time on 12 September.

Pictured, from left to right: David Edgar (President), Anne Hogben (Deputy General Secretary), Gail Renard (Television Chair), Bernie Corbett (General Secretary), Olivia Hetreed (Film) Ming Ho (Deputy Chair), Roger Williams (Guild Chair), Katharine Way (Radio Chair), Jayne Kirkham (Children’s Chair), Andy Walsh (Treasurer), Manon Eames (Welsh Region), Julie Ann Thomason (Scottish Region)

Missing from the photo – but not forgotten: Antony Pickthall (Deputy Chair), Amanda Whittington (Theatre), Nick Yapp (Books), Marie MacNeill (Devon and Cornwall), Richard Pinner (Birmingham and West Midlands).