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Your old programmes could live again as downloads -- and you get paid
In the next few days the BBC will launch an unprecedented campaign to persuade writers to sign up to the digital future. Supported by the Writers’ Guild, the BBC will send letters to nearly 11,000 writers, writers’ successors, and writers’ estates – asking them to sign up to modern contractual terms.
The operation goes right back to the origins of the BBC in the 1920s and 1930s. From then right up to 2002, when radical new contracts were introduced, people who wrote for BBC drama and comedy did so under a confusing variety of terms, and for much of that period, all rights expired after 20 years.
That was when broadcasting was thought to be ephemeral, and tapes of classic programmes were routinely and unthinkingly wiped – to be re-used for sometimes much less worthy material.
Most old programmes never get repeated on network channels, but that doesn’t mean no one wants to watch them. Digital technology, such as the iPlayer and the forthcoming BBC Store, will make that material available once again. In some cases it will be free to view, as a public service, and in others it will be available to buy – the 21st-century version of the VHS tape or the DVD.
In order to make this switch, the BBC needs to be comfortable that it has the rights to draw material from its archives and make it available. After years of negotiation, the Writers’ Guild has agreed with the BBC that there should be a major exercise to gather these rights together – and in return, the BBC has agreed to new ways of paying writers – or their successors or estates. Basically, this means that writers will be rewarded in the same way as if they had written their scripts only a year or so ago.
If you have ever written a drama or comedy script for the BBC, you should soon receive a letter and a new contract for you to sign. In almost every case, the Writers’ Guild recommends that you should agree – that way your old (and sometimes long-lost) work can be revived and made available online.It is also worth remembering that you can withhold some of your works from the system if you wish, and that if you sign up you can later change your mind.
IMPORTANT: In a small number of cases, where there have been many repeats on network television, it will be smarter not to sign the new terms. But mostly, these new contracts will put old material back into availability, and generate some income for the writer as well.
For more information please visit this website. www.bbc.co.uk/writerslicence
Just 11.5% of professional authors can earn a living from their writing
A new survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society has found that increasingly few professional authors are able to earn a living from their writing.
The survey, What Are Words Worth Now?, of almost 2,500 working writers, was carried out by Queen Mary University of London. It found that in 2013 just 11.5% of professional authors (those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing) earned their incomes solely from writing, compared with 40% in 2005.
The typical (median) income of the professional author has also fallen dramatically, both in real and actual terms. In 2013, the median income of the professional author was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (£15,450 in real terms). According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures, single people in the UK need to earn at least £16,850 before tax to achieve a Minimum Income Standard.
In contrast to the sharp decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase. Statistics produced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2014 show that the creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy (over £8 million per hour) and the UK is reported as having “the largest creative sector of the European Union”, and being “the most successful exporter of cultural good and services in the world”, according to UNESCO.
Owen Atkinson, chief executive of ALCS, commented: “This rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK. If writers are to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to be paid fairly for their work. This means ensuring clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that support creators and their ability to earn a living from their creations.”
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By David Edgar
It’s saddening to report that playwright and Guild member Peter Whelan has died at 82. As fellow RSC associate artists, we met and colluded frequently. He’d had health problems over many years (complications following a hip replacement) and was confined to hospital during rehearsals for his Morris/Rossetti play at the Almeida, The Earthly Paradise. But fellow playwright and Guardian interviewer Samantha Ellis found him working, from his bed, on a new play.
The son of a lithographic artist, Peter was born and brought up in Stoke on Trent, accounting for his fascination with history and pottery. A considerable actor at the Questors Theatre, Ealing, he played Guildenstern in an early version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, directed by Tom Stoppard himself. But although he always intended to be a playwright, he didn’t start writing till he was almost 40. His first play for the RSC, Captain Swing, was picked up off the mat.
Peter’s subsequent work for the company included The Accrington Pals (being revived this year), Clay and The Bright and Bold Design (both potteries plays) and A Russian in the Woods, based on his national service in postwar Berlin. His best known plays – also for the RSC – were set in the English renaissance. His Marlowe/Thomas Kyd play The School of Night was revived at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and his play about Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna, The Herbal Bed, had runs in the west end and on Broadway (and, with his Birmingham Rep play about the monarchy, Divine Right, won him a Guild best regional play award in 1996). For me, the scene in The School of Night in which the unknown actor Tom Stone is revealed to be Shakespeare (“Two writers under one roof is one too many”. “If you ask me, it’s two too many”. “Especially when there are three”) is one of the great dramatic coups of the contemporary theatre. He also wrote for broadcast (his television work included The Trial of Lord Lucan for Granada).
Peter was no pushover – in or out of the rehearsal room - but his kindness and generosity of spirit shone through his work. Four years ago, we found ourselves pursuing the same subject, and his withdrawal was typically gracious. He was unfailingly supportive to younger writers, and a great friend. The RSC were lucky to have him. Our condolences go to his wife of 56 years, Ffrangcon, and their children.
To kick off our occasional series of screenings, we will be showing What Richard Did on 30 July in London, followed by a Q&A with writer Malcolm Campbell.
What Richard Did won Best First Screenplay at the Writers’ Guild Awards (2013). Malcolm has written for some of the UK’s most popular dramas, including The White Queen, Shameless and Skins, as well as creating the BBC’s multi-Bafta-winning L8R and gaining Bafta nominations for All About Me and Losing It.
After the screening, Malcolm will take questions and talk about adapting a novel for the screen.
6pm, 30 July, networking drinks in the hotel bar from 5pm
The Covent Garden Hotel Screening Room, 10 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HB
Price: £8 (Guild members), £10 (non-members)
Bookings: via Eventbrite
All members are invited to the Writers' Guild AGM 10.30am-5pm, 4 July Cluny & Tanner Room, The Bermondsey Square Hotel, Bermondsey Square, Tower Bridge Road, Southwark, London, UK, SE1 3UN
This year’s AGM in London next Friday boasts two high-profile speakers – the new director-in-waiting of the National Theatre Rufus Norris, who will be talking on the theme “the National Theatre and new writing”, and BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning Ben Stephenson. Don’t miss it!
Miranda Emmerson explains how she abridges books for broadcast on BBC Radio 4
Like a lot of people who grew up loving books I was always a bit snotty about abridgement. Surely writers’ words are sacrosanct? Abridgement is for people who can’t hack listening to 40 hours of Eliot or reading 800 pages of Tolstoy: the wimps. I wanted all books and plays to exist like untouchable jewels, to reflect and refract exactly as the writer first intended.
And then I became a writer. And I wrote plays and I tore them apart and turned them into something else. I threw characters out of the window and ditched my ‘best’ scenes. I gutted other people’s books and films and histories and lives for reference points and images and ideas that could be endlessly altered, endlessly adapted.
I loved Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, and also David Lean's Great Expectations, and Sherman Yellan’s Great Expectations, and the Great Expectations of the man (whose name I cannot find) who abridged the little 1970s picture book that my father read to me when I was seven. My five-year-old daughter loves A Midsummer Night’s Dream because Mr Shakespeare wrote a good story and Lesley Sims turned it into something that she can read at bedtime.
In the past 14 years I have abridged dozens upon dozens of books and short stories for BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra: often for the Book of the Week slot. I have abridged history, biography and science. I’ve abridged Lucy Wood and Sebastian Faulks, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway.