All News & Features

Britain Isn’t Eating: a microplay by Writers' Guild member Laura Wade

on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 11:45. Posted in Theatre

Writers’ Guild member Laura Wade has written the first in a series of Off The Page microplays, made in collaboration between Guardian journalists and the Royal Court Theatre.

In the seven-minute short, Britain Isn’t Eating, a politician learns an uncomfortable truth about food-bank Britain:

Creating characters for an interactive world

on Sunday, 16 November 2014 11:25. Posted in Video Games

The space interactive characters inhabit is very different from that found in film, television or books, so how does the process of creating them differ?

In this annual Guild panel event, a group of experienced games writers will examine a variety of techniques used in videogames character creation and explore how they have used them in their own projects. The panel includes: Martin Korda (Need for Speed), Maurice Suckling (Borderlands), Tom Jubert (FTL), James Swallow (Deus Ex) and Chair of the Guild’s Videogames Committee Andrew Walsh (Fable Legends).

Character Crafting: Creating Characters for an Interactive World is being run in association with London South Bank University and the International Game Developers Association, 7pm, 4 December 2014 (Keyworth Theatre A, Keyworth Centre, Keyworth Street, London South Bank University, London SE1 6NG). Entry is free.

Free is NOT an Option, Guild tells European Writers' Council delegates in Brussels

on Thursday, 13 November 2014 11:30. Posted in TV

Speech given by Bill Armstrong, Chair of the Writers’ Guild TV Committee, at the European Writers’ Council’s annual general meeting and conference in Brussels on 2-3 November 2014

Bill Armstrong 1Working on spec is part and parcel of a television writer's life. In our own time and at our own expense we research, create and develop ideas and scripts. This has always been the case and always will be. Production companies, for their part, are understandably reluctant to commit financially to an idea at an uncertain stage of its development. But at some point a line is crossed. Beyond this line it is wrong to expect the writer to continue to bear all the risk and all the expense in return for only a proportion of the potential reward. Beyond this line it is unfair and exploitative to expect a writer to carry on working for free.

Over the past few years, this line has shifted dramatically. A Writers’ Guild of Great Britain survey last year found that 87% of UK TV writers had experienced a significant increase in the amount and kinds of work they had been asked to do for free. Long-standing agreements and guidelines are regularly being flouted. Virtually all UK independent production companies and broadcasters have been asking, cajoling or pressuring writers to do more and more work for free. Development departments say they can’t afford to pay for ideas, treatments, development, options on existing scripts or sometimes even rewrites to those scripts. More and more, options aren’t even discussed or writers are offered ‘one-pound’ options, ‘shopping ‘options’ or some variant of a free option. If we are to have a sustainable industry, this has to stop. Free is NOT an Option.

It is extremely worrying how far the dominant narrative on this has shifted and how commonplace and acceptable it has become to expect writers to work for free. At a public meeting, a senior BBC executive recently dismissed the Guild’s concerns about ‘free’ options on the grounds that, “No one becomes a writer to make money.” Like so many he insisted that indies have no money for development. He said people working in development departments aren’t paid for development either, adding parenthetically, “Apart from their salaries.”

It is ironic that the heads of our broadcasting companies should hold such views. Of late there has been much debate about the lack of cultural diversity on our screens. Initiatives – invariably unpaid – are rolled out but seldom make much difference. The elephant in the room, predictably, is never addressed. If so much of a writer’s work has to be done for free, the only people who can afford to enter the business or remain in it are those who have an unlimited overdraft facility from the bank of mum and dad. And those people are most likely to be white and middle-class. If we carry on the way we are going, we will soon find ourselves in the situation where the only voices we hear and the only stories that get told are those of the independently wealthy.

It may well be that indies do not budget for development – but not because they lack the money. The truly independent production company is an anachronism. Danny Cohen, director of BBC TV, recently described the consolidation in the production industry as ‘a gold rush’. Whether intentional or not, the allusion to the Wild West, with the connotations of lawlessness it entails, is apt. Resources are increasingly concentrated in large, well-capitalised and institutionally exploitative conglomerates. If those conglomerates squeeze their subsidiaries to the point where they cannot properly fund the development work on which their existence depends, the answer is to put pressure on them to do so. The answer is not to claw back the shortfall by squeezing writers further. There is only so much pressure you can put on people before you crush them. If the companies that ultimately run our television industry don’t budget for development, it’s not because they can’t afford it. It’s because they know they can get away with it.

The obvious answer to this exploitation is for writers to ‘just say no’. However, the pressures on new writers and even those with considerable experience are enormous and growing. Production companies and broadcasters make it brutally clear that working for free is the only way to be considered for a commission or a place on an existing show. And writers are isolated and highly vulnerable to pressure. Less than half of UK TV writers belong to their union.

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is working with its most experienced members to compile guidelines on what a writer should and shouldn’t do for free. In the long run, devaluing their own work does a writer no favours, and hurts all writers in the process. The Guild is also drawing up a 10-point negotiation primer – how to say no and talk about money without risking the gig.

The Guild’s guidelines will reflect the broadcasting world we live in but also protect the writers’ fundamental right to be paid fairly. The Guild will take these guidelines to broadcasters and indies and start to build a consensus.

It is crucial that every attempt is made to educate those within our industry and in the wider public as to what is involved in the writing process. Too many people, even those most involved with writers, lack any true understanding of the writing process or the time and effort it takes. It is easy to say, “Just give us a page of A4.” Reducing the complexity of an entire series to a few paragraphs involves considerably more than simply typing out 500 words.

The hardest work that writers do, they do for free. Having invested their own time, energy and money in the construction of the blueprints, they must be paid to build the house. Re-writing the narrative on this will not be easy. The forces ranged against the writer are powerful and will take some convincing. But writers may have more leverage than they imagine. The powers that be in UK TV are desperate for content. Without the writers’ voices, without the stories they write, they have nothing. And they know it.

Calling all writers in the Midlands

on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:44. Posted in Events

Come and join the Writers’ Guild at The Writers’ Toolkit annual networking conference for emerging and established writers, in Birmingham on Saturday 29 November. Run by Writing West Midlands, the region’s literature development agency, the conference offers attendees the pick of 16 sessions with industry professionals. It is also an opportunity for writers to meet, share ideas and make new contacts.

Speakers include agents, editors, publishers, writers, broadcasters, producers, academics and other industry professionals. Writers’ Guild Chair of the West Midlands region, William Gallagher, will be one of the many speakers.

“The Writers’ Toolkit is a longstanding annual event about the practicalities of being a working writer across all media in the Midlands,” said William Gallagher. “It is an event where rubbing shoulders with people is as important as the official sessions, which range from the nuts and bolts of surviving as a freelancer, to more heady discussions about where our industry is going.”

William urges all writers living and working in the region, at whatever stage of their career, to join the Writers’ Guild. "This year the West Midlands region has had a great time producing events with the Birmingham Rep, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Television Society and the BBC,” he said.

“The biggest one of the year though was with Writing West Midlands, at the Birmingham Literature Festival, where the Guild’s Deputy Chair Tim Stimpson interviewed Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. It was a public event, a sell-out public event, and seeing a queue to hear a writer talk snaking out across the library – and back again! – was frankly uplifting."

Full details and bookings for the Writers’ Toolkit event can be found on the Writing West Midlands website.

Writers’ Guild and Shadow Culture Minister call on ITV to end US deadlock

on Sunday, 09 November 2014 15:57. Posted in TV

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Helen Goodman MP, have written to ITV Chief Executive Adam Crozier urging the broadcaster to bring an end to a four-year contract dispute in the United States.

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s sister union, the Writers Guild of America (WGAE), has been trying to negotiate an agreement with ITV Studios America since 2010.

The dispute took a new turn last week (3 November 2014) when WGAE warned that the planned American remake of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, starring upcoming Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris, would be affected if an agreement was not made.

Members of WGAE can only work on shows covered by Guild agreements, and WGAE warned that it would take industrial action. Lowell Peterson, WGAE Executive Director, took to Twitter, declaring, “Time for ITV to sign”.

Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, has responded by writing to ITV Chief Executive Adam Crozier stressing that the Guild is “growing increasingly concerned” about the dispute.

“We cannot understand why ITV in New York has adopted such a hawkish, anti-union position,” he said.

“It is completely at odds with the way the industry works in the United States, it is damaging to the reputation of ITV, not only in the US but increasingly in the UK as well, and it looks as though it may damage the ambitions of ITV to become a major player in the US.”

He added that there were fears the “reverberations” could affect Writers’ Guild members in the UK.

Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Helen Goodman MP, has also written to Adam Crozier.

“I am sure you agree that workers should be afforded at least basic rights and protections, therefore I hope you will encourage your colleagues in America to work with the WGAE,” she wrote.

“I am concerned that for a long time ITV failed to engage with the guild and that more recent talks to form a contract have been unsuccessful. It is therefore in everyone’s interests that negotiations are resumed and a satisfactory resolution reached as soon as possible.”

Guild joins other unions in Brussels to discuss the value of writers’ works

on Tuesday, 04 November 2014 11:22. Posted in Events

By Nick Yapp

Around 40 writers’ unions and organisations from 30 European Union countries gathered together for the European Writers’ Council’s annual general meeting and conference in Brussels on 2-3 November 2104.

Presentations at the conference, titled the Value of Writers’ Works, covered (among other subjects) copyright, remuneration, the problems presented by Amazon, the market for books, and Public Lending Right.

There was also much praise for the Writers’ Guild’s Free is NOT an Option campaign. Bill Armstrong, Chair of the Guild’s Television Committee, gave a powerful talk on the subject, condemning the amount of development work screenwriters and others are expected to do without payment.

The titles of two seminars held in the European Parliament highlighted the fact that writers are having to fight the old, old battles: ‘Towards Fair Contractual Agreements’, and ‘Challenges and Solutions for Remuneration and Compensation’. The good news is that European writers are not alone in fighting these battles. Speakers included lawyers, general secretaries from fellow unions, heads of research, a policy officer of the European Commission, and even one of the Vice Presidents of the European Parliament.

We have allies, some of them in high places. They need to be informed, and in many cases reminded, that the recognition of writers, the remuneration they receive, and the conditions they work under are all worsening. Recent research in the UK carried out by the Guild in conjunction with the Society of Authors and Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society has revealed that writers’ earnings have dropped by 29% in real terms over the last eight years.

What was heartening about two long days in Brussels was to experience a feeling that there is hope of progress to be made. This is not the end… and you can finish the Churchillian quote for yourselves, but maybe, just maybe, things are going to get better.

Nick Yapp is Vice President of the European Writers’ Council and has been a Guild member for over 30 years.