Key issue: “Let’s Get Paid!”

on 13 December 2012. Posted in General

A briefing from the Writers' Guild written for the Performers' Alliance Parliamentary lobby earlier this week.

The creative professions are regarded by some as passions that we are privileged to follow. But those who produce and exploit our work know that acting, music, and writing are crafts, without which they would have no product.

Too often writers, the most invisible participants, are expected to work for not just low pay, but no pay. The Writers’ Guild wants to highlight that this affects not only the young, starting out in their careers, but established writers in their 40s and 50s. Would MPs, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and police officers work for free because they believe passionately in their job? No? Then Let’s Get Paid!

What is happening?

The Writers’ Guild negotiates collective minimum agreements with theatre producers, television and radio broadcasters and independent production companies. However, these only cover writers under contract, who have received a formal commission. In recent years, we have seen a growing trend towards writers being asked to contribute substantial amounts of unpaid work – detailed pitches, treatments, storylines, sketches, research material, even full-length scripts – merely to compete for the chance of a commission or place on an exclusive “training” scheme for an established TV programme.

Writers expect to undertake speculative work on their own projects, which they may sell on the open market. But work done to the brief of others, which can involve months of thought and labour, is a job, which should be justly remunerated.

Development was once a principal budgeted cost, which acknowledged the primary creative role of the writer; but, with funding in decline, writers are in effect being used to subsidise development from which others expect financial return.

This affects writers across the board: from those working in small local arts enterprises to those writing for major television shows and films made by successful independent companies and national broadcasters. All exploit the assumption that writers will simply be grateful for the opportunity to have our work seen. But we too have bills to pay.

The arts account for 8% of our national GDP. Chronic underinvestment in writing skills will lead to a reduction of experience, quality, and innovation in the long term across a series of industries in which the UK plays a leading role. In any other business, those putting in an investment will rightly expect a return. Writers do too.

What action do we need? 

  • Government has agreed the principle of tax breaks for high-end TV, animation and videogames – stipulate inclusion of paid writers as part of the points system. 
  • All organisations or projects in receipt of public funding (via BBC licence fee, Arts Council, or Local Authority) to include a development budget specifically for direct payment to writers – not just producers or development staff; and to undertake not to solicit unpaid work, e.g. on “training schemes” or pre-commission, briefed trials. 
  • Refocus Arts Council spending away from buildings and back on to creators’ fees to provide for new writing development. 
  • All educational establishments, from primary schools to universities, to pay writers for preparation as well as presentation of material.