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
We are currently updating the guidelines for writers working in animation (including puppetry). The guidelines are a useful resource for writers and we are working to ensure that the guidance we provide is accurate and up to date.
To ensure that we are publishing accurate pay ranges we need your help, we have constructed a small survey to establish what rates are being paid nationally and internationally for writing animation, for example, a bible, 5 min script etc.
If you are a professional writer who writes animation, please spare us 5 minutes of your time and complete the Animation Survey
The Writers’ Guild and the BBC have reached agreement on a “loyalty bonus scheme” to ensure that writers on Doctors and other popular long-running series do not suffer swingeing pay cuts later this year.
The problem arose because a former 15% additional payment for iPlayer use and repeats on BBC3 and BBC4 has been ended in favour of generally better arrangements. Under a transitional arrangement, the payment was extended until July this year for Doctors, Casualty and Holby City, but will then disappear.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett explains the dilemma: “The trouble with ‘transitional’ arrangements is that they come to an end, and meanwhile it became clear that Doctors writers in particular are unlikely to benefit significantly either from the iPlayer or higher repeat fees on secondary channels.”
The Guild responded by organising a meeting of members and non-members from Doctors and arranged for a writer from the series to address the BBC negotiating forum. Email forums sounded the opinions of those who couldn’t attend and a united position was established. The BBC responded with an offer of new money through a “multi-episode bonus scheme” (MEBS).
It means that any writer who is commissioned to provide at least three episodes over a year will receive a 15% bonus payment on every script delivered in that year.
The Guild and its negotiating partner, the Personal Managers’ Association, pressed for further improvements, but the BBC rejected those suggestions.
Nevertheless, according to Corbett, the new scheme is “a positive development, and a life-saver for some writers whose earnings could have fallen off a cliff. We will monitor this carefully in its first year and will continue to press for a general uplift in the pay of LRS writers, particularly on Doctors, which looks to us like the lowest-paid continuing drama on UK network television.”
The BBC unilaterally offered to extend the scheme to Casualty and Holby City, which was welcomed by the Guild, although as those shows produce fewer episodes each year, a smaller number of writers will benefit. MEBS money is in addition to the Writers Digital Payments money from the use of iPlayer that will soon be coming on stream, and does not buy any further rights – it is a straight bonus.
In a separate development, writers on the Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm found themselves facing a substantial cut in earnings due to the cancellation of the Sunday omnibus and a cut from five to four episodes per week. As all Pobol y Cwm writers are Guild members, they were able to organise a strong and rapid response. The BBC has offered the Guild significant increases in episode fees and other improvements, and the offer is currently being considered by writers in Wales.
Corbett commented: “We are still in negotiations, but it is already clear that what would have been a huge blow to writers’ earnings will be substantially softened due to the united action of the writers on a 100% union show.”
The collective efforts of the Guild and the Doctors and Pobol y Cwm writers in confronting the BBC with a united front and a coherent, well-argued case have been crucial. Guild Television Committee chair Bill Armstrong says: “There is no reason that this should not work for other shows. The Guild continues its efforts to contact writers who aren’t members, identify their interests and help them to come together, organise and argue their case for better terms and conditions. We welcome any information – from members and non-members – that helps us help you.”
Writers, actors and crews are campaigning against swingeing cuts to Pobol y Cwm, the soap produced by BBC Wales in Cardiff and screened on the Welsh-language channel S4C.
In a surprise move the BBC and S4C announced that the show would be cut from five to four episodes a week, would take an annual two-week holiday, and would have its omnibus edition scrapped.
The broadcasters blamed a 36% cut in S4C’s funding – a loss of £40 million over four years, which has already led to staff redundancies. They also cited a “change in viewing habits”, and scheduling changes following S4C’s loss of a contract to televise rugby matches.
Following an angry meeting attended by Pobol workers, at which executives sought to explain the changes, the unions representing them have organised talks with the BBC and S4C. The Writers’ Guild will be in talks in Cardiff on 31 March.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett said the combined cuts would result in 60 fewer episodes a year. “This has impacts on all areas – on writers, performers and crew, as well as the whole status of the Welsh language. We will meet with the BBC and S4C, and we will express our concerns and ask them to reconsider their decisions.”
Corbett also said the cuts were the result of the BBC licence-fee settlement agreed between the BBC and the government in 2010, which saw the BBC take responsibility for funding S4C: “Pobol y Cwm is the victim of the ridiculous decision to make the BBC fund S4C, which we were very much against at the time. This has proved us right, as we said at the time it would be the start of a slippery slope for Welsh-language broadcasting.”
In a more positive development, S4C has suggested that it would like to screen more varied drama – when the channel opened there were two new drama nights a week.
The Writers’ Guild deplores the latest cuts announced by the BBC and the impact they could have on writers’ livelihoods.
There has been a double-whammy this week with the announcement that BBC3 is to move online and that the long-established Welsh soap Pobol y Cwm is to suffer a big reduction in the number of episodes commissioned and the scrapping of the weekly omnibus edition .
All these developments could have a devastating effect on writers’ earnings.
Guild negotiators and committee members will be in key meetings with the BBC in London and Cardiff over the next few days to establish the facts about the cuts and to discuss the impact on writers.
Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'This is the fallout from the terrible deal former BBC director-general Mark Thompson made with the incoming coalition government in 2010, to freeze licence fees for six years. Of course he is now an ocean away and doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of his crazy secret pact with the coalition.
'We welcome the new D-G’s statement that he will abandon "salami-slicing" cuts that only deliver equality of misery on all parts of the BBC. Instead, bold and difficult cuts will be made. But the end of BBC3 is a shock to the system. We will be meeting BBC executives over the next few days and weeks, and we will try to ensure that the pledge to reinvest £30 million of savings in BBC1 and BBC2 drama actually comes about.'
Guild negotiators will be meeting BBC Wales in the next few days to discuss the implications of the drastic cuts to Pobol y Cwm.
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'.
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.
Lend your support to the new campaign from the Writers' Guild
'We really like your loaf of bread but we haven't got any money to pay for it.'
If that doesn't work in Sainsbury's why should it work with writers' ideas?
The past few years have seen a disturbing increase in the amount of work that writers are being asked and expected to do for free. While this has long been a problem with small, new or simply unscrupulous companies, it is fast becoming the industry standard even for large, well-resourced production companies dealing with established writers with significant credits to their name.
More and more, writers are being offered ‘shopping options’, asked to do ‘sweepstake pitching’, bake-offs’, free rewrites and ‘pre-writes’ – all for no money. It is becoming the norm to ask even established writers to write a trial script before they are even considered as a writer on a long running show – in some cases when they have previously written for that very same show.
The unpaid commitment now routinely expected of a writer constitutes weeks of work and time consuming, expensive research. If it is unacceptable to ask other professionals to work for free then it is unacceptable to expect writers to work for nothing. How are writers to feed their children and pay the mortgage?
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is launching a campaign ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ to address the problem of writers being expected to work for free. The campaign will highlight the scale of the problem and challenge production companies and broadcasters to address indefensible practices that are in no one’s best interests.
To give statistical weight to the campaign two online surveys have been published, ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ and ‘Free Trials’. The findings of the surveys will be confidential and anonymous and only used as statistical evidence in publicity campaigns and negotiations with major production companies and broadcasters. The surveys are open to all writers (whether Guild members or not) and can be accessed via the following links.
Free is NOT an Option https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X8L8F2R
Free Trials https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XL8H6KP
Closing date of survey 1st January 2014.
Christopher Reason on how his family's experience of mental health problems have shaped his life and his writing. The article is based on a speech he gave to the 'Time to Change' Mental Health Conference at the Royal Medical Society.
I've been invited to share my experiences of 'writing about mental health'. But as soon as I started to think about this, I realised that virtually everything I write is about mental health. That's because my work is almost always character centred. Whether it's soap opera – I've been on the EastEnders writing team on and off for nearly 20 years – or any of the adventure stories, political thrillers, comedies, domestic dramas that I've written, I always begin with the character. The reason for which will become plain.
So how do I create a character? My starting off point is: 'We're all nutters but some of us are nuttier than others'. For there's a continuum that stretches from relative mental health (I'm not sure if I've ever met the person who was entirely sane) right through to psychosis, and all of us dwell somewhere on that continuum. Nor is it a static point we occupy. One day we might be feeling fine, then something happens – a bereavement, a separation, an illness - and we find ourselves struggling to cope. How we handle or mishandle this crisis is what teachers of creative writing like to call a character's journey or their arc. A leading character's arc is often congruent with the plot – in many cases it is the plot – so understanding the psychopathology that underlies a person's character has always been crucial to me. Other writers, and I'm not knocking them, take a completely different approach. They think of the big concept – Independence Day or Avatar say - and only then create the characters that will fit into it. One approach is not better than the other, they're just different.
So why do I take this character driven, psychology centred approach? That's entirely bound up in my own personal history.
WGGB supporting the WGA: (left to right) former WGGB Chair Robert Taylor, Anne Hogben and Roger Willams
A response from the Writers' Guild on pay and scheduling
The Writers’ Guild is resisting BBC proposals that would cut many children’s writers’ upfront pay by 20% - just as the BBC Trust praises children’s output but calls for both higher productivity and fewer programmes.
The pay issue has its roots in the decision a year ago to take all children's programming off BBC1 and BBC2 and concentrate it on the daytime channels Cbeebies and CBBC. Until now writers of drama and scripted comedy shows for children (over 15 minutes) have been paid their fee plus a subsequent use advance of 100%, recognising that most such programmes would be broadcast on both the network and the specialist channels. This is in line with the principle that 'primary' channels pay the advance while 'secondary' channels don’t.
Although Cbeebies and CBBC are now the BBC’s only television services for children, the corporation still regards them as 'secondary' and wants to cut the advance from 100% to 60% - equivalent to a cut of 20% in the upfront payment. To sweeten the pill, the BBC has offered to keep the advance at 100% for current writers for three years – at which point the cut would be imposed. New writers would go straight on to the 60% advance.
The Guild and the Personal Managers’ Association (representing writers’ agents) have rejected the proposals and have called instead for Cbeebies and CBBC to be re-categorised as primary channels, to recognise the importance of children’s programming as one of the basic pillars of the BBC. Negotiations are continuing.
Meanwhile the BBC Trust, red-faced after the row over executive pay-offs, this week issued a comprehensive review of BBC children’s services, described by Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett as 'baffling, confusing, and pointing in all directions at once'.
Having recently left his development producer role at BBC Writersroom, Paul Ashton has joined Creative England as Senior Film Executive – Talent Development. Richard Bevan talks to him about working with writers and his book The Calling Card Script (2011) exploring the challenges writers must overcome.
Richard Bevan: What led you to write The Calling Card Script?
Paul Ashton: What the publisher really liked about my idea was that it was cross-media, it wasn’t about how to write a film or a play, it was about what the universal characteristics might be across different kinds of writing, where the similarities are and where the differences break in. The unique thing about the book I think is that it takes in theatre, radio, television and film in one go and don’t separate them out. This is partly because of a consequence that I’ve been working across for many years.
Was there one particular thing that you were particularly keen for the book to say to writers?
Yes, I had a strong feeling that in the current climate writers should not close off opportunities. Some of the best writers are moving between different mediums, forms and formats and graduating from one and then going back. Some of my favourite writers like Dennis Kelly and Jack Thorne are theatre writers, they’re radio writers and they’re TV and film writers. They do all of them differently at different times but don’t have an artificial distinction between them.
Martin Day on nine years of writing for Doctors
I’ve been writing for Doctors, BBC One’s daytime serial-drama-not-soap-unless-we’re-up-for-the-UK-Soap-Awards, for a little over nine year. I’ve never been a contract writer, guaranteed a certain number of commissions, but even so have managed to write 13 episodes in that time. That’s about one every eight months (maths never was my strong point). Or, to put it another way, each one was like a baby in script form (neither was biology).
So it’s pretty obvious that there are far better writers than me out there, who have written more episodes of various soaps and dramas, much more quickly. Still, with the creative life being as precarious as it is, I remain grateful for these ports in the freelance storm. And, however you slice and dice it, nine years is quite a long time to devote to anything. I’ve watched pretty much every episode during that time. I’ve lived with the characters almost as much as I’ve shared time and insight with friends and family. I’m used to writing for it. Never confident, but I think I have some sort of understanding.
It’s got me thinking about what benefits can come from such a longstanding commitment to a single series. First off, let’s look at this selfishly, from my perspective as a jobbing writer. I think I’ve learned a bit about writing in general, and scriptwriting in particular. I’ve always considered myself a slow learner (you should read my first TV tie-in novel… On second thoughts, no, really, don’t – it’s like a black hole of compacted awfulness). So I can confidently state, hand on heart, that I’m better (or less bad) than I was. Usually less ‘on the nose’, often crisper. I’m better at getting to the point, and getting out again. I know when to do subtle, and when to state the bleedin’ obvious. (This is TV, not Chekhov.)
I’ve even reached that stage where sometimes I hear a script editorial voice at the back of my mind warning me of the heffalump trap I’m just about to blunder into. Much better to avoid said traps than to ignore the shouted warning and desperately reposition yourself on the map later.