Re-Elect Aaron as WGAW Secretary-Treasurer
MY CAMPAIGN STATEMENT
For the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of serving as your Secretary-Treasurer. During that time the Guild saw eight straight quarters of operating surpluses, a membership that surged to nearly 10,000 current-actives, and a successful MBA negotiation. There were other accomplishments, a few of which I’ll share below, but I also want to talk about a bunch of things that didn’t get done, that I’d like to pursue if I’m granted the honor of a second term.
WHAT GOT DONE
This was my third tour of duty on the Negotiating Committee (as an officer I was ex officio this time around), and I was proud to once again be a pragmatic voice in the room pushing hard for critical fixes to our health plan and meaningful gains in the areas of short seasons, options & exclusivity and streaming residuals. Being a middle class writer who works in both TV and film and often check-to-check, even small changes to the MBA can make a big difference in my life, so I was extra attuned to the proposals that were sliding back and forth across the table. An incremental gain here could mean another month’s mortgage got paid, a rollback there could very well whack away at my safety net. I know it impresses the AMPTP to have big name screenwriters and showrunners in the Negotiating room, but I think it’s important that guys like me are there too, representing the interests of rank and file writers. The same applies to the Board room.
As Treasurer of the WGAW and Chair of the Membership & Finance Committee, I was happy to report to the Board and membership two straight years of strong Guild revenues and a growing operating surplus. Guild investments ended the fiscal year on an up note at $28 million, including a robust $18.7 million in our Strike and Good & Welfare Funds, and over $14 million in foreign levies was distributed to writers and their heirs. The state of our union is strong.
But there’s always room for improvement. In the past year I was part of the team that brought in the consulting firm Pension Consulting Alliance (PCA) to analyze the Guild’s investment strategy and make adjustments that will put the Guild on even more solid footing. My latest project: an email notification that alerts you when your dues deadline is approaching to prevent accidental slips into arrears.
As for the Secretary side of the hyphen, one of the first things I did when I took office was bring a more humane tone to the letters that go out when members undergo a change in status. Being told you’ve gone into arrears, or become post-current, or can’t vote on a Strike Authorization vote is hard enough – there’s no need to feel like your Guild is being unsympathetic or punitive. My goal going forward is to find additional ways in which the Guild can better communicate with members around sensitive matters like status and eligibility changes.
As a founding member of the Building Committee, I’m part of the team that’s going to be bringing exciting and much-needed improvements to the first and second floors of the Guild headquarters. Look for these renovations to roll out over the next couple years.
3rd & Fairfax
Speaking of 3rd & Fairfax, I’m proud to be part of the crew that brought the Guild’s podcast to life. Now in its second year, with a listenership that’s grown by leaps and bounds, the bi-monthly podcast has become an important source for news and information about the Guild and a great place to hear fascinating, member-focused profiles on writers working in all mediums today.
Another long-gestating project I’m co-shepherding is the much-awaited reboot of the member directory. The goal is a comprehensive online directory with a robust search functionality that can help writers secure jobs. We’re hoping to have this important tool up and running by the end of the year.
Publicity & Marketing
The Publicity & Marketing Committee, which I founded back in 2005, has been busy putting on events and campaigns to elevate the profile of writers. Last year the 101 Funniest Screenplays list was released to the public, generating millions of media impressions and getting people talking (and laughing) about great comedic writing. This is the third in the popular “101” series after the 101 Greatest Screenplays and the 101 Best Written TV Series lists.
Our annual Behind the Screen event honored writers of newly-released movies and introduced them to members of the press, while our ongoing Writer Inclusion Campaign seeks to compel Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly and other platforms and information sources to include writer credits alongside directors and actors.
Later this year our inaugural Groundbreakers: Writers Who Moved Hears & Minds screening series, done in partnership with American Cinematique, will remind the public of the impact that screenwriters and their work have had on social movements and political discourse.
The Foreign Employment Task Force, which I founded in 2010, recently completed the two year WGAW Ambassador Program, in which the Guild had a presence at global film and TV markets, including NAPTE-Europe, MIP-TV, AFM, and the Asia TV Forum, with an eye on opening up employment opportunities for WGAW writers overseas.
The task force also recently put on two well-attended informational events, “Cuba is Calling” and “The International TV Series Market: The Box is Bigger Now.” An updated edition of the latter event is scheduled to roll out in the fall.
Political Action Committee
As an ex officio member of the PAC Board, I’ve been fighting to preserve net neutrality, stop media conglomeration and protect labor rights. In the current hostile political environment, it’s critical that we step up our lobbying efforts and keep our voice strong in Washington.
During my time as chair of the Awards Committee, I created the Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series writing awards, recognizing exceptional writing among show staffs. One of my committee members suggested Best New Series, and we had a trifecta that’s become a highlight of the WGA Awards.
As a delegate to the National Council for the past two years, I’ve been working with our counterparts in the WGAE to resolve problems big and small and grow the solidarity between our two Guilds.
WHAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE
In spite of our gains inside the Negotiating and Board rooms, a number of issues remain unresolved. Here are a few I hope to tackle in the coming months and years:
Staff writers should be paid for the scripts they write. No brainer, right? A ridiculous and unfair loophole in Article 13 that needs to be closed.
Screenwriters making under twice-minimum should be guaranteed a second step. This low-cost proposal would help new and under-employed screenwriters hone their craft and build credibility with producers and studios.
TV writers should enjoy script fee parity across all platforms, including the CW, basic cable, high-budget streaming and high-budget ad-supported. It’s time.
Comedy-variety writers should not have their weekly pay discounted for long-term contracts. This is an outdated give-back in the MBA that needs to be weeded out. Our agents could help us with this.
Screenwriters should not be paid late or forced to do free rewrites. Protection against these bad practices are already built into the MBA, but I’ve been kicking around some ideas with Guild staff on how to amp up our enforcement efforts in this area and get our agents in on the action. Much of this can be done outside of MBA negotiations.
It should be mandatory that at least one female writer and one writer of color be interviewed for open writing assignments. In sports it’s called the “Rooney Rule.” In screenwriting it’s called “smart hiring.”
Writers should not have to sweepstakes pitch, do free pre-writes or be forced onto paper teams. Every day our employers think of new ways to chip away at our creative rights. Rather than play whack-a-mole with these bad practices, we have to stay ahead of the curve and stamp them out before they become pro forma.
Show creators and showrunners should not have packaging fees shoved down their throats. Why does this have to be mandatory? Why are our agents putting our employers’ interests ahead of our own? It’s high time this racket is addressed.
A few other things I’d like to check off the to-do list in my second term: A Screenwriters’ Survey to garner feedback from the screenwriting community, which has been under-served in the last couple negotiations. A reformation of the Committee for the Professional Status of Writers (CPSW) to engage our employers about issues that are affecting both screen and TV writers. Direct meetings with Amazon, Netflix and Hulu to discuss minimum employment agreements that are more favorable to writers than the MBA. A stepped-up effort to secure Guild contracts for scripted new media shows produced by YouTube Red, Fullscreen, Awesomeness, Facebook, Apple and other new and established digital players. A strengthening of the Guild’s diversity efforts, including the official launch of the Writers Assistant Program.
These are just a few things that come to mind. If there are other issues that concern you, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’ll make sure they get the airing they deserve.
Thank you for your engagement in this election and the consideration of your vote.
BACKGROUND: Member since 1995.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS: 2004-12; 2014-15; SECRETARY-TREASURER 2015-17.
COMMITTEES: ADMINISTRATION OF CREDITS PROCEDURES 2005; AWARDS SHOW 2005-08 (CHAIR/CO-CHAIR 2005-08); BOARD NOMINATING 2003; COMMITTEE ADVISORY PANEL (CAP) 2003-14 (CHAIR/CO-CHAIR 2004-14); FOREIGN EMPLOYMENT TASK FORCE 2010-17 (CHAIR); FREE REWRITES & LATE PAY 2005-08; MBA NEGOTIATING 2004, 2007-08; MEMBERSHIP AND FINANCE 2015-17 (CHAIR); NATIONAL COUNCIL DELEGATE 2004-07, 2015-17; NEW MEMBER MENTOR 2011-12; PUBLIC AFFAIRS 2002 (CO-CHAIR); PUBLICITY & MARKETING 2005-17 (CHAIR); SCREEN LAUREL 2005-06 (CHAIR); STRIKE FUND 2016-17; TV LAUREL 2005; WGAW PODCAST 2015-17.