Everything you wanted to know about the credits process but didn't ask.
The Writers Guild of America, West, (“WGAW”) and the Writers Guild of America East (“WGAE”) (collectively “the Guild”) provide a unique service to the entertainment industry in determining writing credits. The system for determining writing credits has been developed over several decades for WRITERS by WRITERS.
The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide writers with a guide—in plain language—to the credits determination process and practical tips writers should know to help protect their interests in credits. This guide is not a substitute for the Credits Schedules of the WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, or the Credits Manuals, and is not intended to, and does not, alter their provisions in any way.
II. BEFORE YOU MAKE A DEAL
The Guild has the sole authority to determine writing credits on theatrical, television, and new media projects written under its jurisdiction. A company cannot guarantee that you will receive writing credit or any particular form of writing credit. To ensure that you will be eligible for writing credit on a project produced under the Guild’s jurisdiction, before you enter into a deal with a company to perform writing services or to option or sell your written material, there are a few important questions you need to ask.
A. Is your writing covered by the WGA?
Make sure you are dealing with a signatory company (“Company”) meaning that the company is signatory to, and bound by, the WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, commonly called the Writers Guild Minimum Basic Agreement or MBA (“MBA”). Guild Working Rules prohibit members from working for, or selling material to, a company that is not signatory to the MBA. A company that has asked for, or signed, an application to become signatory may not have completed the process. It is important that you personally call the Guild's Signatories Department to check the company's status. Do not rely on an agent, manager, or attorney to check for you, or a representation by the company that it will become signatory at some point in the future.
Generally, if the project on which you were employed or sold material is later covered by the MBA, that may not be enough to make you eligible to compete for writing credit, even if the non-signatory entity licenses or sells your material to a signatory company. So long as your agreement is with a non-signatory company, you may not be eligible to compete for writing credit because the company with which you are contracted did not agree to be bound by the MBA.
If you are employed by, or sell material to, a company that is not signatory to the MBA, it is likely that the Guild will not determine the writing credits or, if it does, you may not be eligible to compete for writing credit on the picture.
B. Are you a professional writer?
If you are optioning or selling material to a signatory company, you must be considered a "professional writer" to be eligible for writing credit. “Professional writer” status is not required if you are employed by a signatory company to render writing services.
The MBA generally defines a "professional writer" as a person who has received employment for a total of thirteen weeks as a television or theatrical motion picture writer, or received credit as a writer on a television or theatrical motion picture (including series), or received credit for a professionally produced play or a published novel. You may also negotiate with a Company to be treated as a "professional writer" even if you don't meet the MBA criteria. Guild membership does not automatically qualify you as a professional writer. If you have questions about whether you qualify as a professional writer under the MBA, please contact the Guild and we will help apply the MBA contract language to your situation.
C. Are there other writers on the project?
You should know whether there are other writers who have worked on the project before you or who are currently working on the project. Article 18 of the MBA requires a Company to notify you of any writer assigned to the same project, whether that writer wrote prior to, concurrently with or, in certain circumstances, subsequent to your work on the project. If you are invited to pitch on a project, you should inquire as to whether an invitation has been extended to other writers. Don't rely on the Company to volunteer this information. You should raise this issue with the Company before you agree to write or sell anything. Also, you should inquire as to whether there is any assigned source material. Generally, source material is defined in the MBA as material written outside of the Guild's jurisdiction, such as a spec screenplay, or previously exploited material such as a novel, comic book, or a produced play.
It is important to know whether other writers have worked on the project since this information is critical in making informed employment decisions. It also may affect the likelihood that you will receive writing credit, as the rules for determining credit often differ depending on whether you are the first writer or a subsequent writer on the project. In the case of a remake, if the prior television or theatrical motion picture was written under the Guild’s jurisdiction, the credited writer(s) of the earlier motion picture will be eligible to compete for writing credit on the remake and will be the first writers if the credits on the remake are subject to arbitration. The Guild has an "Article 18 Notice" form letter available to facilitate your request for information from the Company regarding other writers on the same project. Download the "Article 18 Notice" form letter here or contact the Guild's Credits Department at (323) 782-4528 to obtain this form.
D. Are you receiving credit as a production executive?
If, in addition to your writing services, you are employed as a director, a producer, or, in episodic television, a story editor, or if you negotiate any form of producer credit, whether or not you actually perform services as a producer, when the credits are determined you will be subject to specific rules pertaining to production executives. This means the writing credits will be subject to the automatic arbitration provisions of the MBA if a production executive is proposed for credit and there are other writers on the project who are not production executives. In screen arbitrations for “original screenplays,” the percentage necessary for a production executive to receive credit may be higher.
III. WHILE YOU ARE WRITING
A. What do I put on the cover page?
Correct format for the cover pages on literary material alleviates disputes over material during the arbitration process. Guild rules require that until the final determination of credits, the cover page of each piece of material must include the name of the first writer on the project followed by the word "revisions" and then the names of all subsequent writers. If you are a subsequent writer, then indicate your contributions by putting the words "current revisions by" followed by your name and the date the material is submitted to the company.
It is crucial that the cover page of each piece of literary material accurately reflects 1) the prior writers on the project and 2) the writer who is responsible for the changes in that specific document (i.e., “current revisions by”), regardless of how insignificant the changes are. Accordingly, do not remove the names of earlier writers, even if you believe that not one word of their material remains in your draft. Failure to adhere to the cover page requirements is a violation of Guild working rules.
Remember: The cover page is NOT a statement of authorship of the project or an assessment of writing credit, but is a means of tracking who the writers on a project are and which writer is responsible for the changes in each draft, no matter how extensive or how minor. The final credits will be determined by the Guild at the end of production. View a sample cover page here or contact the Guild’s Credits Department for a copy.
B. Keep a copy of all material submitted and deliver your filmography with your final draft.
If there is a credit arbitration, the Arbitration Committee can consider only literary material that was submitted to the Company or an authorized representative of the Company. In some cases, a producer or director will be the Company's authorized representative. A writer is sometimes required to show proof that one or more pieces of material were delivered to the Company—months or even years after the fact. Therefore, keep copies of all of your materials and accurate records of delivery details. When delivering material to the Company, be sure to attach a cover memo or letter with the name of the person to whom you are submitting materials, the date of delivery, and a description of the material. If you transfer material electronically, include this information in a cover email.
Because registering your material with the Guild is not the same as submitting it to the Company, do not rely on registering your material with the Guild to meet either this record-keeping requirement or the requirement that material must have been submitted to the Company to be considered in an arbitration. Guild registration of your material may help to establish if and when you wrote something, but it won't prove that you delivered a story or script to the Company. Also, when delivering your material to the Company, please remember to include a copy of your filmography. This will help to ensure that your filmography is included in publicity materials if you receive writing credit.
C. Writing teams.
The MBA defines a team as two or more writers who have been assigned at about the same time to the same material and who work together for approximately the same length of time on the material. When it comes to credit, writing partners cannot divide their joint work into separate material written alone. The MBA does not permit more than three writers to work as a team unless the Guild has granted a waiver prior to commencement of writing services and certain economic minimums are increased in cases of teams of three or more.
Note that a team is not limited to partners who regularly collaborate on the literary material. Two or more writers may collaborate as a team for a single project or even on a single piece of literary material. The names of members of a team are separated by an ampersand (“&”). Furthermore, for arbitration and credit purposes, the team is considered a separate and distinct writer from the individual members of the team should the individual member(s) also write independently of the team.
In television and new media, if one member of the team is a production executive (director, producer, or, on episodic series, story editor), then there must be a written collaboration agreement under terms approved by the Guild. In addition, the production executive may be required to fill out certain forms with the Guild. Please note that a production executive who gives instructions, suggestions or directions, whether oral or written, to a writer regarding the literary material generally does not fall under the MBA definition of a writer.
You should recognize that you have a choice in accepting work as part of a writing team. If you question the validity of the team collaboration, it is strongly recommended that you affirmatively do so by 1) ensuring that the cover pages of literary material reflect that you are the sole author of such material (i.e., by excluding the name of the purported collaborator from the cover page); 2) notifying the Company of your objection to the collaboration; and 3) contacting the Guild's Credits Department at the time the writing is being performed. The Guild will not divulge your objection to the other person in the claimed team, or to the employer, without your consent. Do not wait until the time when the Guild is determining the credits to raise your objection.
IV. END OF PRODUCTION
A. Look for a Notice of Tentative Writing Credits.
All writers employed by the Company on the project or "professional writers" who sold literary material to the Company are considered "participating writers" and are eligible to compete for credit. At the end of principal photography, the Company must send a Notice of Tentative Writing Credits ("NTWC") and a copy of the final shooting script ("FSS") to the Guild and to each participating writer. The NTWC will include the names of all participating writers and production executives, the Company's proposed writing credits, and any source material credit. If you have not received an NTWC and you know that principal photography has been completed on your project, please contact the Guild's Credits Department immediately. Delays can seriously interfere with your rights.
Residuals and other ancillary rights are based on credit. For instance, if the Guild receives a residuals payment but never received an NTWC to determine the writing credits, this may result in a delay in distributing residuals checks to writers. This is another reason it is imperative that you notify the Guild immediately if a project you wrote is produced and/or released and you do not receive an NTWC. This is true even if you are the only writer on the project.
B. Make sure the company has your current contact information.
Although it is the Company's responsibility to send the NTWC properly, it is in your best interest to make sure the Guild and the Company always have your current address information to ensure proper and timely delivery. Frequently, a writer's contract will contain a provision directing the Company to send all correspondence or notices to an agent and/or other representative of the writer. If you have a provision like this in your agreement(s), you should take due care to ensure that this information is updated whenever necessary. Remind your agent or other representative to forward all notices to you in a timely manner so that you do not miss important deadlines. If you have changed agents, it is even more important to inform the Company, in writing, where to send your copy of the NTWC and FSS.
C. Make sure you are receiving credit under the proper name.
In reviewing the NTWC, make sure that your name appears exactly as it is on file with the Guild. It is Guild policy that writers must take credit exactly as their names appear in Guild records. For example, if your name in Guild records is Deborah R. Jones, you cannot take credit as Debbie Jones unless you have registered this nickname/pseudonym with the Guild. If you listed your name with a middle initial at the Guild, make sure that the middle initial appears on the NTWC. Following this policy will avoid the confusion of two writers receiving credit under the same name.
The MBA gives you the right to use a “reasonable” pseudonym under certain circumstances. All pseudonyms must be registered with the Guild and the Guild will not register a pseudonym that, on its face, does not meet the reasonableness standard. The Guild also reserves the right to object to a pseudonym after it has been registered if the Guild later determines that the pseudonym is not reasonable under the circumstances in which it is being used.
D. Agreement among writers.
Where there is more than a single writer or writing team on a project, the MBA provides that all participating writers have the right to agree unanimously among themselves as to which of them shall receive writing credit unless an automatic arbitration is required. Participants also have the right to agree to the form of credit so long as: 1) the form agreed upon is in accordance with the terms of the MBA; and 2) the agreement is reached in advance of arbitration. If there is a chance that you would agree to a particular credit, then please inform the Credits staff member administering the arbitration. The Guild will help by facilitating communication between the writers.
E. How to initiate an arbitration.
A writer's timely protest of the Company's proposed tentative credits is what triggers a Guild arbitration in most cases. The NTWC will list a date by which you must protest the tentative credits or they will become the final credits. If your agreement requires that notices be sent to your representative and the Company has properly sent the NTWC, this protest deadline will apply even if your designated representative fails to forward the NTWC to you in a timely manner. Therefore, it is imperative that you communicate with your representative and ensure that s/he is watching for the NTWC once principal photography has been completed and forwards it to you immediately.
Before deciding whether to protest the tentative credits, you should read the FSS carefully to determine how much of your writing contribution remains. If you decide to have the Guild arbitrate the credits, you must send a written protest to the Guild and to the Company before the deadline stated on the NTWC. Your protest should state that you are protesting the Company's tentative credits, the name of the production, and how you believe the final credits should read.
It is not necessary to send a protest if the credits are subject to automatic arbitration. The provisions in the MBA and Credits Manuals generally cover five instances when an automatic arbitration is required: 1) a production executive is proposed for writing credit and there are other non-production executive participating writers, 2) three writers are proposed to share “Written by,” “Screenplay by,” or “Teleplay by” credit, 3) a "Screen Story by" or "Television Story by" credit is proposed, 4) an "Adaptation by" credit is proposed and, 5) in the case of television only, a "Developed by" credit is proposed on a series in which there are separated rights. (Please note: "Created by" is not subject to automatic arbitration.)
In the case of an automatic arbitration, or if there is a timely protest, an employee in the Guild's Credits Department will contact you to discuss arbitration procedures.
V. GUILD INVESTIGATIONS
Occasionally, the Guild will need to investigate a particular issue related to the determination of credits on a project. The most common investigations are those to determine whether a writer is entitled to be included as a participating writer on a project and, therefore, eligible to compete for credit. During the course of such an investigation it may be necessary to enlist the assistance of an Expert Reader.
A. Participating writer investigations.
The Guild has an obligation to represent all writers, regardless of their membership status, or lack thereof. Accordingly, in an abundance of caution, the Guild initiates a participating writer investigation when there is any evidence that participating writers may have been omitted from the NTWC for a project. A participating writer investigation makes no determination whether a writer is deserving of writing credit, only whether a writer is entitled to review the final shooting script for a project and eligible to compete for writing credit.
While the MBA gives the Guild the sole authority to determine writing credits on a motion picture, the Guild does not have the sole authority to determine who is entitled to be listed as a participating writer on a project and compete for writing credit. Rather, the issue of who should be listed as a participating writer on a project is a question of contractual interpretation. In the face of a dispute with a Company, the Guild bears the burden of proving to an arbitrator that an omitted writer is entitled to participating writer status on a project.
When investigating whether someone is entitled to be listed as a participating writer, the Guild looks to several factors outlined by arbitrators over the years in a body of legal decisions interpreting the MBA1, to determine: 1) whether the writer seeking participating writer status wrote under the Guild’s jurisdiction; 2) whether the literary material written by the writer seeking participating writer status is owned by the company producing the Picture; and 3) whether the project on which the writer seeking participating writer status performed writing services and the Picture are the same project. Based on an application of these factors to the facts of the specific case, the Guild determines whether there is sufficient evidence to support a claim that the writer in question is entitled to be listed as a participating writer.
If the Guild finds the writer should be listed as a participating writer, it advises the Company of its determination and instructs the Company to submit a revised NTWC that includes the previously omitted participating writer. The Company can either agree and list the writer as a participating writer on the revised NTWC, or disagree and submit the matter to a legal arbitration where an arbitrator will make a final, binding determination based on the same factors relied upon by the Guild in making its initial determination.
B. Remake investigations.
A remake investigation is required when there is a question whether a film is a remake of an earlier film that was produced under the Guild’s jurisdiction. If the original motion picture was produced under the Guild’s jurisdiction, the credited writers on the original are considered participating writers on the remake and are eligible to compete for writing credit. The Guild generally defines a remake as “a motion picture which contains substantial similarity to a prior motion picture with respect to principal characters, general setting (including an updated setting), plot, storyline, tone, events, and structure.”
C. Expert Readers.
An Expert Reader is used to analyze literary material and give an opinion on an issue based on their reading of the material. Issues on which an Expert Reader may be asked to render an opinion include, but are not limited to, whether a motion picture is a remake of a prior motion picture, whether there have been material changes to a script that warrant a reopening of the writing credits, whether a “new” episodic series utilizes the same format as an earlier series, and whether what are claimed to be separate projects are sufficiently similar that they can be considered the same project.
Expert Readers are drawn from a pool of writers who are very experienced in Guild rules and procedures. Generally, an Expert Reader has served as an arbiter on numerous arbitrations and may also be a member of the Screen or Television Credits Committee. An Expert Reader will not be asked to serve in any other capacity in the determination of credits for the same project. If a legal arbitration is required on an issue on which an Expert Reader was utilized, the Expert Reader will serve as the Guild’s expert witness on the specific question s/he was asked to review.
VI. PRE-ARBITRATION HEARINGS
A. When to request a hearing.
If there is a dispute concerning the materials to be considered in a credit arbitration, then any participating writer or the Guild can request a Pre-Arbitration hearing to resolve the issue. For example, if there is a dispute concerning the proper chronological sequence of the written work, this question may be raised at a Pre-Arbitration Hearing. Other issues decided at Pre-Arbitration Hearings include disputes as to the authenticity, authorship, completeness, or identification of materials.
All issues related to the material to be submitted to the Arbitration Committee must be resolved before the material is sent to the Arbitration Committee. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon you to review the list of materials provided by the Guild with your Start of Arbitration materials and ask yourself questions including, but not limited to:
- Has the Company submitted to the Guild all of the literary material I wrote for the project?
- Is all of the material written by me dated properly?
- Is my literary material properly sequenced (i.e., does it come before or after the correct piece of literary and/or source material)?
- Has the Company submitted all of the relevant source material?
- Has the Company properly identified the author of each piece of literary material (note that authorship of each piece of material is attributed to the writer(s) responsible for the revisions on that particular draft)?
- Is all of the material submitted by the Company appropriate for submission to the Arbitration Committee (e.g., is the material literary material or producer’s notes; is the material source material or research material, etc.)?
- On screen projects, only, has the screenplay been properly designated as an “original” or “non-original” screenplay?2
All participating writers should review the submitted materials and ask themselves these questions and more to ensure that complete and accurate materials are submitted to the Arbitration Committee for consideration. If you have any questions or are unsure, you can arrange to visit the Guild to review the material or ask the Guild to send you copies of the materials at issue. Your failure to take the time to thoroughly review the material submitted for the arbitration or to challenge the material prior to the submission of the material to the Arbitration Committee is not a ground for overturning the decision of an Arbitration Committee.
B. The process.
A Special Committee consisting of three members of the Guild conducts the Pre-Arbitration Hearing. These panelists also serve as members of the TV or Screen Credits Committee and have vast experience as arbiters. Generally, the writer requesting the hearing meets with the Special Committee first to explain the nature of the dispute and presents information and/or documents relevant to the issues raised. Other participating writers are then given the opportunity to meet individually with the Special Committee and respond to the information presented and give any additional input. In addition, Guild staff will provide the Special Committee with the relevant writing services agreements and any MBA or Credits Manual provisions and/or Guild policies relevant to the issues to be addressed.
Generally, the tenor of these hearings is informal. Although some writers choose to bring a representative such as an attorney or agent to these hearings, it is not necessary or required. The entire credit determination procedure should be viewed as a writer-to-writer process.
In most instances, a Pre-Arbitration hearing will be held within days of the Guild’s receipt of a Pre-Arbitration request. This is because the entire arbitration process—Pre-Arbitration hearing, arbitration, arbiter teleconference, and Policy Review Board—must be completed within the time frames set forth in the MBA. Whenever possible, the Guild will give you additional time to prepare for these processes, but each participating writer must be mindful at all times that the Guild has a limited time frame within which to render a final determination of credits and should cooperate with the Guild to ensure a timely credit determination.
C. Decision of the Special Committee.
After the Special Committee has received all available information relevant to the dispute, it considers each issue carefully and makes a decision. Generally, this happens immediately after the hearing unless there is other relevant information that is not available at that time. Each participant is informed of the Special Committee's decision by phone, followed by a letter confirming the decision and summarizing the reasoning of the Special Committee.
The Arbitration Committee and the participating writers must follow the decision of the Special Committee. For example, if the Special Committee sequences scripts in a given order, the arbiters must use this order of writing in weighing each writer's contribution. Writers may not make reference to anything contrary to the Special Committee's decision in their statements to the Arbitration Committee. If a writer disagrees with the decision of the Special Committee, this writer may raise it as an issue on appeal to be reviewed by a Policy Review Board panel after the arbitration decision is known. (See Section on Policy Review Boards.) A writer may disagree with a pre-arbitration ruling on one or more pieces of material, but nonetheless end up with the credit sought. The disagreement then becomes moot, and an appeal usually would not be requested.
VII. PREPARING FOR ARBITRATION
A. Read the Credits Manual carefully.
The Credits Manuals contain many specific rules that govern how writing credits are determined. The Screen Credits Manual sets forth the rules for determining credits on theatrical motion pictures, which differ depending on 1) whether the subsequent writer is a production executive, and 2) whether the screenplay is an original or non-original screenplay. The following rules govern writing credits on a theatrical motion picture:
CONTRIBUTIONS FOR SCREENPLAY CREDIT ON THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES WRITER SCREENPLAY TYPE ORIGINAL NON-ORIGINAL First Writer: Non-Production Executive >33%3 >33% First Writer: Production Executive or P.E. Team >33% >33% Subsequent Writer: Non-Production Executive 50% >33% Subsequent Writer: Production Executive or P.E. Team >50% >33%
Read Appendix A, for a breakdown of the applicable rules for credit on a theatrical motion picture based on the type of screenplay, whether you are a first or subsequent writer, and the specific credit you are seeking.
The Television Credits Manual not only includes the rules for determining credits on episodic and long-form television motion pictures, but also the rules for determining the continuing credits—“Created by” and “Developed by”—on episodic series. For dramatic television motion pictures, no percentages apply to the determination of teleplay credit. Rather, a subsequent writer is entitled to teleplay credit if the subsequent writer has contributed “substantially more” than the first writer to any one of the four teleplay elements. The Television Credits Manual applies to all motion pictures except those produced for theatrical exhibition including, but not limited to, free television, syndication, basic cable, pay television, new media (including high-budget subscription video-on-demand), and direct-to-video/DVD.
Read Appendix B, for a breakdown of the applicable rules for credit on a television motion picture based on the type of project, whether you are a first or subsequent writer, and the specific credit you are seeking.
It is critical that you read the applicable Credits Manual carefully before the arbitration process begins. If you need a copy of the Credits Manual or have any questions regarding it, contact the Guild’s Credits Department immediately and someone will assist you. View the Screen Credits Manual here. View the Television Credits Manual here.
B. Be aware of, and adhere to, all deadlines.
The Guild's exclusive authority under the MBA to determine credits exists for a specified number of days. Time is almost always in short supply. There is a deadline for every step in the process. No writer can afford to delay learning Credits fundamentals or fail to comply with deadlines, or important rights may be lost.
C. Verify all literary and source material.
At the time of arbitration, the Company is required to submit to the Guild three copies of each writer's literary materials and all source material for the project. “Literary Material” is written material covered by the MBA and includes stories, adaptations, treatments, original treatments, scenarios, teleplays, screenplays, dialogue, scripts, sketches, plots, outlines, narrative synopses, routines, narrations, and formats. “Source Material” includes, but is not limited to, the underlying work for an adapted script, such as a published novel or comic book or produced stage play, and material written outside of the Guild’s jurisdiction. Research material is not “source material” and is not submitted to the Arbitration Committee.
Once the materials are received, the Credits staff member administering the arbitration will contact you to verify that the materials are accurate and complete. If your materials are not complete, you may be asked to provide a copy of the missing materials to the Guild, which will then be sent to the company for verification.
It is each participating writer's responsibility to verify the accuracy and completeness of materials to be submitted to the Arbitration Committee, and to provide any missing materials within the time frames set forth by the Credits staff member administering the arbitration. It may be necessary for you to come into the Guild to review the materials. If requested, Guild staff will forward to you copies of any and all materials you wish to review. Verification of materials must be done before the Guild sends them to the Arbitration Committee.
D. Anonymity of participating writers—"Coded" arbitrations.
All credit arbitrations are "coded" meaning that the names of the writers are not revealed to the Arbitration Committee. Each writer is referred to as "Writer A", "Writer B", etc., depending on the sequence in which the writers worked. The Credits Manuals require all participating writers to abide by the coding procedures when writing their statements. (See next section.) In the case of a writing team, the team is coded as a single writer. If an individual member of a writing team also writes separately from the team, that individual is given a different letter designation so that contributions made as part of the team are not conflated with contributions made as an individual.
E. Statements to the Arbitration Committee.
Each participating writer has the opportunity to submit a statement to the Arbitration Committee to support a claim to credit. The Screen Credits Manual recommends that you limit your statement to one to five single-spaced pages while the Television Credits Manual instructs that your statement should not exceed three single-spaced typewritten pages.
There is no one correct way to prepare your statement and there is no perfect format for the statement. You are neither required to submit a statement nor penalized for electing not to submit one. In some cases, a writer's statement simply says, "I agree with the tentative credits proposed by the Company." If you decide to write a more detailed statement, it is important to focus on your contributions as they remain in the FSS. This is the most relevant information you can provide since the Arbitration Committee is required to base its decision solely on how they analyze the literary and source materials and, in particular, each participant's relative contribution to the FSS.
Statements should not contain information pertaining to the development process that is not directly germane to the arbiters' analysis of the material. For example, the fact that a project was "greenlit" after a certain draft is NOT important in determining credits. Information that cannot be included in your statement to the Arbitration Committee includes, but is not limited to:
- References to a writer’s entitlement to contingent compensation tied to the receipt of credit on screen.
- Letters or comments of support from other individuals.
- Information that is irrelevant to the written work which may prejudice any writer in the process.
- Information that may reveal the identity of any writer in the process.
- Information that contradicts a decision made by a Special Committee in a Pre-Arbitration hearing on the project.
- Any material not otherwise admissible to the Arbitration Committee.
- Information about prior proceedings regarding the project including, but not limited to, hearings, arbitrations, expert readings, and participating writer investigations.
The Arbitration Committee must base its decision on each writer's relative contribution to the FSS, and not on the perceived quality of certain scripts or other extraneous factors.
The Screen Credits Manual provides that writers’ statements must be submitted to the Guild within 72 (seventy-two) hours from notification by the Guild that all of the literary and source material for the arbitration has been submitted. Under the Television Credits Manual, each writer has 24 (twenty-four) hours after being notified that there will be an arbitration to prepare a statement. Whenever possible, the Guild will grant reasonable requests for extensions depending on the circumstances and time constraints of the particular arbitration. Such extensions, however, will not preclude the Guild from proceeding with an arbitration with the statements then available to the Guild.
Since arbitrations are automatically coded, writers must be careful in writing their statements not to make any comments which might reveal their identity, the identity of any other writer or, in television arbitrations, whether a writer also functioned as a production executive. No references should reveal the name of the production company or any of its staff. Be sure you use the correct letter code (Writer A, Writer B, etc.) to refer to yourself and the other writer(s) consistently throughout your statement. In accordance with the Credits Manuals, Credits staff will review all statements to ensure compliance with the Credits rules.
It is strongly recommended that you personally write your statement, as you are the most knowledgeable about your contributions to the FSS. Statements written by writer representatives or by so-called “statement experts” are easily identified as such and are generally less effective. Because they are considered exploitative of writers, the Guild strongly discourages the use of so called “statement experts,” who often do not have either direct experience with credit arbitration or expertise with the Credits rules.
Read Appendix C, which provides additional guidance in preparing your arbitration statement.
F. Deletions from the Arbiters List.
A list of all eligible arbiters will be provided to each participating writer prior to the arbitration. Any participating writer may delete a reasonable number of names from the list of potential arbiters for any reason. Although the Guild does not inquire as to why a writer deletes certain potential arbiters, the main purpose of deletions is to give writers an opportunity to strike arbiters from the list for any perceived bias or prejudice.
A. The Arbitration Committee.
The Arbitration Committee is made up of three members of the Guild. The criteria for eligibility are outlined in the Credits Manuals. Each Arbitration Committee is assigned a consultant who is available to answer any questions an arbiter may have regarding rules and policy. The consultants are members who have years of experience as writers and arbiters. The names of the arbiters and the consultant are held strictly confidential so that they may perform their duties free from concerns of retaliation or outside pressures. Neither the Company nor the participating writers are told the names of the arbiters or the consultant. Additionally, each arbiter's identity is unknown to the other two arbiters.
B. Submission of material to the Arbitration Committee.
Each participating writer may submit any or all of their verified literary materials to the Arbitration Committee. In selecting material to be submitted to the Arbitration Committee, each participating writer can only make selections from his or her own literary material and not from material written by other participating writers. Generally, you should submit only those drafts necessary for the arbiters to properly assess your contributions to the FSS. Every draft need not be submitted. In most instances, the last writer need only submit the FSS.
The members of the Arbitration Committee receive copies of each writer's selected literary materials that have been verified for submission to the Arbitration Committee, including the FSS. The Arbitration Committee also receives the following: copies of the writers' statements, the Credits Manual, and a cover memo from the Guild. The cover memo includes a statement of the tentative writing credits as proposed by the Company on the NTWC, a list of the writers' materials in chronological order, references to applicable rules specifying the contributions necessary for the participating writers to receive credit, and the deadline for their decision.
C. Decision of the Arbitration Committee.
Each member of the Arbitration Committee reads the materials, deliberates independently, and then reports his/her decision to the Guild and to the Consultant. If the decision of the Arbitration Committee is not unanimous, a teleconference is held during which the arbiters discuss their decisions and the underlying reasoning and try to reach a unanimous decision. Unanimity, however, is not required.
The majority decision of the arbiters becomes the decision of the Arbitration Committee. Once a decision is reached, the Guild staff member administering the arbitration will notify each writer or the writer's representative by their preferred method of notification (e.g., telephone, email, etc.). Once you or your designated representative(s) have been notified, you have 24 hours to appeal the decision by requesting a Policy Review Board. To be fair to all writers, this 24-hour period is strictly applied (i.e., if you are notified of the Arbitration Committee's decision at 10:00 a.m., you have until 10:00 a.m. the following business day to request a Policy Review Board.) If each writer’s 24-hour period expires and none of the participating writers has requested a Policy Review Board, the Arbitration Committee's decision becomes final.
If you are considering asking for a Policy Review Board, you should request copies of the written opinions submitted by the Arbitration Committee. If such a request is made, the Guild will provide copies without revealing the identities of the arbiters.
IX. POLICY REVIEW BOARD HEARINGS
A. When to request a hearing.
This is the appeals stage of a credit determination. Within 24 hours of the time a participating writer receives notice of the Arbitration Committee's decision, the participating writer may request a Policy Review Board (“PRB”). Concurrent with the PRB request, or shortly afterward, the writer should submit a written statement setting forth the grounds for their PRB request as outlined in the Credits Manuals.
A PRB is a procedural review, only. This means that the PRB can consider only whether there has been any serious deviation from Guild policy or procedure in the way the arbitration was conducted. If a writer simply disagrees with the Arbitration Committee's conclusion, this is not an issue the PRB has authority to address. The PRB cannot reverse the decision of the Arbitration Committee in matters of judgment in analyzing the literary materials.
B. The Process.
The PRB panel consists of three members of the Guild who serve on the Television or Screen Credits Committee. Prior to the hearing, the PRB reviews information and papers relevant to the hearing, including the arbiters' written decisions and the writers' statements submitted to the arbiters. THE PRB DOES NOT READ AND ANALYZE THE LITERARY MATERIAL SUBMITTED TO THE ARBITRATION COMMITTEE. If there was a Pre-Arbitration hearing and the decision of the Special Committee has been challenged, the PRB will also review the written decision of the Pre-Arbitration Special Committee and all of the material submitted to the Special Committee.
Generally, the writer requesting the hearing meets with the PRB panel first and provides information relevant to the issues raised in the appeal. Other participating writers are then given the opportunity to meet individually with the PRB, respond to the information presented, and give any additional input. Like Pre-Arbitration Hearings, the tenor of a PRB hearing is generally informal. Although some writers choose to bring a representative such as an attorney or agent to these hearings, it is not necessary or required. The entire credit determination procedure should be viewed as a writer-to-writer process.
C. Decision of the Policy Review Board.
Once the PRB panel has all available information relevant to the appeal, it considers each issue carefully and makes a decision. The PRB usually deliberates and makes its decision immediately after the hearing. Each participant is notified of the decision, followed by a letter confirming the decision and summarizing the reasoning of the PRB.
If the PRB concludes that there has been no violation of Guild policy or procedure, the Arbitration Committee decision becomes final. If the PRB determines there has been a violation of Guild policy or procedure, it has two options: (1) to send the materials back to the original Arbitration Committee for reconsideration, usually with a clarification of a specific rule or procedure; or (2) to direct Guild staff to form a new Arbitration Committee to re-determine the writing credits. If a second Arbitration Committee is required to determine the credits, the participating writers have another opportunity to appeal the second committee’s decision to a PRB after it is rendered.
X. FINAL CREDITS
Once the Guild has made a final determination of credits, the Company and all participating writers must abide by the Guild's decision. All advertising, publicity, and on-screen credits must comport with the Guild-determined final credits. The Company may use the good faith credits—i.e., the credits set forth on the NTWC—in advertising and publicity prior to receiving the Guild's final determination of credits.
Pursuant to Guild Working Rules, writers are not allowed to claim credit contrary to the Guild's final determined credits. In addition, the Guild believes that it is in the best interest of all writers that certain facts relating to any particular credit determination should remain confidential. Writers and their representatives are encouraged to report inaccurate or incorrect writing credits immediately by contacting the Guild.
XI. CONTINUING CREDITS ON EPISODIC SERIES
The MBA defines an “episodic series” as “a series of programs, each of which contains a separate complete story with a character or characters in common to each of the programs in the series.” Under Guild rules, an episodic series of at least six episodes may also have a “continuing credit”—that is, a credit that appears on every episode of the series. Whether a continuing credit is required or discretionary, who is entitled to a continuing credit, and how the continuing credit is determined depends on whether there are separated rights in the series.
A. Series with separated rights.
- “Created by” credit
If there are “separated rights4” in an episodic series, the “Created by” credit and the separated rights are accorded to the writer(s) with “Written by” or “Story by” credit on the pilot episode of the series and/or the writer(s) of the series format.5 In the case of a series reboot, if the reboot utilizes the same format as the original series, the reboot is, for purposes of separated rights, considered the same series as the original and the writer(s) with separated rights in the original series retain the separated rights in, and the “Created by” credit on, the reboot. If there is a question regarding whether a reboot utilizes the same format as the original series, the Guild submits the matter to an Expert Reader, who reviews the format and/or pilot of the original series and the pilot for the reboot and provides an expert opinion whether the format is the same.
- “Developed by” credit
Unlike “Created by” credit, on a series in which there are separated rights, “Developed by” credit is not given automatically and there are no MBA benefits that attach to the credit if it is accorded. Rather, “Developed by” credit on a series with separated rights is subject to the following requirements: 1) the Company must agree to propose you for credit; 2) the credit is subject to automatic arbitration to determine its appropriateness; and 3) it may only be accorded to a writer who is eligible for, but not entitled to, “Created by” credit on the series, a writer who received “Teleplay by” credit on the pilot episode of the series, and/or a writer who has “contributed to the distinctiveness and viability of the series.” The writer of the pilot episode of a reboot may be entitled to “Developed by” credit on the reboot based on the latter criterion if the Arbitration Committee deems it appropriate.
B. Series with no separated rights.
If there are no separated rights in the series, all continuing credits are purely contractual. This means, 1) they can only be given if the writer has contracted with the Company to receive such credit and 2) there are no MBA benefits that attach to the credit.
Series in which there are no separated rights include, but are not limited to, series based on previously exploited material such as a series of novels, a comic book, a foreign series, or a theatrical motion picture. Generally, the Guild prefers the continuing credit in such series to include a qualifier such as “Developed for Television” or “Developed for American Television,” and, for high budget subscription video-on-demand (e.g., Netflix) series, “Series Created by” or “Series Developed by.”
- “Created by” credit
XII. CREATIVE RIGHTS
The MBA affords writers certain Creative Rights. These rights differ somewhat for screen and television writers and include, but are not limited to, the rights described below.
A. Viewing the Cut.
If you are a participating writer on a theatrical motion picture, you must be given the opportunity to view a cut of the film. The viewing must be in sufficient time so that any editing suggestions you make concerning the film, if approved, can be reasonably and effectively implemented.
Generally, if you are a participating writer on a long-form television motion picture or multi-part closed-end series (e.g., a miniseries), you must be invited to view the “Director’s cut” of the picture within forty-eight (48) hours following the Company’s viewing. Alternatively, if the Company is provided with a videocassette of the picture in lieu of a viewing, the Company must simultaneously furnish you with a videocassette copy of the “Director’s cut” of the film. In any case, the viewing must be in sufficient time for you to offer editing suggestions which, if approved, could be effectively implemented.
B. Premieres and sneak previews.
Unless otherwise notified by the Company, if you are a credited writer on a theatrical motion picture, the Company must invite you to attend the domestic premiere of your motion picture or the domestic film festival at which the motion picture is first exhibited. If you are required to travel more than 150 miles to attend the event, the Company must provide you with first class travel and accommodations.
If you are the credited writer on a theatrical motion picture, television pilot, long-form motion picture, or multi-part closed-end series, the Company must invite you to the first sneak preview, if any, to be held in Los Angeles County. If possible, the Company must give you five (5) days’ notice of the time and place of such sneak preview.
Of course, you may try to negotiate better terms than these in your individual writing services agreement. For example, the Company might agree to provide a guaranteed invitation to premieres and special screenings and the right to attend research and test screenings in your writing services contract.
C. Press Junkets and Publicity.
Unless otherwise notified by the Company, if you are the credited writer on a theatrical motion picture, the Company must invite you to participate in the domestic press junket for the film. If you are required to travel more than 150 miles to attend the junket, the Company must provide you with first class travel and accommodations.
If you are the credited writer on a theatrical motion picture or long-form television film, the Company is required to include your identity, background, and filmography in the press kit, domestic DVD, and internet web page if such information about the director is included. In addition, if the director is interviewed for the press kit and/or DVD, you must also be interviewed, unless otherwise notified by the Company. You should submit a biography and/or filmography to the Company’s advertising/publicity department at the time of your last submission of literary material to the Company.
The Guild understands that a writer's credits are essential to building or sustaining his/her career. This guide gives you an overview of some important ways to protect your interests in the credit determination process. If you still haven't learned everything you wanted to know about the credits process, and have questions, please contact the WGAW Credits Department at (323) 782-4528 in Los Angeles or the WGAE (212) 767-7804 in New York. If you would like a copy of the Credits Manuals, please contact us or visit the manuals online. View the Screen Credits Manual here. View the Television Credits Manual here.
1See, e.g., WGAw v. Paramount Pictures Corporation, (“Days of Thunder”) (Christopher, 1990); WGAw, v. HBO Independent Productions, Inc., (“Daddy Dearest”) (Dern, 1991); WGAw v. 29th Street Productions, Inc., (“29th Street”) (Rosenthal, 1991); WGAw v. Filmlinks International, Inc., (“Wind”) (Jones, 1992); WGAw v. Warner Bros, Inc., (“Nikita”) (Wenograd, 2010); and WGAW v. Touchstone Television Pictures, et al., (“Of Kings and Prophets”) (Grossman, 2016).
2The Guild generally defines an “original screenplay” as a screenplay that is not based on assigned source material and a “non-original screenplay” as a screenplay based on assigned source material, a sequel, or a remake. Please refer to Section III.A.4.a.i. for specific information regarding “original” and “non-original” screenplays.
4In the case of a series in which there are “separated rights,” the producer acquires the exclusive right to exploit the sequel rights in the writer’s material while the writer retains all other rights including, but not limited to, dramatic rights, theatrical motion picture rights, publication rights, merchandising rights, radio rights, and live television rights. In addition, the writer entitled to separated rights in the series receives a guaranteed “creator sequel payment” for each episode of the series produced after the pilot and residuals on such payments.
5The MBA defines a “format,” also sometimes referred to as a “bible,” as literary material that sets forth “the framework within which the central running characters [of the episodic series] will operate and which framework is intended to be repeated in each episode; the setting, theme, premise or general story line of the proposed series or episodic series; and the central running characters which are distinct and identifiable, including detailed characterizations and the interplay of such characters.”