View Full Version : What do the Guildes actually do?

09-23-2004, 12:39 PM
Just curious, but what do the WGA and DGA actually accomplish? Writers have been treated like 2nd-class citizens since the Teens, and still are today. Not much has changed. So, what does the WGA actually do?

And what about the DGA? Recently, Princess of Mars finally got off the ground after years of Development Hell with Robert Rodriguez at the helm. But then the DGA wouldn't let him co-direct Sin City with Frank Miller, a project about which RR is obviously very passionate. So, he quit. But then Paramount was forced to drop RR from Princess of Mars, potentially derailing it yet again, because RR was no longer with the Guild (thankfully, they were able to hire Kerry Conran).

Likewise, George Lucas (in the days before he "became the corporation") quit the DGA because they wouldn't let him do the credits for Empire the way he had done Star Wars. Which prevented him from hiring Spielberg to direct Jedi. Can you imagine how much better a Spielberg-directed Jedi would have been? I'll bet he could have talked George out of the teddy bears.

Granted, my knowledge of the DGA is limited. I'm sure they do stuff other than stand in the way of getting films made (or made by the best people), but I'm just not aware of it. Just wondering.

09-23-2004, 02:15 PM
Guilds exist to provide members with guaranteed minimums and benefits. Companies that work outside the jurisdiction of the WGA, for example, are not bound by the WGA's Minimum Basic Agreement, which is just what it sounds like: The absolute minimum any studio or producer that wants to work with a WGA writer must offer.

So, for example, under the current MBA (actually, it's now expired, but the WGA and the companies are still working as if it's in effect), a writer must be paid something like a minimum of $70,000 for two drafts of a screenplay. Companies that refuse to be bound by the MBA can and will pay significantly less than that--but they also have no access to WGA writers, because WGA writers are not allowed to work for companies that have not agreed to be bound by the MBA (again, this refers to companies that work in areas that are "covered" by the WGA. Animation and reality, to take just two examples, are currently not within WGA jurisdiction, and writers who work in those areas do not receive any WGA-guaranteed minimums, though animation writers do have a separate union that provides some basic protections.)

Most working WGA members receive much more than $70,000 for a draft and a rewrite, but the Guild isn't there to provide ceilings, just floors. In addition to a basic guaranteed salary, the WGA provides its members with a very good health insurance plan and a pension plan, among other things.

You might ask why any company would agree to be bound by the Writers Guild MBA. I alluded to the answer above, namely that companies have to agree to it if they want to work with WGA members--and presumably they do because all professional screenwriters (or certainly more than 99.9% of them) are WGA members.

The WGA also controls the ultimate assignment of writing credits for films written under the MBA, and both studios and WGA members are bound by the current credit rules. If a WGA member refuses to be bound by these rules, he or she is free to quit the union. I would guess the DGA has similarly rigid rules, and if a member wants to work outside of them, he or she must relinquish his or her Guild membership--and its protections and benefits--to do so. Someone like George Lucas or Robert Rodriguez probably doesn't need to worry about being underpaid, so it might seem like a no-brainer for an artist at that level to quit the Guild. However, the tradeoff is what you've noted: By giving up their Guild cards, these directors have also permanently removed themselves from all the benefits of Guild membership, including the ability to work for studios that are bound by the Guild's minimum agreement.

writer for life
09-23-2004, 05:00 PM
So what you're saying is that RR can never direct another studio picture again?

He's making a kids film for Dimension next. Is Miramax not under the iron fist of the DGA?

09-23-2004, 06:16 PM
If the DGA works like the WGA (I'm WGA but not DGA, which I should have made clear), then my expectation is that if Rodriguez resigned from the DGA, he can't work for a company that is signatory with the DGA. There are always loopholes, however. If the film is animated, for example, that probably isn't covered by the DGA contract. There might be a way for RR to do a studio film on a microbudget, which might be outside the scope of the DGA. Or there could be an elaborate financing plan by which RR is doing the film "independently" but with the understanding that Miramax will distribute it (I think Tarantino works this way; I don't think he's ever joined either the WGA or the DGA, but it obviously hasn't stopped him from doing the movies he wants).

My larger point was to answer the initial poster's questions about what purposes guilds serve. The more detailed ramifications of withdrawing from or refusing to join the DGA aren't really my specialty, so I'll stop this now before I get myself into hot water. :)