Q: I’m a member of the WGA. I have a friend who’s just starting out as a producer and has an outline he really wants to develop. He’s got just a little bit of money (less than WGA minimums) to pay me to write the script, which I’m going to do in my off time just to help him out. My only concern is that I don’t want him to get in trouble with the WGA. Is that an issue?
A: I hate to get biblical on you, but I believe you’re a little too concerned about the potential splinter in your friend’s eye when you have a potential log in your own. I’m assuming that your buddy with a handwritten outline working out of his apartment is not a WGA Signatory. Since he has no contractual relationship with the WGA, there’s not much they can do to him. You, on the other hand, do have a contractual relationship with the WGA as one of its members.
By becoming a member, you have agreed to abide by the WGA’s rules. One of those rules is that members must not accept employment with, or option or sell material to, individuals or companies who are not guild signatories. You’ve also agreed to not accept any employment on terms less favorable than those spelled out in the WGA Basic Agreement. If you violate these rules, you can be fined at least $2,000 and, at most, the full amount of the money you were paid to do the work. Additionally, you’ll be subject to guild “disciplinary action.” This could mean a lot of things, ranging from a “good talking to” to a Jimmy Hoffa-style disappearance. (JOKE ALERT! — we love the WGA.) In all seriousness, you could risk losing your membership (not sure if your example would be extreme enough to warrant this, but why take the risk?).
The WGA is there to protect its writers. While it may not seem like a big deal for you to help out a friend, the guild has to have black and white rules for its members in order to avoid any situation under which its writers could be taken advantage of.
The lesson here is that when accepting any new employment or an offer to option/purchase one of your scripts, you should always be cognizant of whether your actions would violate the terms of your guild membership. The WGA has put together the following, easy-to-follow list of no-no’s (a.k.a, Code of Working Rules) that you can refer to whenever you have any doubts.
This blog was originally published as part of Legal Ease, Film Independent’s weekly column on legal matters pertaining to the entertainment industry. To see other LEGAL EASE columns please click here.