The Writers Guild is on a roll, prevailing in yet another significant arbitration on behalf of its members – this time winning a dispute involving a feature film writer’s right to reacquire their original, unproduced script that the guild says “paves the way for more similar rulings.”
The arbitrator’s ruling in that case follows a recent landmark “self-dealing” arbitration against Netflix that the guild says will result in hundreds of writers on more than 100 Netflix theatrical films receiving an additional $42 million in underpaid residuals, and the settlement of a similar arbitration against Amazon in which the WGA has collected more than $4 million in underpaid residuals and interest on dozens of films produced or acquired by the studio.
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In its latest win, in the case of a writer reacquiring his unproduced original script, the WGA West says in its current newsletter – WGAW Connect – that “not only is the award a win for the screenwriter, but the ruling is helpful to all screenwriters seeking to reacquire an unproduced script by clarifying that certain actions by the company simply aren’t enough to put a script in ‘active development’ in order to avoid the reacquisition process.”
Procedures for reacquisition contained in the guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement state that “at any time during the two-year period immediately following expiration of the Company’s five- year period within which to actively develop the material, the writer may notify the Company in writing of the writer’s intent to reacquire the material.”
“As the creators of valuable intellectual property,” the guild notes, “screenwriters can often find a new buyer for a script that the original studio has failed to produce” – but only if they can reacquire it.
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The arbitration stems from screenwriter Eric Warren Singer trying to reacquire his screenplay, God Bless the Damned, from Indian Paintbrush Productions. He contacted the guild in April 2020, and the guild says that when it served the reacquisition notice, the company “claimed the material was in ‘active development’ and therefore couldn’t be reacquired.”
According to the guild:
“The company claimed the script was in ‘active development’ because it had hired another writer to rewrite the material more than two years earlier – but without any real timeline for delivery, and with no indication that the company was taking other significant steps to develop the script. In addition to the drawn-out rewrite, the company said the material was being actively developed because of periodic ‘creative meetings’ and ‘lunches with agents.’
“None of this met the standard for active development under the MBA, which contemplates the company expending substantial resources in order to move the project along toward production. Therefore, the guild took the case to arbitration.
“The arbitrator agreed with the guild’s position that in order for a script to be in ‘active development,’ there must be a significant and ongoing financial commitment made by the company to develop the project, and ordered that the writer be provided the opportunity to reacquire his script.”
Singer says in the guild’s newsletter that he now is seeking to set the project up with a new company. “There are maybe a handful of scripts that you just love, like old buddies,” he wrote. “This is one of those scripts for me. I love the story, the script, the characters; I have been so close to getting it made so many times. I hope the movie gets made, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still proud that we have the clarity of this decision to challenge the games companies play when trying to deny us of our rights under the MBA.”
Deadline reached out to Indian Paintbrush and will include its comment if the company responds.
The WGA West says it will hold an educational webinar about reacquisition later this fall.
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