The WGA credit arbitration system relates to live action movies and television. Animated films aren’t covered by this agreement, nor are reality TV shows.
Studios currently determine who gets writers credit on animated films. However the WGA is trying to strike agreements with animation and reality TV show producers. Until then, anyone can get a writing credit on animated features and writers on reality TV shows continue to be called story editors and story producers.
Generally the writers of smaller features can self determine who gets writers credit without interference from WGA.
Credit arbitration is automatic if one of the writers is a production executive (anyone who aids the written creative expression of a film and mainly refers to hyphenates; writer-directors, writers-producers etc). This policy was devised by WGA since the more senior roles enjoyed by hyphenates may give them unfair credit bargaining power if the writers credit was solely determined by the producers.
The process of writers credit arbitration takes into account whether the writer was a work for hire, who conceived and developed the idea, whether the story was derived from a treatment or other underlying work, and a host of other factors.
These are the basic steps involved in the credit arbitration process:
NOTICE OF TENTATIVE WRITING CREDITS
This is circulated to all the writers who worked on a film in any capacity. Writers need to contribute at least 33% of a draft and 50% for a rewrite to qualify for a writing credit.
Story credit can be awarded to up to two writers who “substantially” contributed to the story. There isn’t a numerical threshold here.
There is a period for any disputes to be lodged. If there isn’t any disagreement, the writing and story credits are upheld. Otherwise the arbitration process begins.
The WGA determines which drafts were written under WGA guidelines and can be evaluated by the arbitrators.
Three high standing members of the WGA (member for at least 5 years or have at least 3 credits) anonymously read all the drafts of a film to determine the relative contribution of each writer or writing team (counts as one writing credit). Writers also submit PARTICIPATION STATEMENTS to outline their case. The arbitrators must also justify their decisions in alignment with WGA guidelines. There are several WGA credits manuals to streamline the process.
Credits are awarded if there is a simple majority of the three arbitrators. If there are three different outcomes then the arbitrators must anonymously reach a majority decision via teleconference.
Writers can appeal this final outcome if they believe that the arbitration protocol has been breached such as an arbitrator not heaving read all the drafts, or anonymity has been compromised.
As WGA strikes further agreements with games, reality TV, multi-media and animation producers, writers will gain credit protection in these areas.
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