Double-Cross at the WGA

May 8th, 2007 by Barry Caplan | Tags: , ,

If you write for TV or film in Hollywood, your check might never be in the mail

LA Weekly’s Dennis McDougal reports this week on an international accounting scandal involving the WGA (the union that represents screen writers) involving money due for international that has developed into an unseemly class action suit. It looks like the Guild has been withholding an unknown amount of money, at least $20 million, maybe 10x that.

What strikes me right between the eyes is that no one involved in the lawsuit, or commenting on it as a third party pundit, has even hinted that a reform or rationalization of the intellectual property management and financing regime might be called for. I can only imagine the level of distrust that must exist throughout all levels of the Hollywood industry when if comes to money.

This  money was paid to WGA for decades for foreign performances of films, usually on cable tv, that it collected on behalf of non-members and heirs of deceased members, without ever telling anyone.

“Residuals,” “foreign levies,” “net profits” — all are synonyms for cash that is supposed to find its way back into the pockets of the men and women who create movies and TV programs. That little or none of it gets there much of the time has evolved into something of a standing joke in Hollywood, where money vanishes as quickly as the mythical rolling break-even point that feature films, TV dramas and sitcoms seldom seem to reach.

This messy method of managing property rights is exactly what I have been  discussing elsewhere on the web. It is exactly what I mean when I say “Hollywood-style Financing”. It is defined by non-transparency, intellectual property rights about which it is not clear who owns them or if they are even assignable to others, and organizations which exist solely to act as a conduit to funds that happen to fall into the pipeline.

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