You probably have no problem naming your favourite fiction authors; they’re on the front of all their work. But do you know who wrote your favourite films or TV shows? Less likely. In the media industry the names of writers are unfortunately overshadowed by those of directors, actors, and producers.
According to a recent article published by Deadline, some screenwriters aren’t even paid minimum wage. Forced to work together, they must share their already low payment between them. These ‘paper teams’ present a breach of the contract set up by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has investigated the issue since 2012. The teams are mostly made up of young, inexperienced writers who jump at the opportunity to prove themselves, with the alternative being unemployment.
Considering the writing industry’s reputation for paying little to nothing unless you ‘make it big’, does this really come as much of a surprise? Based on my own experiences as a young writer, the industry is ruthless. I graduated from university with First Class Honours in Creative Writing, which – truth be told – doesn’t really give me much of an edge when securing writing jobs. What does spice up the CV is an extensive portfolio, most of which includes work done for no pay. Although I have had an award-winning short story published in The Bolton Review & have written a children’s script for an animation company, which must remain undisclosed, for the sum of a low-fare, single train ticket from Manchester to London the vast majority of my work is for free. I write these articles for the pure satisfaction of seeing them in print though… even if I would appreciate a wage! My four novels, two screenplays, and heap of shorts – that’s a lot of work hours – have never seen the light of day.
The chance to work on Hollywood projects would be a dream come true, and I’d gladly accept only half the wage. That’s more than I have ever earned on my writing so far. It only makes sense that you have to prove yourself first, make some contacts, learn how the professionals do it. What better way than in a professional setting?
The problem isn’t that producers cut the budget for young writers; it’s that they cut the opportunity to showcase our work at all. Not enough of us get a chance for the work we’ve done to be seen by anyone of heft. It is not surprising that no writers speak up about the ‘paper teams’, when being found out could mean a return to unemployment.
The guild will be hard-pressed finding enough proof that the industry is doing anything wrong until opportunities are more readily accessible to young writers. That is the true issue.