Friday, December 15, 2006

Union or Non?

Denis McGrath added me to part of a post he recently wrote regarding the advantages and disadvantages of going union and when is the right time to join.

I have to say he has me pegged pretty good, that Denis. I do consider myself something of an entrepeneur in that I don't ever want to feel limited by what I can or cannot do. (actually it's probably because boredom comes easily to me, and I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my own material. There - I said it.) I write short stories, marketing copy, screenplays, ad copy, live events, and soon novels and comics. I also produce and market and author and it's all part of what you get when you hire me or I sign on to produce.

There are many good reasons to join the WGAw or WGAe - excellent health benefits provided by your employer paying into the fund, collective bargaining, etc... If you're in a position where you are being hired to be on staff somewhere I would wholeheartedly recommend it (in fact in order to even be considered you would have to join the union).

I haven't joined or been asked to join yet, but quite frankly I'm not ready. I have more writing and networking and agenting to do before I hit that level where I would see the need to join (if I'm invited to do so). In the meantime, I am working on several projects of my own where I would "own the show" as a producer as well as the first writer. I am also being considered for jobs for a lot of companies in the indie world. I'm growing and learning as a writer-producer.

I'm glad that the writer's guild is trying to find ways for writers to work on low budget indie projects. That's cool because there are more of those jobs out there for people than there are movies, MOWs, TV series and specials.

But there's also stuff that the guild does which, in my mind as a non-member sounds crazy. Go over to The Artful Writer to read about that stuff. I also know that people like Steven Soderbergh have left the union over their procedures and policies. Robert Rodriguez resigned from the DGA because of their co-directing policy.

I'm really not sure where to go with this post as joining the union is a personal and professional decision. You have to weigh the plusses and minuses. I would consult with my agent and manager before I did or didn't join...because it would affect my (and thus their) income. There would be jobs I would be available for, but would be competing with half the town; and there would be jobs that, no matter how cool I couldn't take because the production wasn't signatory or they couldn't be convinced to go WGAw.

No matter what you choose to do, you have to remember that you have to be responsible for your career choices. You have to take control. You can't just sit back and think that joining the union means work will flood in - it won't. In fact, reporters are saying that it's only going to get worse across the board. There will be fewer high level jobs for writers...

But there will always be work for people who go out and put the package together and become an owner of their creation on their own.

(Note: I have linked quite a bit to the Artful Writer because Craig Mazin speaks of his experiences with the Guild of which he is a member and active participant. His honesty, humor and vision mark him as someone who sees the big picture for everyone. I would urge people to at least, check out the last two links in this post to further clarify what the future holds for all of us)


Arctic Goddess said...

I have a question that is not related to union writing. Are there more male screen writers that are successful than female writers?

Someone asked me to name some good female writers, and I couldn't. At least, I couldn't for science fiction shows. There may be lots of them out there, writing for programs that I don't watch. Is there a writing ghetto for women?

Cunningham said...

There's a few female writers in television, but I have to say that there are far more female novelists. That said, there's Jane Espenson who's in the sidebar, DC Fontana of Star Trek, the creator of Gilmore Girls Amy Sherman-Palladino, Shonda Rhimes cf Grey's Anatomy, and others...

Andrew Bellware said...

Technically, you can't be forced to join any union as a requirement for employment. In "Right to Work" states (North Carolina, Utah, etc.), that's all there is to it.

In non "right to work" states (California, New York, etc.) you can be forced to pay "core dues", but you can't be forced to join. When you're "core status" you still get health, pension, and welfare, but as you're not a member of the union you can't vote on union issues (or get their magazine).

But you CAN do any union or non-union work you get offered.

The unions aren't too happy about people going Core status, but there isn't anything they can do about it. It doesn't make any difference to the employers because those that aren't signatories to the union contract can hire you, those that ARE signatories can hire you.

You could get into a political argument about the morality of core status for days, personally I think the Hollywood Guilds are by and large pretty anti-worker, so I have no qualms about people going Core. If I were a coal-miner, that might be a different thing.

BTW, Core status is available for all unions.

Arctic Goddess said...

Thanks for the information. Do you think there is a reason why more women write novels as opposed to screenplays? And if a woman begins her career writing novels, is she at an advantage or disadvantage, with that background, if she chooses to switch to writing scripts? I really value your opinion on all of this? I hope you don't mind my picking your brain.

Cunningham said...

I personally think any writing will help. Whether that's an "advantage" or not is really up to whether the writer can master the screenplay form that is a "far different kind of animal" than a novel or short story. I write all kinds of stuff because it exercises muscles I don't normally use in my screenplays.