The Writer's Guild for Screenwriters
1. Residuals: Residuals are the royalties paid to members of the Guild by the studios whenever a writer's film is played on television (either domestically or overseas), is rented in a video store, is purchased on DVD, or earns any other form of ancillary income for the studio that produced it. The studios compute the writer's residuals based on scales agreed to by the Guild and the studios, then sends a check to the Guild which is then forwarded to the writer. The checks, which until recently were issued in green envelopes that earned them the nickname "greenies," are like found money, especially for writers going through a dry spell who open their mailbox one day to find a few thousand dollars waiting for them. Residuals were a hard-fought battle that had to be fought (decades ago, writers earned no such income, although pre-television and home video it wasn't much of an issue) and are still being fought; the Guild recently averted a strike where the issues at stake, among others, were revenue from new revenue streams like Internet and DVDs (the former hasn't presented itself as much of an issue and the latter, unfortunately, didn't yield much of a budge from the studios). In addition to providing an indispensable service, the Guild's residuals department is easily accessible and the people who work there are invariably responsive and efficient in helping writers track down residuals that may have experienced a delay (which happens from time to time) or in letting writers know when they can expect a check in the near future. The Guild tracks residuals and includes them in your dues statements for you so that you don't have to compute them yourself when it comes time to figure out your quarterly dues.
2. Health care: One of the Guild's most famous perks -- deservedly so -- is its health insurance plan. If you earn a certain amount of money per year, you qualify for the Guild's health plan. Of course, you have to maintain that level of income every year, but if you earn past a certain amount, you receive bonus points that can be redeemed during dry spells. And the plan itself is without peer; writers enjoy among the widest range of health professionals and close to the highest rate of compensation in the country (indeed, it is not unreasonable to expect that even a high-risk pregnancy will wind up costing the writer under whose plan the gestation is covered practically nothing). In the past, the plan had been free year-round, but the Guild has unfortunately had to make adjustments given the skyrocketing costs of health care; members are now charged a quarterly fee that, while not cheap, still pales in comparison to the scope of services they are provided.
3. Pension: The Writer's Guild is also in charge of making sure that a certain amount of a writer's earnings from any particular studio are contributed to the writer's pension plan. Like most pensions, there are qualifications and stipulations that mandate how long and to what degree a writer must have worked in order to cash in on his or her pension, but as with the other services the Guild provides, there is a comprehensive booklet that explains eligibility and payout.
4. Arbitration: Whenever you see the words "written by" during the opening credits of a movie followed by several names, chances are that several writers were employed at various times during the production. So who should get credit? This is where the Guild steps in; on any film that employed more than one writer (or one writing team), the Guild will automatically send it to arbitration. What this entails is the Guild making copies of every draft of the script, then removing the writers' names from the cover (so as to ensure objectivity) and sending them to a three-person committee that has been assembled for the express purpose of determining credits for this particular film. The committee then, based on predetermined guidelines, reads the drafts and tries to determine who has made enough contributions to the story, characters, and dialogue so as to warrant screen credit.
This is more than an issue of mere pride; back-end residuals are paid out only to the writers who receive screen credit, which frequently translates into thousands of dollars. Often you will see "story by writer A" and "screenplay by writer B," which means that the committee felt that writer A deserved some credit for coming up with the idea for the story as well as some of its developments, but that the actual characters and dialogue were more or less the contributions of writer B. Or you'll see "written by writer A and writer B." This is different than "written by writer A & writer B" because the word "and" connotes two different writers, whereas an ampersand (&) signifies a writing team.
5. Writer's Guild Magazine and Newsletter: The magazine Written By, is the official monthly periodical of the Writer's Guild that is sent to members free of charge (non-members can subscribe or, if they live near an eclectic newsstand, can purchase a copy). In addition to profiles of successful writers, Written By features monthly columns that tackle everything from career advice to the writer's fragile mental state and how best to cope with it. The Writer's Guild Newsletter (which is also sent out electronically to members) informs member of upcoming Guild-sponsored events like free screenings, topic discussion panels, softball games, and niche writers' get-togethers.
Contact information: The Guild's main telephone number is (323) 782-4700, or you can log onto its website at www.wga.org.