Minefields – the (Writers Guild) arbitrator’s view:
“One of the things I do, which I think always surprises the studios, is I demand to go back and redo the primary research. I don’t want to write based on someone else’s research… unless I experience something, I’d be writing it based on someone else’s experiences. I think redoing the primary research is key to making something your own.
Now I’ve been in arbitration, I’ve been the arbitrator a lot of times… There’s a lot of money attached to this, especially in residuals and in production bonuses. I mean, there’s a certain pool of money that’s set aside for production bonuses, and that gets split among the writers who are credited.
Your job is to ask about what are called ‘essential elements’. And if writer A chose essential elements, writer A’s decisions as the first writer mean a lot, even if there was a book or underlying material. Even if someone did a great job or a great draft – or even if some of their work or a single character remains in the final draft – you have to ask yourself, ‘Are these essential elements or something else?’
My biggest problem is I think it’s not been updated to represent what goes on in the industry today. In the arbitration system, there are two classes of writers: original writers and people who do adaptations. With the original writers, the second writer needs to contribute 50 per cent or more to receive credit, and subsequent writers need 33 per cent or more to receive credit… way too many projects now are based on underlying material… So, really, all writers are equal – except some writers are more equal than others.”
Excerpted with quotes from Jonathan Lemkin
Tales from the Script (2010)