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Fast Five: Writers Prove Pandemic-Proof In the WGA-UTA Deal While Netflix Doubles Down on Canadians and Big-Budget Tentpoles

July 20, 2020
4 min read time

Attention all Canadians: Netflix just announced a scheme to get its hands on projects from both established and up-and-coming Canadian writers. It was also a good week for American writers, as the WGA and the ATA took one step closer to resolving their differences, and CBS put their money where their mouth is for diverse writers.

LIKE MOST AMERICANS, NETFLIX IS TRYING TO SNEAK INTO CANADA
Canada has recently become a very desirable place for Americans to try and enter. For most, it’s a way to escape from a quickly spreading virus, for Netflix, it’s probably part of a government mandate that the mega-streamer invest a certain amount of money into local productions. So now Netflix is going all-out and making their submission process open to the public. While the streaming service will undoubtedly prioritize projects from established creators, it has also agreed to listen to pitches from up-and-coming writers if they spark to the idea. The process is open to English language projects only and will culminate in a virtual pitch day at the beginning of September. Netflix is searching for non-fiction, animation and original series that are available globally, so if you’re Canadian and have such a script ready to go, consider this a promising way to break into the very closed-off Canadian television industry. There aren’t many opportunities for new writers in Canada when all the development funding is dominated by the same handful of producers, so there’s really nothing to lose.

 

THE FIRST MAJOR AGENCY SIGNS THE WGA CODE OF CONDUCT
While the WGA has carved out deals with second and third tier agencies, the big four (CAA, WME, UTA and ICM) held firm against signing the guild’s new code of conduct. And it makes sense. The WGA wants the agencies to get rid of packaging, which are fees of up to 50k per episode of television created by their clients. The truth is that those fees are more lucrative to the agency than the percent they get from the writer who actually wrote the episode. Considering the agencies are still repping A-list writers as producers and still take packaging fees from other talent attached, it seemed to be a long shot that any agency would give that up and go back to relying on 10% of a staff writer’s salary. But here we are, with the first domino falling. UTA just signed an agreement with the WGA that will phase out packaging (Note: At the time of publication it’s unclear whether the agency could still get a packaging fee for repping other talent on the project) and limit ownership in affiliated studios and production companies to 20%. Because all deals are favored nations, UTA will gain any perks gained by the next agency to sign the agreement and will not have to give up packaging unless another major agrees to it as well. Considering all production is shut down, writers have proven themselves to be pandemic-proof, since they’re the only creative talents who can easily work from home. Directors and actors have found work drying up and the agencies must be feeling that pinch. At least the ones that actually stopped repping writers.

DISABILITY REPRESENTATION TAKES GIANT STEPS FOWARD
According to the WGA, people with disabilities are the most underrepresented group in Hollywood. Can you name five actors who have a disability? There are very few recurring characters on TV with a disability and, more often than not, able-bodied actors get those roles. It’s even worse for writers and directors with disabilities, who usually aren’t hired unless there’s a character on the show that shares their disability. Like all stigmas, moving past the one that people with disabilities are defined by their disability will take time. One way is to develop projects with those creators, so they can tell the types of stories they want to tell, whether or not they include disability. This week, ABC and Spectrum both announced shows by creators who have a disability. ABC and Sony TV are developing an untitled medical drama from The Good Doctor writer David Renaud, and Spectrum has put into development an untitled comedy from America’s Next Top Model star Nyle Dimarco and Daniel Dae Kim’s 3AD. On top of that, the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab just wrapped up its five week program designed to create a pipeline into the industry for working professionals with disabilities behind the camera, many of whom found their ascensions stalled at the assistant level.

 

CBS PUTS ITS MONEY WHERE ITS MOUTH IS FOR DIVERSITY
Whenever an underrepresented group demands change in the entertainment industry, the studios and networks bravely declare “we hear you” and air a nice montage on an awards show before going back to business as usual. Well, CBS is levelling-up by publicly declaring targets it intends to hit in the coming years as far as actual representation goes. Starting in the 2021 development season, the network will allocate 25% of its script development fund towards Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as making half of its writers’ rooms BIPOC. CBS has long been the least diverse of the big four networks and, as a direct result of this, most of its programming tends to target a white demographic. This mandate will not only provide a wider variety of perspectives during the writing process, but the development fund will allow these writers to create their own programs. This step was previously cut off from many people who saw staff writer as their ceiling in the industry.

 

NETFLIX CONTINUES TO INVEST IN BIG-BUDGET TENTPOLE MOVIES
If I told you that Joe and Anthony Russo are following up their final two Avengers movies with The Gray Man, a $200 million James Bond-type franchise starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, would you salivate at the opportunity to see that on the big screen with a $25 popcorn? Well, too bad. Because The Gray Man is following in the footsteps of 6 Underground as a major tentpole movie you can only watch at home, thanks to Netflix. The streaming service, which just launched The Old Guard and is releasing Project Power next month, has been doubling down on theatrical-level summer action movies. Netflix recently announced its ten most-watched movies of all time, and at the top was Extraction, with Spenser Confidential, 6 Underground and Triple Frontier all placing strongly on the list as well. While the service has played up its position as the go-to destination for Oscar® calibre films and teen comedies, its most-watched list proves what studios have known for a long time: Nothing reels in an audience like a big-budget action blockbuster. 

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