A Dark Reality in the Entertainment Industry
When the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) claims that “our companies” don’t pay on time, they are essentially admitting that they themselves fail to meet payment deadlines. It is inappropriate for studios to shift blame onto production companies or other entities they themselves have brought in the equation. Everyone else involved in the production process—from showrunners delivering the episodes, actors making their call times to writers meeting their deadlines—fulfills their obligations on time. It is unreasonable that studios do not do their part promptly.
The inability of actors and writers to afford delayed payments adds another layer of hardship to their already challenging careers. This deliberate tactic of holding payments not only impacts their financial well-being but also takes a toll on their mental health and overall well-being. Astonishingly, a substantial amount of money remains in the company coffers, where unclaimed dollars accumulate and earn interest, according to residuals expert Jonathan Handel’s 2018 expose in The Hollywood Reporter: “Across the five major Hollywood unions, entertainment residuals amount to about $2.1 billion a year (plus $750 million in commercials residuals), […] One informed source estimates another 15 percent goes unpaid. If so, that’s $300 million a year that falls off the table and into studio and producer coffers.”
Clearly, the penalties for late payments are currently too lenient, which is evident from the persistent nature of this issue. Therefore, it is crucial to revise and strengthen these penalties.
POTENTIAL SOLUTION: PAYMENT CAPTAINS
To address this issue, the establishment of dedicated writers or actors within each production staff, acting as Payment Captains, could be a potential solution. These Payment Captains would work closely with the understaffed WGA and SAG Residuals and payment departments to ensure payments are made on time. These Payment Captains would be responsible for staying on top of late payments and ensuring that no payments fall through the cracks.
POTENTIAL SOLUTION: PUBLIC SHAMING
Implementing a social media page on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or the official Writers Guild website to publicly list late payments could motivate studios to prioritize timely compensation. By openly disclosing instances such as “Disney/PROJECT NAME—AMOUNT OWED/SIX WEEKS LATE,” studios would face public scrutiny that could impact their reputation, relationships with industry professionals, and even their stock prices. This increased accountability would work towards rectifying the miserable state of affairs.
POTENTIAL SOLUTION: PAYMENT ON DELIVERY
Heard a great idea that agents collect fees on delivery of steps.
Whatever steps we take, we must work towards fostering a culture where studios take full responsibility for their entire projects, including timely and fair compensation to all involved.
2023 Presidential Candidate, WGA West