A screenwriting guild is a collective bargaining organization or union, specifically for screenwriters. The guild's primary duty is to represent screenwriters in negotiations with studios or producers and ensure that the rights of their screenwriter-members are protected. Guilds offer many benefits to writers, such as health care and pension plans, as well as protecting members' financial and creative rights (a writer receiving residuals or protecting a writer's script from theft).
Confused? Let's break it down.
A collective bargaining agreement is a document that outlines a set of rules that employers must follow if they want to hire certain writers. Those writers, in return, have more leverage, more protection, and more rights because they're part of a bigger organization that's making the rules – rules that the writers get to vote on. There's power in numbers. Some employers (in this case, studios and production companies) agree to the rules and therefore have access to the writers in the guild. Some employers don't, so they can only hire writers who are not members of the guild. If you sell a script to or work for a company that has signed a particular guild's collective bargaining agreement, you will be required to join that guild.
There are screenwriters' guilds all around the world, dedicated to serving screenwriters in that particular area's market. Some of these guilds include:
- Writers Guild of Canada
Click here for more information about the Writers Guild of Canada.
- The Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Click here for more information about The Writers' Guild of Great Britain.
- Writers' Guild of South Africa
Click here for more information about the Writers' Guild of South Africa.
There will be some sort of requirement you must meet accompanied by a fee, to join most guilds.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) uses a unit system and requires you to meet 24 units before you're qualified to join as a Current Member, which might be a more experienced writer with more work under their belt. Selling a feature-length screenplay or 90-minute (or longer) teleplay will get you 24 units. So, often after selling a feature, many screenwriters then join the WGA (or are required to). There's a number of units attributed to other things, like eight units for selling a short screenplay or a 30-60-minute teleplay. Writers must reach these unit requirements in the three years preceding their guild application.
Once you meet the requirements, the WGA asks for a one-time $2,500 initiation fee. When you become a WGA member, you'll pay dues, which are 1.5% of gross writing income, plus $25 per quarter.
Different membership categories have different requirements. For example, an Associate Member might not meet the number of units required to join and become a Current Member, but can still benefit from certain Guild Services in exchange for paying a fee.
This is mostly a break down for how joining the WGA works, but other guilds have similar participation practices. The Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) requires writers to "have had work produced or published under a WGGB-negotiated contract or equivalent industry-standard terms." The Writers Guild of Canada says that writers are qualified to join when they have had one contract with a producer who is a signatory to one of their agreements (meaning the company the writer is working for has signed the guild's collective bargaining agreement). That contract must be within the guild's jurisdiction or area of representation.
If you're considering joining a screenwriting guild, I'd recommend visiting the website of the guild in the part of the world you'd like to work in. They can provide you with specific information on how to join that particular guild, when in your career you should join, and what benefits they provide their members.
Of course, before you can join a writers' guild, you'll want a few great scripts in your treasure chest! If you're just getting started or you have been at it a while, we hope you'll consider SoCreate to make your story ideas come to life as soon as it is available. To be one of the first to try our screenwriting software, be sure to sign up for our private beta trials using the form on this page. The beta trials are coming soon!
Until then, happy writing!