Q: Do Non-American Writers Have To Join The WGA?
A: It depends where you are when you write.
The Artful Writer is visited most frequently by Americans, but we do get a fairly good-sized international readership as well. There are lots of you from Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Finland, Hong Kong…
…well, you’re pretty much from everywhere. Even Latvia.
Many of you have a similar question: if you sell a screenplay to a WGA signatory company, must you join the Guild? Embarrassingly, I’ve gotten the answer to this one wrong in a number of ways, and I’ve spread a bit of bad info in the past, so this post will hopefully set the record straight.
The determining factor when it comes to non-U.S. citizens is location.
The WGA is mostly concerned with jurisdiction, rather than prior membership or national citizenship. Regardless of what your passport says, if you perform the majority of writing services for a signatory while you are in the United States, then you must join the WGA if you’re not already a member, and the work is covered under our Minimum Basic Agreement.
However, if you live in the UK, you may work for a signatory to the WGA without the work being covered under our agreement. The WGA cannot compel you to join or compel the company to abide by the WGA’s collective bargaining agreement. However, you can negotiate to be treated as if you were under WGA jurisdiction! In other words, you can live in England, write a movie for Paramount Pictures from your home in London, and still get residuals and credit protection…but only if you get Paramount to agree to that deal.
If you hop on a jet and fly to New York, hole yourself up in a hotel and write the movie from midtown, then Paramount has to abide by the terms of the MBA.
The one final point to consider is that WGA membership isn’t really something you ever have to worry about choosing. If you meet the terms of membership through the appropriate amount of actual covered work, the WGA compels your membership. If you don’t, then you can’t join anyway.
For those of you writing outside of the United States, if you do sell or option literary material to any company that is a signatory to the WGA, try and negotiate yourself as if terms. The work won’t be officially covered by our MBA, but it’s well worth trying to get some of the goodies that those of us doing covered work get automatically. The company can certainly say “no”, but since they give those terms to thousands of other writers in the U.S. as a matter of course, you may find that they might be willing to bend a little…and give them to you too.