WGA Issues: January 2006 Archives
Adaptation?A: That’s a bit complicated for a quick answer.
But you’d think it would be easy, no?
I’ll start with what I think are the Academy rules, based on what the name of “Best Adapted Screenplay” used to be up until a few years ago. For a long time it was “Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published”, and that pretty much says it all, right?
The Academy has an executive writers committee that meets to determine whether or not they feel a particular screenplay is an adapation. The WGA has far more rigid rules. It isn’t only concerned with prior publication or production. It is also concerned with unpublished and unproduced material of other natures that fall under the larger rubric of “source material”.
The WGA definition of an original screenplay is:
Original screenplays [are] those screenplays which are not based on source material and on which the first writer writes a screenplay without there being any other intervening literary material by another writer pertaining to the project. If a writer is furnished or uses research material, the screenplay is still considered an original screenplay.
Translation: no source material (discounting research material) and no other writer in between the start and completion of your draft. If that happens, it’s an original project.
Obviously, adaptations are therefore screenplays that are based, in any part, on source material. And what is source material?
…source material is material assigned to the writer which was previously published or exploited and upon which the writer’s work is to be based (e.g., a novel, a produced play or series of published articles), or any other material written outside of the Guild’s jurisdiction (e.g., literary material purchased from a non-professional writer). Illustrative examples of source material credits are: “From a Play by”, “From a Novel by”, “Based upon a Story by”, “From a series of articles by”, “Based upon a Screenplay by” or other appropriate wording indicating the form in which such source material is acquired. Research material is not considered source material.
Let’s go through that. First, there’s the obvious: published or exploited books, plays, essays, comics, etc. Interestingly, you can also include exploited story treatments by writers other than the first screenwriter. For instance, if John sells a treatment to a studio, and then George is hired to write the screenplay based on that treatment, the project is an adaptation because George has been given exploited literary material upon which to base his script.
Then, there’s the not-so-obvious. Let’s say John writes an original screenplay for a non-signatory company, i.e. a company whose dealings with writers isn’t covered by the WGA’s collective bargaining agreements, and then that company sells John’s script to a signatory studio like Disney. Disney then hires Sally to rewrite the script. If John had written that exact same script for a signatory, the project would be deemed an original. Since he wrote it for a non-sig, however, his script is considered source material, and John is not eligible for “story by” or “screenplay by” credit. The project is now considered an adaptation, with John’s screenplay functioning the way a book or play might.
That’s the one area where I imagine that the WGA and AMPAS might see things differently. From the WGA’s point of view, they must consider the non-sig script to be source material, because its ability to assign screenplay credit is entirely a function of its collective bargaining agreement, and the non-sig script doesn’t fall under that.
AMPAS, however, seems to be only concerned with what is, in actuality, an original or adaptation. In the example above, I think that the WGA would call John’s project an adapation, and AMPAS would call it an original.
This probably doesn’t come up too often.
The questioner specifically asked about Syriana, which AMPAS has apparently determined is an original rather than an adaptation. The WGA considers Syriana to be an adapation, because the screenplay was based (in some part) on a book. I believe the source material credit was “suggested by”, and that’s enough to make the script an adaptation. However, it appears the AMPAS writers committee felt that the script simply didn’t get enough of significance from the book, and thus they have deemed it an original screenplay.
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.