WGA screenwriters’ income falls 10% in 2010

The fiscal story line was grim for Hollywood’s screenwriters in 2010.

Feature writers belonging to the Writers Guild of America, West reported earnings of $393 million last year, down 10% from the prior year and 25% below 2007, according to an annual financial report the guild released Friday.

The decline underscored the fact that there are fewer writers working at a time when studios have scaled back the number of feature films they are releasing.

Writers have complained about various cost-cutting practices adopted by studios that have eroded their income, such as paying writers only for the first draft of a script in so-called “one-step deals,” as opposed to the customary pattern of paying a fee for first drafts and subsequent drafts.


The number of screenwriters who reported earnings last year fell 11%, to 1,615, compared with 2009, the report said.

The report, however, offered some good news: Earnings for television writers grew 3% to $532.1 million, even as employment remained virtually flat at 3,142. That was 6% lower than the employment level of 3,350 in 2007 and nearly 20% below the record high of 3,903 in 2000, the guild noted.

The guild attributed higher TV earnings to an increase in residuals — the payments that writers receive when shows are rerun — especially for basic cable. In that segment, residual income from reruns such as AMC’s “Mad Men” jumped 32.5% to $20.94 million.

Overall, residuals collected by the guild on behalf of its members in 2010 grew 10% to an all-time high of $315.8 million, reflecting gains in cable TV as well as big increases that writers fetched from their movies and TV shows replaying in international markets.


Residuals from new media — a battleground for the guild in the 100-day writers strike that ended in 2008 — rose 24% to $2.63 million.