WGAE Embraced Digital Media in ’09

The Writers Guild of America, East finished 2009 having paved new in-roads into representation of digital media and its writers.

Throughout 2009, the WGAE added 22 digital media companies, and 30 writers have become guild members as a result of digital media work covered by guild contracts. Among the new signatories are the Web series 9am Meeting, the Brooklyn-based production company AGBK, the animated Web series Confirmed Bachelors and the production company Jamtown Films.

“The business models, distribution structures, and creative opportunities in digital media are still being developed,” said WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson. “The fundamental goal of the Writers Guild 2.0 initiative is to ensure that creators are at the table as decisions are made about these basic issues. The enormous potential of digital media won’t mean much if writers and other creators can’t make a living, or if they must cede creative control.”

The open question is just how much string the major guilds can collect on the digital front in the lead-up to new contract negotiations at the end of the year, when SAG must hold preliminary talks with producers.

Jurisdiction over the digital landscape was an explosive battleground in the last contentious round of deal-making, especially for SAG and the WGA, and it looms as an unresolved pothole on the road to contract expirations in spring 2011.

Guilds often focus on off-year organizing in new areas to lend weight to future demands during negotiations. In 2007, the WGAW pushed hard into organizing reality television writers and editors only to drop efforts to gain jurisdiction there during contract discussions with employers.

“Joining the Writers Guild means becoming a part of the larger community of creative professionals,” said new WGAE member Ben Zelevansky of BenandAlex.tv. “But mostly I just wanted to meet Paddy Chayefsky. Turns out he’s been dead for about 30 years. At least now I can write off movie tickets on my taxes.”