The single thing that mostly sets apart screenwriter John Jarrell’s book Tough Love Screenwriting is the more than 70 pages he spends on WGA Credit Arbitration. (With a nod to producer Joel Silver for giving him his own “Cliff Notes on Arbitration.”)
He points out that while not common, it’s not unheard of to have 50 drafts of a screenplay worked on before it goes into production and as many as 15 writers having worked on the script to one degree or another. Who are the 1-3 writers who will get credit? If contested that’s where arbitration comes into play.
(Note: Read ‘Jurassic World’ Writing Credits Dispute Goes to Another Appeal to read about an up-to-date battle.)
You can download a PDF of the WGA Screen Credits Manuel to give you an understanding of the process.
I won’t even try to compress Jarrell’s thoughts here, but he mentions in his book that he’s had three wins and zero losses over his 20 year career—and here’s why it’s so important:
“Each writer’s contract contains a credit bonus figure — the amount of additional money you’re owed above and beyond your writing fee if the project ultimately gets produced. Here’s where the plot thickens — studios and production companies only pay credit bonuses to the writers who wind up with their names officially on the film. In a nutshell, no screen credit, no bonus. Simple as that.
“These bonuses can involve mad cashish, ranging anywhere from say $5,000 to well over $1,000,000. Intense right? Keep in mind, this is ‘passive income’ — payments you get without ever having to lift a finger or write another word. The studios just fire off a fat check with your name on it.”
Tough Love Screenwriting: The Real Deal from a Twenty-Year Pro
Jarrell calls those fat checks with your name on it,”Little green envelopes of love.”
P.S. If you’re in L.A. and would like to take a screenwriting class with Jarrell, check out his website howtoscreenplay.com.
Screen Credit Procedures PDF
Behind the Lines with DR: Writers Guild Arbitration Fight or Flight, Script Mag
Barry Levinson Quits WGA Over Sloppy Credit Arbitration, Deadline
The Bitter Script Reader: An introduction to the WGA arbitration for determining credit