How to Succeed as a Writer in Hollywood: Advice from WGA Executive

The following article is part of a reflection from the “Hollywood Mentor Series.” Through the Hollywood Mentor Series students in JPCatholic’s MBA in Film Producing program get the opportunity to meet and network with a variety of top executives and professionals in all sectors of the film industry in Los Angeles. MBA graduate Tyler Carlos shares the lessons he learned from these meetings:

 

As the Assistant Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGA), Chuck Slocum gets to see and meet many of the most talented and popular writers in the world. Upon meeting Slocum, he’s nothing that I thought he would be. I pictured a suited, exceedingly professional, formal man that would be hard to relate to. This could not have been further from the truth. A very friendly and laid back man, Slocum welcomed us to the WGA with a smile and open arms.

The WGA represents the majority of writers in Los Angeles. They are the ones, according to Slocum, that get paid the big bucks. As the president of the WGA, it is Slocum’s job to help negotiate for the writers and get them the money they deserve. This is where Slocum began his discussion of the business behind the business.

Slocum explained one method for writers to earn a good salary is to option their script. This means that if a production company is interested in a script, it will pay the writer for the rights to the script for a certain amount of time. During that time, the company is allowed to put the script into production. However, if the company does nothing with the script, then the rights go back to the writer at the end of the option period. Then, the writer may shop the script around again. Writers are also able to make money through residuals and profit participation. Through these methods writers can receive a percentage of the revenue from box office screenings, DVD sales, merchandise or other profits from the project.

Now the WGA doesn’t control everyone in the factory, like the unions do. The WGA does not provide hourly pay or vacation time, and has different contract content than the unions. The source of the WGA’s power is writer unity. It is the responsibility of the WGA to advocate for writers’ work requests, which requires lots of hard work because all writers are at different stages in their career.

After discussing his position and the WGA, Slocum allowed us to ask him questions. He advised us as “creatives” in the industry, it is vital to find our own unique voice. And then, once we find our own voice, we just have to go out and do it. It is our job to show off what we can do – it is how we get started. We are creatives. We create. We MUST create.

— By Tyler Carlos, 2016 JPCatholic Graduate —