Ten Years Ago Today: Robot Overlords, pay cuts and solidarity with the WGA strike…

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords.

By a weird bit of serendipity, today’s blog post coincides with the beginning of the strike by the Writers’ Guild of America. Why the coincidence? Well, here’s my diary entry from ten years ago…

Thursday 2nd May, 2013

Met with Jon (Wright, director) to run through the location changes. Bit of bad news — one of our backers didn’t have the million quid they claimed to have, so we’re down another million. Thankfully, the other backers are keeping their nerve and we’re staying on schedule, but the pressure’s really on Piers (Tempest, producer) said.

So let’s skip forward a few days to…

Bank Holiday Monday 6th May, 2013

We’ve been asked to take another cut in pay. Down to £30k for me. Not happy. Won’t take a decision until I’ve discussed it further with Jon.

The idea was that we would have a conversation with our agents regarding the cut in pay before agreeing to it. Now let’s skip forward to…

Tuesday 7th May, 2013

It seems an executive decision was made on Friday night and both Jon and I had our writers’ fees cut. Not happy.

Really not happy (and I’m no longer with that agency). A few of you out there might be thinking, ‘Thirty grand! What are you complaining about? That’s loadsamoney!’ Well, I’d worked on this script for over two years, and thirty thousand pounds does not represent the amount of work that I put into the film. And the same thing happened to me again on Unwelcome. At the very last minute, I was asked to take £50k pay cut because of budget issues. You’re always told that others are taking a pay cut, too, but call me a cynical old goat, but I doubt that Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson took a cut in pay. Why is it the writers who are always first for the chop? Because we’re an easy target. We’re often desperate and alone. If this had been a production by a WGA signatory, it’s highly unlikely that the pay cut could have occurred. That’s why I stand in solidarity with the WGA in their strike. They’re fighting for a better future for all writers and this time they’re up against the streamers: Silicon Valley tech companies who really hate unions.

Here’s a little follow up…

Wednesday 8th May, 2013

I got a call from Piers tonight, apologising for and explaining the nature of the fee cuts. Basically, we lost £1.35 million… If the cuts didn’t happen, then we’d lose the film. I appreciated his call.

Piers didn’t have to make that call, so I do genuinely appreciate his gesture (and I later learned that he basically made the film for free, surrendering his whole fee!), but more has to be done in the UK to protect writers from such last-minute shenanigans. Not long after this I joined a writers’ group called the Vipers, and some weeks we would have a guest speaker from the industry. One week we had a producer who, when asked about paying writers to develop scripts before they go into production, simply shrugged and said he couldn’t afford it. I suggested that if he couldn’t afford to produce films, then maybe he shouldn’t be in the business of film production. That went down well…

I’m currently working on a romcom script with a Finnish film company and they’ve paid us good fees to develop the script at every stage. It’s been absolute bliss and proves it can be done, so why do we not do more of this in the UK? The truth is, this is the reality of filmmaking in the UK. We don’t have the scale of economy that Hollywood has (or even Finland, apparently) so we’ll just have to accept it and bumble on… Which is par for the course in this country! Grr, humbug, and other grumbles. I’ll stop now before I start blaming everything on the Tories, which is what my rants usually default to (and with good cause)… Don’t worry. Your normal, cheerful service will resume in the next post.

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Author, screenwriter, and co-founder of the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

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