Monday, July 06, 2009

Moolah

Sooooo, as the Guardian has pointed out, Green Wing is one of a number of British shows now available in the States on hulu.com. My favourite Twitter comment on it thus far: 'It's like The (U.S.) Office, only with 15 Dwights'.

The increasing availablity of television through the internet raises a number of question, the only one of which I really care about right now is, of course, 'how do I get paid?' It's already slightly complicated, as any residuals for the first series of GW come directly to me, rather than through my agent (I started the job slightly before getting the agent), and the second series (not yet available on hulu) comes through my previous agency.

Unlike a terrestrial transmission, when I get paid a certain percentage of my original writing fee depending on how much material I have in each episode, and what time of night the repeat goes out (the later the hour, the smaller the amount of money), it's not clear how residuals work with online showings. Or indeed, if I'll be getting any money at all. It's also important to remember that I don't have any format rights over GW - so if an American version were ever made, I'd only be paid if parts of the script I had written were to be used.

My old agents are onto it, but in the meantime, I thought I'd send an email to Digital Rights Group, who as far as I can tell are the people who sold the rights to hulu. So someone's making some money from it. And it struck me that if more and more television is going to be distributed (I was going to say 'broadcast', but that sounds a bit dated now), I probably ought to find out more about the process, and where exactly writers fit into it. And by 'fit into it', I mean 'find out about getting paid'. So I sent DRG this email:

"Hello, I'm one of the writers on Green Wing, which is now being televised on Hulu for American audiences. I'm interested in finding out how my residuals (royalties) would work, and wondering who the  best person to talk to would be. Would anyone be able to help me in this matter?"

And this was the reply:

"Dear James,

Thank you for your enquiry.

Any residual royalties owing to you will be paid shortly to you.

Regards"


Which was sent in May. Note they haven't stated they do owe me any residuals, only that anything owed to me will be paid 'soon'. And that was sent in May.

Hmm.

15 comments:

Newf said...

Have you asked your fellow GW writers if they're getting any pennies for Hulu?

If you guys got paid for the Green Wing episodes on Torrent and Veoh and GoFish and Guba and Supernova Tube and everywhere else, you would never have to work again. And fans would hate that. So I hope you get paid for none of it, ever!! (That's supposed to be a compliment, but just sounds drunk. I'm going to go sit on the floor.)

Boz said...

Worrabout Channel 4 putting all their back catalogue online? Does this in anyway benefit you, compared to say DVD sales?

IwouldliketopointoutIalreadyowntheDVDboxsetcollectionthingofGW.

james henry said...

Newf: I think I'm in the information vanguard on this issue.

Boz: I don't think I get anything from 4oD, but my agent is hopefully checking that.

I don't really mind torrents and YouTube and stuff, as it's a good way for people to find new telly they wouldn't otherwise have come across, and then hopefully they'll buy the DVD's (loyalty point to Boz). Just a bit worrying if stuff goes online, and everyone makes money from it apart from the writers...

PK said...

Was it Nora Ephron who said recently that we're witnessing the death of copyright? We're also witnessing a remarkably lax attitude towards the idea of paying writers - moreso than ever.

I don't know all the facts, but that whole Pirate Bay fracas in recent months seemed to be skewed towards some sort of nonsense about "rights" and "freedoms", and the guys being sentenced were almost being touted as noble martyrs for a great cause. Yes, the noble cause to diddle those of us down the production food chain out of getting our residuals. But we're only the writers after all. We only helped create this stuff. What need do we have of silly things like money? I'm sure my kids can learn how to forage for themselves.

Meanwhile these websites are coasting along some kind of anti-corporate stick it to the man goodwill kind of vibe from people in the media too lazy and spineless to really look at the heart of the matter.

Monday morning. Am a bit cranky.

Tim Footman said...

I thought there already was a US version of Green Wing, with that nice Hugh Laurie in it?

CeleBrits said...

Agree with the problem of laxity of paying writers. Treating them like they're the bottom link of the chain - rather than acknowledging their contribution as the original source of the material.

cello said...

I think I'm right in saying that the person who runs the Digital Rights Group is Kelvin McKenzie's son. Good luck. And Hulu is owned in part by Fox hence News Corp hence Murdoch. He gets us all in the end.

Surely Talkback Thames or C4's legal departments are the people to speak to, as they will have done the deal with Hulu.

Love the way the Guardian is still determined not to call it TV.

thegirl said...

I agree with cello: if C4/C4i did the deal with Digital Rights Group, then surely they're responsible for ensuring that all the residual contractual stuff is intact. They might not be able to pay you, but hopefully they'll be able to copy you the terms in which they sold the series on, and with that at least you'll have something with which to begin the (long, slow, frustrating) paper trail to obtaining the monies owed to you.

Please update here with any news you have, I'm very interested to see how it turns out.

Good luck!

thegirl said...

Ah, I've just spotted that C4i is part of DRG; I guess it's unlikely you'll get any (swift, direct) answers from them either.

Your best bet, I guess, is going legal: I imagine there's nothing that makes the rights folk respond more quickly to, than a nice letter on a solicitor's headed paper.

Ruodnane said...

It's about time G.W. was shared with the world like that! Us here in New Zealand had to get DVDs sent from the U.K., regional difficulties aside. But it's a shame they over the pond have to compare it to lesser, American shows.

Re. royalties, they're about to increase (by 6%) the amount local radio stations have to pay to local artists. There is a quota to play 20% N.Z. music, which sadly means no-one will take risks with new or less-popular groups, instead settling on the same few 90's bands everyone gets drunk and sings to on their OEs in London with other Kiwis.

"The cheque's in the mail", I see. Hope it turns up soon, you have a wife and child to support!

james henry said...

Thanks for useful comments people, will enquire further and keep track of it all on the blog.

circelily said...

I think this question was exactly the reason that the American scriptwriters went on strike. Sadly I think the end result was the weakening of their not-particularly-strong union and a lot of obscurity.

james henry said...

Yeah, that's the impression I got. I read lots of stuff about stuff online counting as 'promotion' and thus not counting for residuals. Which is convenient, and also slightly insane logic, if they're also showing adverts...

Piers said...

circelily: eh?

Actually, we pretty much won everything we asked for in the strike. Residuals paid online and all.

Details here.

james henry said...

Ah, interesting stuff, cheers Piers.