2014 Unions & Guilds Report: WGC

parker

While the Canadian production sector is thriving, new media continues to put pressure on Canada’s unions, guilds and professional associations. Digital production and distribution are disrupting known business models and as a result, the agreements that bind parties within those models are under stress. However, periods of change are when unions and guilds thrive, forcing discussion, compromise and, optimally, agreement between working parties. In a five-part series, organizations representing various industry players discuss their recent wins, losses and challenges ahead. First up: Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada.

At present, what are the biggest challenges facing your membership?

We need smart regulation in order to have Canadian programming, and that includes regulating “over-the-top” content. After all, in Canada we have a small population, two languages, and professional content is very expensive to produce. That’s the kind of market it is, so smart regulation is essential. We also need a healthy public broadcaster, a CBC that is dedicated to Canadian drama and documentary.

How are you working to address those challenges?

We will continue to be active in the CRTC’s ongoing “Let’s Talk TV” initiative. We are committed to raising awareness about the importance of having Canadian content enshrined in our system — and that means over-the-top providers have to invest in the system as well. There’s also a need to revisit the CRTC’s group-based approach to the licensing of private television services.  And while the latest round of cuts to the CBC is extremely disheartening, we certainly support CBC.

What were some of your wins in the last year?

We successfully negotiated the inclusion of animation in the Independent Production Agreement, making us the only English-language guild in the world to fully cover writers working in animation. We also consider the rising profile of the writer as showrunner a huge win for writers. As well, we were pleased to see that our efforts (and the efforts of others) lobbying the Canada Media Fund to cover costs for writing work done before a broadcaster development deal is reached were successful. Finally, each presentation we do before the CRTC is a kind of win.

What difficulties did you encounter in the last year?

Changing technology has posed difficulties both for our membership and for the entire industry. Broadcasters have become more reluctant to invest in adventurous content. And economic models are clearly changing. But no matter how much technology or economic models change, you still need writers. Writers have a unique place in a digital world, they are simply not replaceable. The challenge is to make sure that writers are paid properly for their work, however it is disseminated.

What will you do differently in the year ahead?

We are entering into collective bargaining in the fall of 2014, and we have a lot of serious issues to discuss with producers, who are our conduit to broadcasters. Content costs money, and we have to make sure that profits are equitably distributed and writers are included in that fair compensation for work done, both at this time and in the future as new models emerge. But it isn’t so much about doing things “differently” as it is about being responsive to rapid change, and continuing to ensure that writers’ rights are protected.

What will be the issue that has the greatest impact on your membership in the next five years?

Broadcasters need to take risks in the scheduling, programming and commissioning of Canadian content. It doesn’t matter how that content is disseminated; risks need to be taken to ensure that the unique ideas from our extremely talented Canadian writers see the light of day. After all, unique content grabs audiences! And not only is content king, in TV, showrunners are largely responsible for that content. So these days the creator is king — the writers and showrunners behind the best Canadian TV. But the issue is that we need a system that is risk-taking and flexible enough to allow that creativity to come to the fore.