Returning from an extended vacation, you are inevitably greeted with a stack of mail – catalogues, bills, magazines, solicitations from charitable organizations – “How are you going to feel if you come down with this disease and you didn’t give us anything to help find the cure?” – and for members of the Writers Guild, the most eye-catching delivery of all…
The Letter in the Green Envelope.
The Letter in the Green Envelope contains residual checks, otherwise known as, “Look at that! Free money!”
Years ago, the Writers Guild negotiated a deal with producers, stipulating that, every time an episode is rebroadcast, the writer of that episode gets paid a pre-designated percentage of their original fee as a residual. Which is only fair, don’t you think?
Before such an arrangement, when episodes were rebroadcast, the actors, writers and directors of those reruns got nothing. The production company got paid when it sold the show to the broadcasting entity. The broadcasting entity got paid when they sold commercials time on the show. But the people who actually made the show got zero. As they say in cricket when an unconscionable decision is made:
So now we get something. And it arrives in a Green Envelope.
Sorting the mail after our trip, I immediately spotted one. Eschewing the latest issue of Forbes magazine (which I never asked for) and a request for money from the Arthritis Foundation (“You’ve got those barking thumb joints, and you’re tossing us in the trash?”), I went straight to it.
Opening the Green Envelope is reminiscent of a game show, where the value of the item behind the curtain you chose is entirely unpredictable, ranging from relatively bupkis (ziperooney) to a substantial chunk of change. The tension mounts to a fever point, as you slide out the statement, and you find out what you got.
Sometimes, it’s a token denomination, resulting from a tiny sale overseas. (I once got a Best of the West residual resulting from a rebroadcast in the Philippines.) Sometimes, it’s a compilation residual, an accumulation of miniscule amounts that, taken together, substantially add up. And sometimes – if you’re lucky – they do a network TV tribute retrospective to The Cosby Show, and a clip from your “goldfish” episode offsets the plane fare for your European excursion.
Therein lies the excitement. What’s it gonna be?
The Check Number was 3210717. The check date, 03/01/2013. The “Project Title” was the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The “Residual Gross Amount” was…
I did not, however, receive that entire amount. A percentage of the aggregate was deducted for tax purposes. The final tally, made out to the recipient said: “Pay To The Order Of Earl Pomerantz”
The check amounted, in its totality, to…
The six-cent deduction being broken down in the following manner:
Federal Withholding – four cents. Federal OASD/EE (whatever that is) – one cent. And California State Withholding – one cent.
Leaving ten cents – free and clear – for the writer.
As the post title intones:
“Stay Humble, My Friend.”
Now, let’s think about this for a minute. Somebody had to report the purchase of my episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Somebody had to take notice of that report, and calculate exactly how much I was resultingly owed as a residual. Somebody had to cut the check. Somebody had to oversee the addressing, making sure it was correct, and that the appropriate First Class stamp was attached (in the case of the stamp affixed to my Green Envelope, a stamp in the amount of forty-six cents.) And somebody had to make sure my residual payment went out.
That’s a lot of people, making, cumulatively at least, a substantial amount of money. All in the service of insuring that I received a check in the amount specifically designated as a result of, I am sure, heated Producers-Writers Guild negotiations to determine a mutually agreed upon residual percentage, such that, in the spring of 2013, I could return from my expensive trip to Paris, and receive, when I excitedly tore open my Green Envelope when I got home, a check, signed by a man whose name (it’s a scrawled signature) appears to be David Miller, in the net monetary amount of, as the Snake Oil salesman of the Old West used to say,
One tenth part of a dollar.
All that effort and expense of preparation, dispatched in an envelope whose price of delivery is four hundred and sixty per cent higher than the negotiable amount of the check inside? I say, fire all those people but one, and have that person just send me the stamp!
I wonder if they’re chortling when they mail out a check for sixteen cents, minus the deductible. I wonder if they compete for the lowest amount – “Hey, Alice, I just got the unbreakable record of all time: One cent!”
I wonder if there’s a hierarchy in the “Residuals Department”, where the “Newbee” is assigned the scut work of handling all residual payments of a quarter or lower, where after a year or two’s service, they are eventually moved up to a dollar. I wonder if there’s a top-ranking official assigned to “Spielberg Residuals”, sending off million-dollar payments, along with an unsolicited spec script for “The Next Indiana Jones.”
On the other hand, paltry as it was, what I received is “Found Money.” I mean, if I saw a dime lying on the street, I would definitely bend down to pick it up. And here, I don’t even have to stoop over. They’re sending it to me in the mail!
Yeah, I’m not good at that “optimism” thing. I got a dime in the mail.
How good can that feel?
The best thing I can do is to not cash it, and mess up their accounting.