Thursday, August 6, 2015

"I Heart Complaining"

Something like once a year – not unlike jury duty – members of the Writers Guild are called and – not ordered exactly – but are energetically encouraged to volunteer their services for “Credits Arbitration.”


There are times when writers are called upon to rewrite the submissions of their predecessors, leading to disputes concerning the appropriate allocation of the writing credits – whose consequences involve, not only providing the writer the credit they justifiably deserve, but also – in terms of subsequent royalties and possible profit participation down the line – money.

Credits matter. 

is what I’m saying.

The way the arbitration process functions is that three arbitrators (or is it “arbiters”?) are provided the material in dispute, and, following clearly delineated guidelines in the “Credits Manual”, they are required to decide the allocation of the writing credits. 

It is hoped that the arbitrators will reach a unanimous decision.  If they don’t, the arbitration’s “Consultant” – who is also a writer – sets up an obligatory teleconference among the three anonymous arbitrators – they are identified only by number – in hopes that, through a “voice-to-voice… to voice” discussion, a unanimous determination can ultimately be achieved. 

Arbitration duties are not entirely without compensation.  Along with the (often mountain of) the material that must be read – arbitrators also receive an appreciative package of M & M’s.

I hate the entire obligation. 

Beginning with the fact that it’s an obligation.  When I was a kid, I would often complain, “I hate ‘haftas!’”  (As in, you “hafta” do something.)  Over they decades, I have determinedly held firm to that dictum.  As with a mind, a negative attitude is a terrible thing to waste.

But of course, there is much more I don’t like about arbitration.  To wit:

The insinuating inducement to surrender your time.  The (often mountain of) material that must be pored over.  Having to talk to strangers on the telephone.  When there is no unanimity, having to staunchly defend my decision to strangers during the teleconference, staving off the majority if I am outnumbered.  

I am not even that crazy about M & M’s.  

Complaining more specifically…

Although many arbitrations are unquestionably legitimate, many of the arbitrations I’ve been involved in – as an arbitrator, none of my own efforts have undergone such a process – seem, to me, transparently frivolous.  I do not know this for sure, but from the looks of things, there appears to be no qualifying standard for demanding an arbitration.  You say “I want one”, and you get one.  Seemingly often, the strategy involved is, “What have I got to lose?”

Either these arbitration demanders are simply “taking a shot”, or – at least many of the participants – appear clueless concerning their chances.  Bordering on delusional.


In my most recent arbitration, “Writer A” (The arbitration participants are also anonymous, to avoid the prejudicing bias of “I always liked that guy” or “That woman once dumped me!”) 

Anyway, “Writer A” was demanding “Story Credit” or at the very least shared “Story Credit”, suggesting justification for a shared “Teleplay Credit” as well.  To support their argument, “Writer A” referred to the clearly-delineated guidelines in the “Credits Manual” relevant to each of those claims.

Having studied the eight separate pieces of material – six of which were complete half-hour teleplays – I determined that “Writer A” merited no credit whatsoever.  Assigning full credit instead to “Writer B.” 

The rationale of my decision? 

The clearly delineated “Credits Manual” guidelines, which “Writer A” relied heavily upon in support of their argument unequivocally invalidated their position.  In every imaginable regard.  It seems weird.  That “Writer A” should rely on those guidelines for support.

Had they not actually read them?

At this point, I should mention that the Writers Guild, through their clearly delineated “Credits Manual” guidelines, poses an extremely high bar for the replacement (or diminishment) of the original (“Writer A’s”) credit by the project’s subsequently recruited re-writers.  (“Writer B”, and so forth down the alphabet.)

I kind of get why they do that.  “Writer A” faced a blank page and got the original creative ball rolling.  There is less writerly empathy for the “cosmetic adjustments” of subsequent re-writers down the line.

However – and I am not quoting here, I am remembering a quote – if “Writer B, etc.” replaces every line of dialogue in “Writer A’s” script, that does not necessarily completely invalidate credit to “Writer A.”  This provision seems to me to place the thumb on the “Scale of Justice” to the distinct – and to me questionable – advantage of “Writer A.”

Finally – the clearly delineated “Credits Manual” guidelines themselves.

Arbitrators are instructed – and are further directed by the guidelines – to exclude any qualitative judgment concerning the submitted material. 

It is irrelevant whose contribution the arbitrator believes to be superior.  All that matters – which is more a quantitative criterion – is whether, in the example under discussion, “Writer B’s” contribution was so great as to virtually eliminate the contribution of “Writer A”, in all of the following categories:

“Dramatic construction, original and different scenes, characterization or character relationships and dialogue.” * (* Not an approximation.  I looked it up.)

If these are the only criteria for determining credit, anybody could decide that.  (Was “Writer A’s” contribution virtually eliminated or wasn’t it?)  Why solicit the involvement of a writer and then rule out the evaluational criteria that make them uniquely suited for the job?

In summary:  I dislike the arbitration process, and I am exasperated by the “Credits Manual” guidelines underlying that process.

“But Mr. Earlo, if you hate it so much, why don’t you say ‘No” when they call you?”

Are you kidding?

I’m in the Writers Guild.

It is an honor to participate.


Nobody ever said that complaining makes sense.

But to a “chronic complainer”...

It is music to my ears.

No comments: