News & Cues: Coming soon – Minimum basic agreement for screenwriters in India

Earlier this year, discussions on the drafting of a minimum basic agreement (MBA) for Bollywood scriptwriters arose between representatives from the Film Writers Association (FWA) and the Film and Television Producers Guild of India (Film and TV Guild).  Initiated at the Third Screen Writers Conference held in February, 2013 in Mumbai the discussions actually mark the beginning of a very important era for screenwriters in the Indian entertainment industry.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of josef.stuefer
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of josef.stuefer

Wait, minimum basic agreement for what?

The purpose of the minimum basic agreement is to ensure certain basic safeguards to screenwriters – the three most important of these being;

(1)  securing the payment of a minimum fee to screenwriters commissioned to work on a project;

(2)  the proper attribution and visibility of screenwriter credits and

(3)  preventing the undue termination of a screenwriter’s services, once he or she has begun work on a project.

So are things really that bad?

Several Indian screenwriters, famous and new, have gone on record to say that the Indian television-movie industry can prove to be a rather complicated place to be in. Rampant plagiarism among writers coupled with the exploitation of new writers paints a very bleak picture for aspiring screenwriters. Add to this, the unruly practice of arbitrary termination of writers and the misattribution or complete negligence of writer’s credits, and it’s easy to understand why screenwriters in India are facing such a tough time with their work.

Minimum Basic Agreement…hmm, where have I heard that before?

If the idea of a minimum basic agreement for screenwriters sounds familiar, you might’ve heard about it in the context of collective bargaining and the Writers Guild of America (East and West) or the WGA. The WGA minimum basic agreement is a constant source of debate in Hollywood and for good reason too – the agreement determines a number of issues for screenwriters including monetary compensation, writer’s credits, working conditions, the prevention of strikes, grievance resolution methods, pension and even health policies. But debated or not, the WGA minimum basic agreement has played a huge role in influencing the American television-movie industry, and has certainly proven that the screenwriters of the American television-movie industry are indeed a force to reckon with.

Right, so it worked with the WGA, but what does the minimum basic agreement actually mean in India?

Negotiating and drafting the minimum basic agreement is a big nod towards the screenwriter community’s acknowledgment of the power of collective bargaining. Promoting the practice of collective bargaining has really been one of the champion causes of the FWA – an association that has been working on safeguarding screenwriter’s rights since the 1950s. Although the FWA is working on the minimum basic agreement meant for Bollywood screenwriters, there’s no doubt that the negotiations will greatly influence discussions between screenwriters and producers in other regional television-movie industries across the country.

In other words, a conclusive minimum basic agreement as decided by the FWA and the Writers Guild of India through their negotiations with the various Producer associations across the country can spell the end of undue screenwriter exploitation in the Indian entertainment industry. In turn, this could also whip up the entertainment industry in India in a way that affects all entertainment professionals – not just screenwriters.

A recent email and phone conversation with the FWA confirms that negotiations of the minimum basic agreement are still underway, but they are hoping to finalize things this year. If you’d like to know more about minimum basic agreements, collective bargaining or entertainment unions then do go ahead and leave a comment or get in touch.

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