Monday, August 29, 2016

Jonathan Fernandez 2016 WGA Candidate Statement

Two years after the film I wrote was released, the green envelopes stopped arriving in my mailbox. I went to the WGA website and looked up my residuals. The website offers a powerful tool. You can check your payments by year, by project, by source of revenue – DVDs, streaming, domestic tv.
Scrolling through my payments for Rob the Mob, I saw that my foreign television residuals were... zero.

If I had earned just a nickel, I would have let it go. But could the film really not have had one single foreign tv sale? It seemed unlikely. So dear reader...

I called the Guild.

Amy McGill, a Residuals Collections Administrator at the WGA, said yes, zero foreign tv sales seemed improbable. She said I had called at the perfect time. Two years after the release there were still revenues coming in. If I had waited another year, the cash would have slowed to a trickle and there would be no recourse. Amy called the producers. And suddenly –
I started receiving checks.

At a Board Meeting a few weeks later, Chuck Slocum made a presentation about the improvements to the Guild’s website. I thought about my nonexistent foreign tv residuals and I asked Chuck, “Can this be done automatically? Is there a way to scan EVERY film and look for anomalies – not just zero balances but residuals that seem way too low for what they should be. Could the Guild do this for every member?” And Chuck said...


I am a current Board member running for re-election. I ran last time because I believe middle-class writers needed a voice on the Board. In the last two years, I have used my personal experiences to advocate for all writers.

On the last negotiating committee, David Young asked what could be done for screenwriters. I said double the script fees from $5,000 to $10,000. We bargained for it. We got it.

This election matters. This Board will lead the WGA into the 2017 negotiations. There is much work to be done. Here are my priorities:

RAISE MINIMUMS. Minimums affect us all. They set the bar for our earnings in everything from per episode fees to residuals.

SECURE OUR HEALTH CARE. Obamacare has done many great things for many people in our country. It also has had some not so great things for our health plan. By increasing the dependent coverage age to 26, the Guild suddenly has a lot more people on our rolls. By guaranteeing mental health parity (something I think is great) our expenses in that category have gone up by over 80%.
There are a few ways to solve this problem. Cutting our benefits. Increasing the fees our members pay. Looking for places to reduce costs. Or increasing employer contributions. The six major media companies posted a record $49 billion in profits last year. A fraction of one percent of those profits would put the plan in the black. Problem solved.

PENSIONS. After diverting funds from the last negotiations and with the help of the stock market recovering after the 2008 crash, our plan is back in the green zone. Let’s keep it there.

COMMUNICATION. Most retirement plans have a penalty for retiring early. Ours doesn’t. Did you know that? I didn’t. There’s lots of information (and more dangerously mis-information) out there about the health and pension plans. While the Board doesn’t directly control the Pension and Health Plans it does have influence. The Plan needs to keep members better informed.

DIVERSITY. Do you know how many WGA members are Latino? Statistically insignificant. In a city that is 50% Latino, the number of Latinos in the WGA doesn’t hit 1%. And the number of African-Americans and Asians isn’t much better. What can be done? Well, I can tell you what is being done.

ACCESS. The Latino Writers Committee, under the amazing leadership of outgoing chair Maria Escobedo and incoming chair Daniel Dominguez and Vice Chair Evette Vargas, has led a series of mixers to put Latino writers in front of showrunners, executives, and producers. The programs have been a huge success. Working with Tery Lopez, we have created a system that can now be used by all the diversity committees.

CONTINUING EDUCATION. Our strongest asset is our members. Our members can effect change in a way that no other group can. Carleton Eastlake has run seminars on financial planning for writers. Billy Ray and Craig Mazin have run great mini-courses for screenwriters. If you haven’t taken one, you should. If you have something to teach other members, speak to the Guild and set one up.

The Guild needs to promote GLOBAL EMPLOYMENT. Wherever a member works – the Guild should be right there with them. Increasingly, our members are working for foreign-based entities. WGA writers need to be guaranteed WGA wages wherever they work.

BASIC CABLE PARITY. There’s no excuse that writers on basic cable shows aren’t paid the same as network writers. This was a break that cable networks were given to help them get started. It’s been forty years. They’re started. This negotiation cycle this issue needs to be settled.
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The 25% QUESTION. When I started in Hollywood, my agents at ICM negotiated my deals and did the legal work all for a 10% commission. Twenty years later, I still pay my agents 10% but now I also pay my attorney a 5% fee and my manager a 10% fee. I don’t know too many writers who can afford to give away 25% of their income and yet... many of us do. I don’t know the answer to this question but I think it’s something we all need to discuss.

I have worked in Hollywood for over twenty-five years. I started as Roger Corman’s assistant, answering his telephones and bailing his dog out of the Santa Monica Pound. The first feature I wrote predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union. NPR and CNN interviewed me wanting to know how I predicted in a Corman movie something that the CIA had missed. I’ve produced movies for Dino de Laurentiis and spent many years working as a film executive. My childhood dream came true when I wrote for Star Trek: Enterprise. I am a Harvard graduate who worked in Argentina as a reporter for the Associated Press.

I am not the richest writer in the Guild. But I am a working writer, who has had many good years and a few horrible ones. As so many of us have over the last few years, I have been forced to re-invent myself.

I started off as a tv movie writer (I predicted the end of the world in Y2K.). I have written on staff as a television writer, I have written pilots for networks and basic cable. I have written features for the major studios. My last film was a New York Indie. And now I am writing an eight-episode limited series for ABC. It makes me laugh because ‘limited series’ sounds so fancy – but really, I’m just back where I started writing tv movies.

I humbly ask for your vote. In exchange, I promise to fight for all writers. 

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