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EXCLUSIVE: With the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike entering its second month in the U.S., writers and filmmakers around the world are taking note of how these issues play out in their own countries.
In India, home to several big film industries and an OTT production boom, local talent agency Tulsea and data firm Ormax Media have conducted a survey of Indian writers that reveals fault lines across several areas.
While 65% of surveyed writers said pay levels have improved in recent years, 63% believe they are not being paid fairly, with timeliness of payments impacting 47% of writers directly.
The survey, ‘The Right Draft: 2023’, also found that 53% of writers are dissatisfied with the credit they receive for their work, with that figure rising to as much as 80% for credits in some areas of marketing and promotion.
Other areas explored by the survey include quality and timeliness of feedback; the importance that producers place on scripts vis-à-vis stars in the theatrical and OTT industries; the growth of writers’ rooms; and access to mentoring, grievance redressal and other forms of industry support.
“Some results matched our expectations, some startled us,” said Tulsea’s Radhika Gopal in a prologue to the report. “On the positive side, across a few parameters, the writers we surveyed did note that things are better than they used to be a few years ago.
“However, overall the message is clear – there is much that we, as an industry, need to do to make our writers feel truly empowered, valued, enabled, and respected.”
The survey was conducted with 217 film and series writers in India, working across Hindi, English and South Indian-language projects, of which 70% were male and 30% female. Writers aged between 31-40 were the biggest age group at 44%.
The writers were also asked if they believed a hybrid pay model – comprising a mix of fixed pay and incentive/bonus – would motivate them to do better work and create a stronger sense of ownership of the project. While 91% of surveyed writers agreed, less than a third had ever been part of a contract negotiation where such terms were discussed.
Writers also said the quality of feedback varies enormously across the parties they received it from – with directors and showrunners providing the best feedback, but low levels of satisfaction with the feedback provided by production houses, OTT platforms and TV channels.
However, the OTT boom does appear to be having a positive impact in terms of the value placed on scripts and the rise of the writers’ room. The survey found that 76% of writers believe OTT platforms value scripts more than or equally to stars, while only 10% think that is the case with theatrical producers.
When asked if writers’ rooms enable exchange of ideas and lead to better quality of work, 74% of writers either strongly or somewhat agreed, while only 5% strongly disagreed.
In other findings, only 30% of writers believe they have access to good mentors in the industry, and only 37% said they have access to relevant industry bodies for grievance addressal. When asked if they’d faced discrimination in their careers, 37% of writers agreed, with gender/sexuality, mostly against women, the biggest cause of discrimination.
Commenting on the report, showrunner and writer Sudip Sharma (Paatal Lok) said: “The Ormax-Tulsea Writers Report reconfirms what I, as a screenwriter working for the last two decades, feel on an intuitive level about the state of screenwriters and screenwriting in the Hindi film industry. A lot has changed over these years, mostly for the better, and yet, there are significant areas in which we still lag behind Hollywood, especially important issues like performance linked payments, credits, and recognition.”
Sunayana Kumari, whose writing credits include Dahaad and Berlinale Series entry Brown, said: “While I might have romanticised the idea of being a journeyman, in all honesty, we need an overhaul. There needs to be a shift in attitude towards writers, and a system where writers are not only compensated and credited fairly but also championed. Less, ‘can you give us what we want?’ and more, ‘what is it that you want to say and how do you want to say it?’ please.
“I’ve also been noticing a pattern in our industry,” Kumari continued. “There’s a tendency to sideline writers after their work is over. Our shows will get a lot better if the writers are also able to enjoy the success of something that they’ve helped create.”
India’s Screenwriters Association (SWA) recently expressed its support for the WGA strike and is in the process of drafting a Minimum Basic Contract for its members and initiating negotiations with producers on standard clauses.