During the last edition of the Lille festival SérieMania, the French Guild of Screenwriters, the SACD, and the French producers’ unions SPI and USPA entered an interprofessional agreement to regulate the conditions of writing of audiovisual works.
The agreement will be effective on 1 July 2023 and applies to contracts between authors-screenwriters and delegate producers of audiovisual works, in live action and not intended for a first cinematographic exploitation.
This agreement does not apply to daily soap opera, short-format fiction series, with episodes of a duration of less than or equal to 6 minutes, and whose annual production volume exceeds 50 episodes, nor interactive or immersive fiction works or works exclusively broadcasted on social networks.
The agreement is very dense and organizes relations between authors-screenwriters and producers, by the creation of general principles and common definitions and the establishment of minimum remunerations for screenwriters.
I – General principles
The agreement details several principles, framing the relationship between screenwriters and producer, as detailed hereunder.
A producer may only present to service publishers projects covered by transfer of rights agreement or a remunerated option contract. It is specified in this regard that an option can only relate to a pre-existing project with a text previously written by a screenwriter.
The producer must specify in the preamble of the first contract relating to a project, concluded with an author who brought the subject of the audiovisual work and the obligations to the establishment of a “genealogical record “of the writing stages retracing all the authors of a project.
The author-creator of an initial bible accepted by a producer has a right of priority for the writing of the complementary bible, the first episode written and/or narrative arches of the audiovisual work,
In the event of a dispute about the audiovisual production contract, the screenwriters and producers will have to resort to a mediation before AMAPA prior any judicial litigations.
II – New lexicon
The agreement incorporates a comprehensive, binding and strictly enforceable lexicon. Thus, the addition to a definition of adjectives (such as « developed », « synthetic » etc. « ) cannot circumvent or change the scope of the given definitions.
The lexicon includes all the stages of writing, with the number of pages and the number of successive versions of each document, as well as on the corrective exchanges between screenwriters and producers (two to three versions per document before communication to the broadcaster). However, the agreement does not require that all the steps of writings to be included in the assignment contract.
The episode pitch or episode argument refers to « a text of no more than one page that briefly formulates the theme, the universe and a plot beginning within the framework defined by the bible of a series or a collection. »
A seasonal trajectory means: « a text of no more than five pages describing without detailing the main narrative steps of a season. »
A synopsis refers to « the text that describes the main plot of the story, from beginning to end, and evokes the main characters and their evolution, without going into details. »
The framing of text formats is also governed by a limit of 3000 characters per page and the maximum number of pages per document is established according to the duration of the episode or the unitary audiovisual work.
For examples, for a synopsis, the minimum number of pages varies from 1 to 13 pages, with maximums of 2 to 16 pages, for a treatment, the minimum number of pages varies from 4 to 19 pages, with maximums of 8 to 29 pages, and does not apply to works of less than 20 minutes.
The initial bible of a series is benefits from a detailed definition and corresponds to a document of 8 to 25 pages, including elements determined by the producer and the author-creator (a single or several authors jointly) among a predefined list of documents including: note of intent, narrative principles, narrative principles, argument of the first episode or list of episode pitches … by distinguishing between series « mostly soap opera » (resolution at the end of the episode) and « mostly closed » (resolution at the end of the season).
The initial bible can also be accompanied by a complementary bible.
Finally, the agreement provides for a definition of the structured writing workshop (SWW) and the conditions for its implementation. It is about the organization of a framework to promote collaboration between authors with reference authors and the organization of writing workshops, at the initiative of the delegate producer after the signing of a development agreement with a broadcaster.
III – Screenwriters’ remunerations
The agreement establishes both a minimum writing envelope (MWE), minimum remuneration for writing of the Bible and imposes remuneration after amortization.
The MWE guarantees the minimum amount allocated to the writing of an audiovisual work. It is established by precise scales and according to the writing methods (SWW or not), the nature of the projects (adapted or not from a pre-existing audiovisual or cinematographic work) and direct hourly expenses.
For example, for writing an original work without WWS, the total amount of the MWE is equal to 3% of direct expenditure on French works of fiction.
The amount of direct expenditure is in any case capped at €1.2 million and minima are introduced. For an original work, the minimum amount of MWE is €27,550 per hour (i.e. €23,833 for a 52-minute work).
The MWE does not apply to works of fiction whose direct expenditure are under €600,000 per hour or to works developed under international co-production if the writing is contracted by a foreign co-producer.
The minimum remuneration to be paid to the author-creator of the bible of an original series depends both on the signing of a development agreement and on the amount of direct hourly expenses of the series.
The minima are established as follows: a strict minimum of €6,000 gross, increased to € 11 000 gross, if a development agreement is signed with a service publisher, increased again to € 20,000, if a series with direct hourly expenses greater than or equal to € 600,000 when the production is launched.
Whether it is the MWE or the remuneration of the Bible, the agreement expressly specifies that the amounts defined are not intended to become a market standard in professional uses and are solely a minimum guarantee for screenwriters.
Finally, the agreement defines and makes mandatory an automatic mechanism of additional remuneration after amortization of the cost of the audiovisual work.
This remuneration consists of an increase in the rate of the screenwriters’ proportional remuneration (excluding remuneration by collective management) and is negotiated by mutual agreement between screenwriter and producer. However, if the author receives another form of additional remuneration, this increase becomes optional.
Considering the wide scope of the agreement and its many specificities, to establish, negotiate or control the legality of the organization of the writing of an audiovisual work and the contractualization with the screenwriters, it is judicious to take advice from a specialized lawyer so that the contractualization of author-producer relations is in accordance with this new agreement.
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