Everything you need to know about joining the Writers Guild of America.
There are very few things in the entertainment industry with a guide of how to achieve something. It always appears as though you need to “know” someone or have luck, but when it comes to joining the WGA, the rules are thankfully very clear.
To become a Writers Guild of America member, you need to have a certain amount of credits and pay an annual fee. But there are a few other options if you don’t quite make the threshold, and we’ll go through them all so you have a clear understanding of your options.
Many assume there’s only one level of membership with the WGA, but there are four. Current membership is the one you’ve likely heard of, and it can take up to three years to acquire, and you have to continue to work to maintain it, but there are other memberships for those working towards or taking a break from screenwriting.
To gain the standard membership, a writer must have acquired at least 24 units (which are based on credits, explained further below) in three years or less, and pay an initiation fee of $2,500, plus annual dues, which is 1.5% of gross writing income plus $25. This membership provides writers with contractual protections, gives pension and health benefits, determines credits, handles grievance and arbitration for contract disputes, provides collective strength in the bargaining process, and offers educational opportunities, legislation, and outreach. They can also run in guild elections.
For those working towards gaining a current membership, you might consider an Associate Membership. You must have less than 24 units in three years (once you hit the 24 unit threshold, you can apply for the current membership) and pay $100 per year for the annual fee. These members receive all the mailings, communications, and WGAW publications that current members receive, can serve on certain Guild committees, receive a reduced rate for script registration, attend guild screenings at the WGA theater, and participate in any employment access program administered by the guild.
Post-Current & Emeritus Membership
If associate members are on the path to becoming current members, post-current members are on the opposite end. They’re members who no longer qualify for current membership but still would like to receive some of the benefits. They receive the same offers that the associate membership provides. Post-current members may also receive awards screeners.
Emeritus membership is for writers who do not qualify for current or post-current membership. However, the WGA site does not go into the annual fees or benefits offered to these members.
Units and Credits
The WGA determines credits for films, television, and new media projects, but you can estimate how long it will take to earn the units required to receive membership. You do not have to be a WGA member to be staffed on a film or television project. However, if you think you should’ve received credit (and units) for a project, you can reach out to the WGA for assistance. You should never worry about feeling as though they’ll ignore or not help you if you’re not an official member yet. The people at the WGA are extremely helpful, and they want you to be a successful writer and are there to help make that happen.
You receive a certain number of credits for each professional writing assignment, intending to reach 24 units in under three years. If staffed on a network television series (with 13-22 episodes a season), you can hit this goal fairly quickly, but it may take longer for other writers.
Two Units: You receive two units for each week of employment under the Guild’s jurisdiction on a week-to-week basis. Therefore, you’ll gain these units for each week worked if hired on a weekly series. A ten or more episode series, with a few weeks to prep at the beginning, will likely have you hitting 24 units as soon as you finish the season.
Three Units: You receive three units for writing the story for a radio or television program that is under 30 minutes long. This is important if you work in podcasts, which more production companies are diving into, or receive story credit but not the script credit on a project.
Four Units: You will receive four units for a story credit on a short film, or the story of a radio or television program, or breakdown for a non-primetime serial (think daytime TV or streaming) that is 30-60 minutes long.
Six Units: The WGA will give you up to six units for a television or radio script under 30 minutes long (they break it down into 5-minute increments), a television format for a new series, or a “Created By” credit.
Eight Units: The story for a radio or television program or breakdown for a non-primetime serial 60-90 minutes long nets you eight units. You also receive eight units for a script for a short film, radio play, or teleplay that is 30-60 minutes long.
12 Units: A story for a 90-minute (or longer) radio or television program, or a 90 minute or longer screenplay, or a breakdown for a 90-minute non-primetime serial will get you 12 units. You can also receive 12 units for radio or teleplay between 60 and 90 minutes long.
24 Units: To receive 24 units (and grab WGA membership in one swoop), you need to be credited on a script for a feature-length film, radio, or teleplay, all 90 minutes or longer. You can also receive 24 units for a long-term project, such as a story bible for a series that is at least four hours long.
A Rewrite: If you rewrite a script, you receive half the units you would receive if you wrote the entire script. Therefore, writing a film script nets you 24 units, so a rewrite of that same script would net you 12 units.
A Polish: A script polish garners ¼ the number of units allotted. Therefore, a feature screenplay polish is worth six units.
An Option: Many scripts are written and optioned but never produced. In this instance, a writer receives half the number of units normally allotted, up to eight units. So a feature script is worth 24 units produced, but optioned would be half of 24, putting the writer at 12 units. However, the maximum for a year is eight, so ultimately, the writer receives eight units. If the option expires and the writer nabs an option from another production company, they do not receive another eight credits. When the script finally sells, the writer will receive the remaining units to hit 24 units total. So if you option in one year, you’ll receive the eight units, and when it sells the following year, you’ll receive the other 16 units.
Ultimately, if you are overwhelmed by the process of understanding the units, or even the payments, you can always call the WGA who can help walk you through the process. The organization is there to help writers and provides great resources for writers at all levels of their careers, whether they’re members or not.