Erica, a 32-year-old screenwriter, has worked on eight Hollywood movies and TV shows over the past 10 years, providing notes, tips and ideas for each project. Her creative co-workers will tell you that she is always a fun place to work and is ready to try anything.
But she earned a total of $ 7,500 for her decade of work ($ 750 per year, before taxes) and she doesn’t have a single writer’s credit – a fact that makes her ineligible for WGA membership or at any opportunity to participate in the benefits of the guild. , including his health insurance plan.
Like too many other disabled screenwriters, Erica is stuck in the “consultant’s trap”.
“Erica” is not a real person, but rather a composite of the all too common experiences of more than a dozen disabled film and television writers who have spoken to us anonymously over the past six months.
In light of these conversations, it’s no wonder that the Writers Guild of America lists writers with disabilities among its least-represented demographic groups: only 0.7% of the guild identifies as disabled, compared with 20% of the American public, a 28x representation gap.
By relying on ad hoc ‘disability consultants’ rather than hiring writers with disabilities as fully integrated members of their creative teams, Hollywood executives, showrunners and producers are only broadening their scope. yawning gap in the representation of disability that pushes this community back off-screen, on-screen and into the real world.
None of this is meant to suggest that consultants are not valuable. They are valuable when they offer specific technical or contextual information – that of a medical consultant, an armaments consultant, a military consultant – which enhances, and not replaces, the skills of existing authors on the project.
But the handicap is not technical or purely medical. It is a deeply felt and fully lived experience – an ingrained identity similar to that of race, gender or sexual orientation.
There are four main problems with the consulting culture: 1) lowest salary; 2) no WGA credits or benefits; 3) delayed engagement; 4) a moral dilemma of surrender.
1) Lowest salary
Many disabled “consultants” – who, it should be noted, are often fully qualified to be credited writers – are offered a fraction of the WGA sanctioned rate for their work. They get paid hundreds of dollars (or sometimes nothing at all) to read a full script and provide notes. Under a WGA contract, a script polish would be valued between a few thousand dollars and over $ 10,000, but writers with disabilities rarely have this opportunity.
2) No WGA credits or benefits
Because consultants are non-union roles, consultants with disabilities often do not receive any WGA credit or benefits for their work. The barriers blocking entry into the WGA are already daunting, and the ability to stay in the guild is already an ongoing challenge, especially for underrepresented writers. Non-union jobs mean no union benefits and no health insurance – a domino effect that may ultimately cause talented disabled writers to withdraw from the industry.
3) Delayed engagement
Most consultants are hired at the end or near the end of the creative process, often just a few weeks before principal photography begins, when the story is almost locked. No matter how problematic a script or piece of on-screen representation can be, there is often little or no time or interest to make changes suggested by a consultant, leaving the impression that companies are hiring. a consultant simply to “stamp” a project written by non-disabled writers.
4) A moral dilemma of surrender
Limited employment opportunities for writers with disabilities already force many talented artists to make a personally difficult decision: reject consulting work and lose the job or accept the job but be underpaid; have no or very little impact on the project; and reinforce a precedent that suggests that talent with disabilities is simply not worth recruiting and fully utilizing. It’s a losing game for the disabled community, even though studios, streamers, networks, and production companies have enough resources to really make a difference.
There is a simple solution to all of the aforementioned challenges: hire writers with disabilities at the start of a project. Recognize them not as one-off consultants, but as valuable, collaborative creators and problem solvers. This applies to both film and television, when characters with disabilities are part of a story and when they are not.
At Inevitable Foundation, we are focused on building a content development pipeline with and for the most talented professional screenwriters in disability film and television. In the process, we built the world’s largest database of professional screenwriters with disabilities and a content development concierge to connect showrunners and creative executives with talented screenwriters for their projects.
Almost every week, we’re asked if we’re consulting on film and TV projects, and our response is always the same: hire our colleagues and peers to write, not our staff to consult. Your project will be richer and advance the careers of underrepresented writers who have a lot to offer a desperate industry looking for new (and profitable!) Prospects.
But that kind of talent costs money – and it’s time for companies and people in positions of power to start paying the price.
Richie Siegel and Marisa Torelli-Pedevska are the founders of the Inevitable Foundation, which funds and mentors mid-career disabled screenwriters. Inevitable Foundation uses identity language first.