For a long time, it had been felt that the Film Writers’ Association must assess and re-evaluate itself to cope with the fast-changing scenario of the Indian and international film and television industry. It had to update its ways of working to face the new challenges of the media and entertainment industry. And this required not only amendments to the Constitution of the Film Writers’ Association but also a name change to include writers and lyricists writing not only for film but largely for television and now even for digital media.
This involved documenting and double-checking the validity of all proposals to amend clauses, doing independent research by scouring though relevant laws like the Trade Unions Act, the Bombay Shops and Establishments Act, Indian Trusts Act, etc, and consulting a legal expert. It took months of time and effort by the Executive Committee in general and the Constitution Amendment Sub-Committee in particular. Finally, in a Special General Body Meeting held on July 17, 2016, the amended Constitution and the new name – Screenwriters Association – were approved unanimously by the members present. The Registrar of Trade Unions also gave its certificate of approval, as recently as August, 2016. So, officially, the Film Writers’ Association (FWA) is now Screenwriters Association (SWA).
Organisational changes to make FWA more professional include:
1.Recruiting more staff and not depending on honorary, busy, practising members to give their time for routine office work but hiring professionals to execute the vision of the honorary members elected by the FWA members
2.Redefining roles of office bearers in the light of new organisational changes
3.Formation of a Copyright Society to monitor members’ work, collect royalties and distribute
4.Bringing producers’ associations like IMPAA, the Guild, the IFTPC and others to the negotiating table to sign on the Minimum Basic Contract
5.Bringing the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and, through it, the satellite channels to the negotiating table to sign on the Minimum Basic Contract for television screenwriters and come to mutually acceptable terms on royalties from TV channels for the interim period until the government forms the Copyright Board and decides the percentages for royalties for both film and television, and for both screenwriters and lyricists.
6.Increasing interaction with other international guilds for cooperation and mutual benefit on various areas, creative and commercial, including workshops, seminars, protection of Indian screenwriters rights in USA, protection of WGA members’ rights in India, exchange of writers, participation in conferences, workshops, seminars. Increased participation and cooperation with International Affiliation of Writers Guilds (IAWG) and the World Conference of Screenwriters (WCOS).
7.For the Welfare Committee, allocating more funds to increase the base, increase the number of beneficiaries of pensions, medical help, educational help.
8.Finding new ways to get resources within the limitations of the trade union status.
9.Organising more workshops and events for film and television screenwriters and lyricists to help them improve their craft and interact with professional screenwriters. For example, selecting a well-known screenwriter and analysing their work for the benefit of members. Holding such sessions in a bigger space than the office and, if necessary, charging a nominal fee.
10.Mentorship by senior screenwriters for a fee which goes into FWA funds.
11.Making the library user-friendly for screenwriters by adding more books, periodicals and screenplays of good films and television shows from around the world. Starting an archive of memorable screenplays.
12.Holding screenings and discussions of films with filmmakers.
13.Increasing the scope of the Constitution to include the changing roles and responsibilities of the FWA.
14.Expanding the services of the website, which now attracts 8-900,000 visitors a year. Adding more columns, more features. Making it more interactive. Making it self-supporting.
15.Bringing writers of regional languages like Marathi, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali under the FWA umbrella and addressing their grievances.
16.Reaching out to members beyond Mumbai. Opening branches in other towns where films are made, if FWA resources permit.
17.Getting television writers better contractual deals, whether it is release forms or agreements, grievances or welfare.
18.Making the Dispute Settlement Committee stronger, giving it more teeth. Following up with the Federation of Western India Cine Employees to be more regular, assertive. Conclusions and decisions of the Dispute Settlement Committee of the Film Writers’ Association have been so effective that even the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court, in their judgments in cases of copyright violations of our members, have found it necessary to acknowledge, and I quote, ‘Though the Film Writers’ Association is not a tribunal and its decision may not have force of law, it has a persuasive value when we consider grant of interim relief. Ultimately the Association comprises of the writers who being in the profession itself are equipped to ascertain whether there is any plagiarism.”
19.Re-examining the election process and reforming the AGM for better, more transparent and peaceful elections. Starting in 2014, the elections are now held through EVMs for quick and transparent results.
20.Appointing lawyers and law firms that understand the problems of our members better. The Film Writers’ Association now has two legal advisors on monthly retainership, to advise its members on contracts.
21.Bringing the writer to centrestage in the industry, make his presence felt everywhere – industry events, award functions, the media, internet, in fact across the public domain.
22.Formulating a media policy and making a conscious effort to boost PR and visibility in the media.
23.Holding a pitch-fest for FWA members.
24.Implementing the newly amended Constitution and publicising the new name and identity – Screenwriters Association.