The invention of home video and prerecorded films did more than rearrange Americans' leisure patterns. It also provided a new source of income for some playwrights and songwriters whose works were adapted from the stage to the screen. For years, those royalties have poured into an office overseen by the Dramatists Guild and (to a lesser extent) by the League of American Theatres and Producers. Unfortunately, recent inquiries unearthed what Dramatists Guild President John Weidman called "a backlog of payments" that should have poured back out of the office and into the pockets of the authors.
Weidman does not publicly speculate on the extent of the money in question, which is being held in a non-interest bearing escrow account. He told Back Stage Mon., Oct. 30, "We all want the get the money transferred to the members; everyone's interests are identical in getting this taken care of." Several obstacles stand in the way of a speedy resolution, chief among them that the office of "negotiator," which collects and distributes the payments generated by stage-to-screen transfers, has been empty.
Weidman said an agreement between the League and the Guild stipulates that both organizations must agree on who will fill the position, which was held for many years by Edward Colton. Attorney Ron Feiner held the post after Colton retired in the spring of 2000, but that appointment was always understood to be temporary, and Feiner has already tendered his resignation. Because of the backlog, Colton has agreed to help disbursing the funds, but the process is slow going because in most of the unresolved cases the playwrights or their representatives have died, moved, or left the business.
Authors and heirs who believe they are due back royalties may write to Colton at the Dramatists Guild, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.