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WGAE Looks to Get in on Digital Ground Floor

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Better to be early to the party than late. That's the attitude of the Writers Guild of America, East, which announced Tuesday that it has signed deals with 11 companies creating new content for digital-media. The signatories, producers of Web series with titles such as "The Temp Life" and "Hedge Fund," may not be household names, but guild executive director Lowell Peterson believes that the deals represent an opportunity to establish a guild presence in a corner of the media world that is growing quickly and still taking shape.

"We're getting in, maybe not right at the beginning, but near the beginning," Peterson said. "It's a very different approach. We're not just waiting until people get hired, then going in and negotiating their contracts. There's nothing wrong with that. That's still most of our work, of course. But here, it's a very different mindset, one that allows for a lot more flexible thinking, and listening as well as talking."

The new signings are part of the guild's Writers Guild 2.0 initiative, developed to strengthen the guild's presence in digital media. (The term "new media," according to Lowell, is "an anachronism," as its newness is long since past.) The program's origins can be traced back to the 2007-2008 writers' strike, where new-technology issues were brought to the forefront of conversations between creators and producers.

"I think it caught the public's imagination that writers were trying to get their hands around the whole concept of what's happening with the Internet, and how is that going to affect the way people make a living," Lowell said. "That affects a lot of people, not just writers in TV and movies. It affects people in banks, insurance companies. People in all walks of life are trying to grapple with similar issues."

The guild is taking a look at how it can play a role in some of those walks of life. Beyond Web-series producers, the WGAE is keeping a close eye on creators of content for cell phones, mobile devices and video games.

Lowell admits that many of the new signatories are not yet operating with significant budgets or making significant money for their efforts. But he sees them as part of a grass-roots effort that is helping to shape the future of media.

"There are all kinds of possibilities that we're discovering as we dig into this stuff," Lowell said. "We want to be present in all of them."

Writers and creators for the new WGAE signatories will participate in a panel discussion, "From Words to Code: Surviving as a Writer in the Digital World," Sept. 30 at the Paley Center for Media in New York. For more information, visit wgaeast.org.

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