Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Team Words

I actually called Writer Guy tonight to talk about the strike. It occurred to me that I have this friend who is on the margins in terms of making his living off writing for Hollywood and that he might have some interesting observations.

To say the least. There is definitely a disconnect between the LA/NYC based writers and those who live elsewhere. He, of course, agrees that the industry is being cagey with "new media" revenues (seriously - Jon Stewart owned that whole argument), but, like my other screenwriter client, has a hard time trusting the Guild. Turns out, Writer Guy had a similar war with the WGA and has his own battle scars.

By way of some background, writing credit is a very big deal in Hollywood, and not just for financial reasons. Yes, you can get a couple of zeros on your paycheck, but it also determines your writing history and deliverability as a writer. I obviously cannot name names, but I have a client who has a proven track record for Disney. Has delivered some sleeper hits, etc. He was called in to do a rewrite for a goddamn true story feature and the original screenwriter (who was twice dismissed for not delivering the story Disney wanted) called foul and wanted a co-credit mention. My guy hadn't even read the original script, as he did his own independent research on the TRUE STORY, but the Guild purports to taking these things seriously.

Except they stacked the deck against my client. First, they give you something insane like 72 hours to appeal a credit decision. Then, if you do make it under the time frame, they send both scripts to three WGA members, who then render the decision as to similarity. Mind you, both scripts were based on actual historical events, so of course there would be similarities. In any event, the WGA not only ruled against my client, who wrote his script from scratch, but also stripped him of any writing credit.

I can understand the Guild's bias towards less (commercially) successful writers, leaving the fate of such decisions in writers with time to spare to analytically examine a script for potential plagarism. Newer writers are often ripped off, and also easy targets for exploitation. Hell, half of my screenwriter clients are new to market and all too willing to sign their rights away, usually ten minutes before they get in touch with me. Writer Guy just told me the terms of the latest screenplay he sold and I completely cringed. He needs an attorney, to say the least.

At the end of the day, for every Paul Haggis or Cameron Crowe (both of whom can get anything greenlit and can often step behind the camera after penning the tale), most of the working writers in Hollywood live from job to job. Yes, sometimes they hit the jackpot, but more often than not, they live in a state of permanent instability.

It is beyond disingenous that the studios would be taking the position that they are, namely, that they don't know if they will make any money from direct downloads. That is clearly where the consumer base is going, as many of us watch goddamn television On Demand, on Tivo or DVR, or we download it to our ipods. If they thought otherwise, they wouldn't be selling advertising for such mediums.

I guess I am so bent because I, as my disastrous blind date remarked, part of the problem. I like films with great writing. Sure, I need good acting, but if there isn't a script worth following, I am bored beyond belief. I hate summer blockbusters. I live for the fall movie season. I can remember a great bit of dialogue longer than I could ever recall an action sequence. And I have a healthy respect and crush on the people who can create that kind of reality.

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