Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Support the Writer's Strike

It's frustrating these days how selfish and greedy we can be as a nation and as individuals. I was loitering about on TV.com checking out to see which of my shows were being canceled (4400 was the biggie so far) and the comments just astounded me. People are coming down on the writers because their shows aren't on the air. As if this is all the fault of the writers.

I'm dumbfounded that people are able to get up and go to work everyday and not be able to relate to the writers and their reason for striking.

If you've paid any attention to the strike information, you'll see there are actors and directors supporting the strike as well. Why? Well, aside from their belief that it's the right thing to do, their contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have not expired yet, but will in the near future, and you can bet they want the same deal the writers are hoping to get. It's in their best interest to let the writers pay the big price here (in public opinion and view) so that when their contracts are reviewed, it's a smoother transaction.

If you read the AMPTP's website, they're taking it from the perspective of, "look what the writers are causing! All these people losing money and jobs and the fans don't get their tv shows. Just look! It's all the fault of the writers!" Well, if you look back a couple hundred years, you get the same perspective from King George in England when talking about our good ol' US of A.

I read one user who actually said, "and don't give me that old argument that without the writers there'd be no TV (or films) because you could say the same about actors and directors, too. Without them, they'd be no TV shows either. Hmmm... While in essence, it does take actors, directors and writers to make TV/film, I am sticking to the argument that without somebody to write the story, there is no reason for the others. While actors and directors (and producers) really do need somebody to actually write a story, writers don't really need actors and directors to gain an audience. Screenplays are read for pleasure all the time. In fact, we have something referred to as a "book" or "novel" that seems to have acquired some attention over the last couple thousand years.

Bottom line is the writers create the stories and, because of the Hollywood system, are required to sell their script to the studio in order to get it produced and made. Thus, they get paid once for their work. However, the AMPTP gets paid on multiple fronts throughout the life of the show/film. It's only fair that all the participants share in the profits. Now before some whack job goes off, we're talking about a small percentage for the writers (and probably actors directors, depending on the deal they strike when their contracts renew). All the writers are asking for is a small share - I don't even think it would qualify as a fair share, but hey, it's all they're asking for at this time.

Another person blasted, "well, if the AMPTP are the ones putting up all the money for the shows/films, why shouldn't they get all the profits?" Well. That'd be fine if the writers got paid a larger amount at the sale of the script, but the fact of the matter is that the AMPTP are protecting themselves by structuring the deal as it is. It allows them to pay the writers a small amount and only payoff more if the film/show does well. If it doesn't...no more. If they paid up front for the scripts, then they could lose money if the show/film didn't succeed as well as they'd hoped.

In the old days, writers could be hired by a studio and paid a salary. Everything they wrote was an assignment or on spec, but owned by the studio. These days, it's proven much cheaper to contract out to any writer they want, that way, they can hire/fire them at will, depending on their desires at the time. This has led to a sporadic work life for most writers. They are depending on the small percentages they get after a film sale to keep them afloat financially until the next time they sell something.

The public and critics cannot bitch about the quality of tv/film, then bitch that the writers are screwing them over when they're asking for fair wages. I don't know of anybody who would voluntarily give up wages for work. I know there are idiots willing to give work away for free when they have no financial or personal obligations, but that's not the same thing. When you need to feed your family and put a roof over their and your head, every penny counts and if it's your talent that is bringing in the bacon to the studio, you deserve a fair share.

This argument is closely related to the bitching argument you hear from jealous sports spectators complaining about the salaries of major athletes. These players who many times only get about 5-10 years for their career and then afterwards are physically disabled due to the heavy pounding they take during their career. While not all of them are practically disabled, they all don't make the huge salaries either. You won't see many with 20 years of playing service though. I bet I can find more CEO's bringing down multi-million dollar salaries for longer than athletes. Fact is, it was Jordan that filled the areas. It's T.O. (and the like) that fill the stadium, not the owners or the coaches - the players - and they deserve a piece of that huge financial pie.

Getting back to tv/film, take a look at what writers are paid in comparison to actors or directors, then come back and tell me that it's their fault. There has been 1 (one) ONE script I've ever seen sell for $4 million. Fifteen years ago Arnold was getting $15 million for a movie. I don't even look at the salaries of today's film stars. The cast from Friends was getting $1 million per episode. Think the writers were getting that an episode? While the cast had a lot to do with the success of the show, I believe somebody put those words in their mouths in the first place. This is not a chicken or the egg argument. The writers came first. No writers. No show. The actors could have been anybody and we'd have the same chance of success. And I do say "chance" of success. Nobody can guarantee anything and there's no telling if a different case would have changed anything.

If you want the full details, go and visit the WGA site and read for yourself. If you just don't have the time, just read this FAQ for the most asked questions and see that the writers are David, not Goliath in this fight. The AMPTP is doing all they can to smear the WGA and the writers in an attempt to punish them and maximize their profits at the expense of the creative talent in Hollywood.

Bitching about you TV shows not being on right now is like bitching about all the stores closing down as the Jews were taken off to concentration camps. Do us all a favor and think before you bitch.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is all that old stuff just crap?

So, I'm all cranked up, after Unk whipped me into a screenwriting frenzy, to write a new entry when I sit down and catch (unintentionally) a documentary (Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies (2001) on Marion Davies. Watching bits and pieces of her performances led me to dig deeper into my reasons for not watching all the golden oldies. I've still never seen A Wonderful Life all the way through and have little interest in seeing many of the older films that have garnered so much acclaim (i.e. Citizen Kane).

I started thinking about what it was that turned me off some of these old films and came to the conclusion that I'm just not relating to many of them. Now, a lot of these films have universal themes, you say, so how can I not relate? Well... I think it's a little of me and a little of the times they were made. I was reading the current Script and they are talking to Robert Osbourne about the Oscars and their history. He mentions that Mrs. Miniver was a great film, but that to truly appreciate the film, you need to put yourself in their perspective. That is - we'd just entered the war and everybody was terrified we'd be invaded.

Over time, our values change as humans. It's why it's difficult to appreciate the finer, perhaps character defining moments of specifically the older films, foreign films and perhaps some of the newer independent films. Mainstream Hollywood caters to the largest common denominator, so odds are, if you're an average individual, you at least "get" the movie. Liking it may be another story, however. Yet, with these other films, you just may not "get" them. If you don't understand where the characters in a movie are coming from - what's driving them - it's hard to invest yourself in their plight. And if you're not emotionally invested in the characters, I guarantee you won't think much of the film.

Thinking back to the older films, what takes me out of them immediately is the society. While I understand that all films are not "real life", when you put in Narnia, you don't expect anything close to real life, however, when you toss in, say, The Seven Year Itch, which is based in our real world, you expect to relate. However, in the opening, we have a man sending his family off on vacation and staying home. Now, while I'm sure there are families like that, mine is not one, and I'm going to guess after seeing all the families on my vacation, most don't these days.

There are little things in the film that just remind you that this is not from your time - the attitude towards people or things, the jargon used at the time, the innocence of some of the characters. Rarely do you see an adult portrayed as possessing any innocence these days - even Nell was more savage than wide-eyed positivity. Our times today are defined by sarcasm, bittersweet, the unfairness of life instead of over the top romance or wackiness.

What does all this point to? That as writers, we need to be conscious of our audience and as an audience (or reader) we need to try and put ourselves in the time of the writing in order to immerse ourselves in the story. A good story is told from a universal perspective - we still fear, love, hate, strive to succeed, are jealous of the achievements of others. Find themes that mean something to you and then put characters people can relate to into those stories.

Science fiction has a difficult time connecting with people due to it's inherent fictionalization of just about everything, but one story set far, far away in another galaxy caught the attention of millions of people and is still popular today; Star Wars capitalized on universal themes and characters who, while we were unable to relate to the specific needs, we were able to relate to their story needs (falling in love, growing up to be successful, stopping the bad guy, learning new skills, finding your family).

The more universal your character needs, the better chance you have of connecting to your audience.