Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meeting Flurry!

Nothing like those McDonald's milkshake things.

Screenwriters are part outlaw. Other people punch a time clock or have some set hours where they have to be at work - screenwriters can pretty much show up whenever they want to and do as much or little work as they feel like doing. We are freelancers. I joke that I don’t do mornings, but that’s kind of true. Unless I have a meeting, I’m sleeping until 10am and then lounging around drinking coffee until around noon, then I think about riding my bike to some coffee shop and doing a little work. Hey, and if I’m up all night doing something, I may not wake up until noon! I can work whenever I want, do whatever I want... and there’s no one to fire me because I’m self employed!

All of that outlaw freedom comes with a price - no regular pay checks. The worst part about being a freelancer is that you might write a whole stack of spec scripts... and sell none of them! And if you do sell one, there is no guarantee that you will ever sell another. A screenwriter I know sold a script for big money, it was in the trades and two top starts were fighting over playing the lead... and that was it. They never made the movie, and after a bunch of meetings and assignments that never got made, well... people forgot who he was. There was a whole new bunch of new screenwriters to take his place. The new writers got the assignments he had been getting, and that big name agent who signed him has some of those new writers and my friend ended up back at square one, having to break in all over again.

That’s the tough part about being a screenwriter - no regular pay checks, no job security, and about half of the WGA is unemployed every year. When you get that big check, you have to bank it because odds are next year you will get nothing. That Ferrari you dreamed of buying? Well, better to save the money and keep driving the old Toyota.

At the end of every year I am amazed and thankful that I have managed to make a living as a screenwriter... and wonder how the hell I’m going to make a living writing next year.

The past couple of years have had additional obstacles: the WGA strike, the potential SAG strike, and just when you thought it was safe... the financial meltdown.

In 2008:

My post strike airplane project crashes and burns before I get paid... though I have half the script finished by then on the promise of a contract being put together. There’s a long story here - but the statute of limitations has not passed yet. But I now own half of a cool script called AIR FORCE ONE DOWN, if anyone is interested.

My Hawaii project gets postponed due to a potential SAG strike... and doesn’t get made. No production bonus, but I do get a basic screenplay fee, and that covers expenses for the year. Hey, I can eat!

An action script I began writing for a producer fell apart right away - before I was paid a cent! That was kind of a pisser, because I really liked the idea. I think much of this was due to bad economy kicking in.

Several other projects also do not happen - great for my post strike bank account! You always want to be ahead, so that you can relax and be picky about projects... not just have the expenses for one year covered so you are always scrambling for work.

But at the end of 2008 I manage to snag this top secret studio remake gig. The good news is that it looks like the basic expenses of 2009 are covered by this gig... the better news is that the production bonus is nice... The best news is that this is a high profile project and the moment it his the trades, my phone will start ringing.

In 2009:

My top secret studio remake... seems to stall out. After a pretty exciting few months where I was walking red carpets and seeing a movie every week *starring* one of a series of actors attached to the project, things just slowed down. The producer had 2 films released in 2009 and has many things going on, and I think my project just fell through the cracks as he focused on other things.

The biggest problem with this is not the money as much as the *heat*. Because the producer had not announced this project, I kept it quiet... and that means no one has any idea that I wrote this script. If it had been in Variety and Hollywood Reporter, it would have generated a bunch of meetings and that would have generated some jobs, and that would have generated another paycheck... but nada. When the project stalled out, it took a bunch of future screenwriting jobs with it.

It was difficult to get anything going because of the bad economy - box office records this year, but no money available to finance movies!

Had a couple of projects crash and burn because the producers wanted to buy my script and make a movie... but there was no money available to do that. Lots of people *wanted* to buy my scripts, they just couldn’t afford to.

I began watching the stock market every day... hoping it would go up so that producers had money to buy scripts.

I went to AFM, and it was a ghost town - no one seemed to be looking for scripts or screenwriters, they needed to sell the movies they made last year before thinking about making any new movies. Usually AFM generates some interest in scripts and some meetings that might eventually turn into deals the next year. Even if they don’t turn into deals, they keep me out there in the world and somewhere some screenwriting gig surfaces. But this year - nada. Would 2010 be a bust for me? 2009 was looking so good! I thought the top secret studio sequel would be a big career changer... but it just stalled out!

So, here we are going into 2010, and I have no idea where my next check is coming from. At Raindance I met an Italian producer who said, “We should work together”, but doesn’t everyone say that?

Then, some strange things happened a couple of weeks ago, resulting in a flurry (not the McDonald's milkshake thing) of meetings:

One: The Italian sent me a book to read so that I could script it and we could work together. I’m reading it now.

Two & Three: Then two different companies called to ask for scripts - I am so hoping that this time THE COMPLEX ends up on screen because it keeps *almost* getting made. One of the times, a producer paid a director to fly to Montreal and scout locations and bring pack pictures for my rewrite... then the company had a change in management and the new guys pretty much tossed out all of the old guy’s films, including my project. The only one to get paid that time - the director! THE COMPLEX has another chance, now - and so do a few other scripts being read.

Four: Then Bill from Pulp 2.0 and I were talking about how depressing AFM was, and how movies today seemed to all be based on games and breakfast cereals... and we decided to try to set up my ANDROID ARMY script as a video game and a movie and a floor wax and a dessert topping at the same time... and we have since had some meetings about it, and things are moving right along. We also had lunch with John Rogers - Kung Fu Monkey & producer/writer of LEVERAGE (one of my favorite shows) to pick his brain about video games and new media possibilities. That was cool.

Five: Then, another Bill called with a potential assignment writing a horror movie that I can not tell you about right now... and there was a meeting on that Monday where story and contract stuff was discussed and now a lawyer is typing up a contract for me to sign... and I’m already working on that project. This looks like it’s actually going to happen.

Six: Plus I got an e-mail from the top secret studio remake producer - he wants to get the project in the studio pipeline first thing next year when the studio has money again. (Biggest problem this year is that everyone ran out of money a couple of months ago, and stopped developing projects.) So that’s back on - I just need to do a little rewrite.

Seven: And the Hawaii film may also be back on! Got an email from that producer, too. No more potential SAG strike, and there seems to be some money flowing for the new year, and that adds up to the film being back on the boards.

So, 2010 is looking pretty good right now. Hey, it may all crash and burn, but at this point in time I figure one of these things is going to happen and pay the rent for 2010. Always nice to know I don’t have to practice saying, “Would you like fries with that?” Always nice to know I have another year as a screenwriter. Always nice to know the scripts are still opening doors for me. Always nice to know I get to keep doing what I love.

But I’ve had a busy couple of weeks... and it looks like the next couple of months will be busy, too.

The good news for all of us is - the economy seems to be stabilized enough so that money will become available again for the making of frivolous things like motion pictures, the new year brings production and development money to the studios, producers who haven't been making movies need to have some films in the pipeline for next year, and 2009 is looking like a record breaking year in Box Office and probably ticket sales. So I won’t be the only one with a flurry of meetings on projects, you may have them, too!

- Bill

Yesterday's Dinner: Mom's meatloaf.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99


Jamie said...

Swings and roundabouts, swings and roundabouts.

The White Wolf said...


And no more of mom's meatloaf.

Just kidding. I bet mom's meatloaf is the f**king bomb!

Me? I'm gonna rewrite my zombie novel for the YA crowd.

Amano van brussel said...

I'm always wondering how many scripts you must have written, Bill. 19 scripts produced and a bunch more on your webiste... I'm only on my second so still a looong way to go!

martinb said...

"Hollywood eyes record $10B box office for 2009"

The headline from a recent gointothestory post.

Surely things will be better next year with a cash-flush Hollywood eager to make more films.

Firefly Games said...

Cool - any upswing in opportunities is a good thing!

Quick question - I'm looking at WordPress vs. Blogger. If you had your blog to start all over knowing what you know now, would you stick with Blogger? Any other advice? Thank you.

Patrick Sweeney

Sam T. said...

Good to hear that things are moving. You may want to checkout this article from LA Times. They are setting up a division again for super low budget movies. If they follow up and the idea flies, then it may mean an opportunity for the aspiring script writer. They will probably use the same model as "District 9" and partner a trusted director with the newcomers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this list!

Please add mine:

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