Saturday, October 04, 2008

my two sides went to war

I sat in my Wednesday night film financing class at UCLA, listening to Big Shot Producer lecture about the many ways to lower a screenwriter's quote, how to negotiate with writers and lessen our risk, how to not pay a writer and get away with it, etc. It was nothing new to me, nothing I hadn't heard from him before, and as a fledgling producer, something I thought I had to learn. I looked around the room at the many hopeful producers-in-training as they nodded sagely and scribbled notes furiously. Depression immediately followed the realization - everyone in the room would not hesitate one second to screw me. That feeling wasn't new to me, I've been in those rooms before. But this time there were 50+ people in the room. Even I wanted to screw me. I was conflicted, I was resolute, "Patty, Anna, Patty, Anna". It was a little overwhelming.

Since that night I've been extremely irritable. Some might even say bitchy. But mostly I was depressed. That hasn't helped me with my writing deadlines. And now, in this disastrous economy, I am tasked with raising $11 million in P&A financing for our third film project. All I wanted to do was lie down until this feeling went away. Then, thanks to Kevin at LA Observed, I read "Screenwriting in Hollywood: A Modest Proposal" and felt a little better. Here's an excerpt:

Novelists, playwrights and poets are not rewritten by other writers. Even journalists do the deed pretty much alone. But screenwriters not only routinely and eagerly replace each other, they are tactical in their competitive quest for credit, credit that is not only emotionally gratifying but financially existent. Without credit, future opportunity, immediate and contingent compensation, dissolve. All that hard work to get beyond base camp, undone. Back to square none. Meaning - what do you tell your family, friends, former classmates, neighbors, and people you’ve yet to meet - that you did work on something glamorous for possibly years even, but in the end, your name didn’t scroll by?

And the other question that will not leave your mind is the calculation of cash you didn’t get and residuals you will never see.

This belief and its subsequent practice of multiple screen authorship is a unifying principle that not only does not serve its community of believers, but actually endangers its members from achieving prosperity in a scarce economy.

I've come to the realization that producing is a necessary evil for me and I need to just get over it. Conquering the written word is still what makes me truly happy, but if I have to produce to protect my work or another writer's words and vision, then I'll take that battle on. A long time ago, someone once suggested to me that, "It won't hurt if you don't clench." I didn't buy it then, I don't think I'll buy it now. I think I'll try it my way. The picture I have in my head of the kind of producer I want to be is a little bit clearer now.


Carolyn Allen said...

As a writer with 2 scripts in the closet because of discouragement, I applaud your determination to treat writers decently. Here's my hope that you hold onto that basic sense of fairness and integrity. CA

celia said...

first and foremost, i am a writer, so i don't think i could forget that when i wear my producer's hat. bigshot producer did take me aside that night to say (and has often repeated), "don't make a deal unless it's mutually beneficial."

Anonymous said...

As a composer, I share your pain and disdain at being "lowballed." The composer is often the last person to come to the party, and so often I hear, "We ran over budget and now we're short, so would you be willing to work for less?" The response in my head is "Really? I totally understand going over budget, it happens, but didn't you allocate a specific amount in the budget for music? How can you justify dropping that amount for someone who just got here and had nothing to do with said shortage?"

I'm always willing to work with someone when money is an issue, because to me the project is always more important (compensation is second. I can't very well create a score from inside cardboard box stationed outside a Starbucks, leeching their electricity) and for an indie project money's always an issue, but you have to pay people what they're worth. A screenwriter didn't cut corners when she/he wrote the script because the budget was going to be over.

I feel bad for writers the same way I do composers, sometimes it seems as though our creativity is being discounted to pay for talent or production. All the pieces of a film are important and need to be the best they can be for the film to succeed.

Thanks for the blog post.