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Thursday, January 24, 2008


I usually avoid wholesale cut and paste, but this article, Wavers, is FANtastic.

By Sheldon Bull, from StoryLink

For all of you aspiring TV and screen writers out there, the 2007-2008 WGA strike - resolved by now, or sadly still grinding on – may turn out to be a moment of epiphany, a magical opportunity for you to halt your breathless pursuit of an old-fashioned Hollywood writing job, and suddenly realize to your amazement that, as a writer, you have been emancipated from Hollywood.

Emancipated? How have I, who has never even had a writing job, been emancipated from anything?!

Sit down. Relax. Take a breath. I’m going to tell you.

First, let me say that I’ve been a proud WGA member for thirty-two years. I’m on the side of the WGA and of every striking colleague. My heart goes out to anyone – except the suits - who has lost wages because of this necessary strike. I hope the members of the WGA will stand together and get what they are striking for because what they are striking for is fair and right. I do not write these words to make light of this strike. I have the greatest respect for what’s at stake. But like a lot of other people, I have taken the time to look beyond the strike. And what I see beyond, regardless of the outcome of this current dispute, is emancipation for writers.

Here’s why:

Beyond the issues dividing writers and producers, the most important thing for you, the aspiring screenwriter, to notice right now is that the movie and television industry is completely changing. It is changing forever. Strike or settlement, the business of movie and television production has already been turned permanently upside down. And that is precisely why you, as a writer, have already won.

The ‘07-‘08 Writers’ Strike offers all of us who write, for screens large and small, the chance to recognize that, even after the strike is over, nothing will ever be the same. Control is now in our hands, and we never have to give it back.

How can that possibly be?

Up until now, we were always working for somebody else, hired and fired willy-nilly at the whim of the studios, the networks, the producers, directors, and stars. No matter how the strike is finally resolved, all of that “working for others” is finished, whether you see it yet or not.

The four broadcast television networks – CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox – are dying. They had a great run there for half a century. They got rich and fat and lazy and stupid because they were the only game in town. Well, the game is over. And because the game is over, you don’t need to learn how to play it anymore.

As a professional writer and producer, I’ve known for a long time that the broadcast television networks want as few scripted series as possible. They hate scripted series. They have to deal with temperamental actors and producers, unpredictable ratings, and worst of all, writers who are smarter than they are. A few shows are hits. Most shows are flops. It’s all a big crap shoot. It’s a businessman’s nightmare. Strike or no strike, the networks and the giant media conglomerates that own and operate them would much rather fart out mindless, by-the-numbers stuff like Survivor, Deal or No Deal, and Dateline. Churning out those shows is like cranking out toasters, which is the business that GE is really in anyway.

The business of broadcast television, shoddily run as it has always been, counted on the fact that the audience had nowhere else to go. Then, underneath their giant transmission towers, came cable. Suddenly, smarter and richer viewers had access to non-broadcast networks such as HBO and Showtime, VH-1, Comedy Central, and dozens of others. Yes, the conglomerates created or bought up a lot of these networks, but they don’t own everything. Quietly and inexorably, the viewers who could think started defecting from the mass-audience spam on the broadcast networks to the more specialized programming available on cable. The remaining audience for broadcast programming was, as it always had been, the people who had nowhere else to go. These days that audience is older, less educated, and less demanding. The brighter, wealthier, and younger viewers are gone from broadcast TV, and they are never coming back. My eighteen-year-old daughter was raised on Nick, Animal Planet, and MTV. She doesn’t even know that the broadcast networks exist.

High-paying writer and producer jobs in broadcast TV are still there, but they are fewer and further between. Yes, the most talented, most aggressive, most politically savvy writers and producers will continue to come up with a few good ideas and land those porky jobs on broadcast series. But because so much of the core audience for broadcast TV will happily belch through Dancing with the Stars, there are fewer scripted series every year.

At the same time, however, scripted series have been popping up like dandelions on cable. Original scripted series are now a regular part of weekly programming, not only on HBO and Showtime, but on TBS, AMC, Lifetime, Comedy Central, Sci-Fi, Spike, and other networks.

Cable is already employing its own legion of writers who have never worked in broadcasting. Because cable will inevitably evolve an identity separate from broadcast, the tried-and-true spec script for a broadcast TV series, or even a spec pilot, is no longer the only vehicle, and may no longer even be the most efficient vehicle for demonstrating your fresh and unique talent and potential.

It’s time for all of us to stop looking back to broadcast TV as the only model upon which to base our careers. Cable has already outpaced broadcast television in innovation and in total audience. So, as you struggle to get your big break as a writer, it’s time to start imagining the future, rather than simply imitating the past.

As we imagine the future of TV, let’s imagine the future of movies as well.

Any shred of desire that the big Hollywood studios ever had to make anything interesting or significant – and it was a tiny shred of desire in its heyday fifty years ago - is gone forever. It has to be. The big Hollywood studios are not in the movie business anymore. They’re in the pre-sold, pre-packaged, cross-pollinated, product tie-in, happy meal business. Did anybody see the recent ad blitz for Bee Movie? Among the cereals and cell phones, you almost forgot that anyone had actually shot a picture. Hollywood movies are mere pieces of giant corporate agendas that have nothing to do with imagination or emotion. The audience for those movies has become almost entirely young, dumb, numb, and indifferent. Just blow something up while we drool into our popcorn. Why would any thinking, feeling, innovative writer want to be the least respected member of that?

Finally, as we re-imagine our career paths as writers, let’s zero in on the internet. The WGA strike is fundamentally about the web. Yes, it’s about DVD revenue, too. But since we’re looking into the future, let’s look a little further than just the next few years. Royalties from the sale of DVD’s is an important issue at this moment, but DVDs may not be around long enough to be worth striking over. The DVD or Blu-Ray disc that you buy today may, in just a few short years, be as obsolete as those LP-sized laser discs they were selling a few years ago, as antiquated by the next decade as video cassettes. That’s because the real future of entertainment is the coming interface between the internet and cable.

In a very few years, when your computer and your high-definition TV are both linked to the same digital delivery system, what purpose beyond supplying the hardware will the giant media conglomerates that now control everything even serve? If I can make my own movie and release it directly onto the internet, and you can watch it at home on a fifty-six-inch plasma screen, why do you or I need Paramount or Universal? If I can make my own TV series, and post new episodes on the web whenever I want, and you can download and watch my series whenever you feel like it, why do we need ABC or CBS? Why do we need Disney anymore, or Viacom, or News Corporation, or Sony? The truth is that we don’t.

And that is the paradigm shift that I am talking about.

The Writers Guild of America is on strike against companies that are already obsolete. It’s like walking out on Oldsmobile. The factory is rusting while we carry our cardboard signs.

Yes, it’s true that, at this moment, only the big media conglomerates have the cash to pay for the stars and the sets on Ugly Betty, or to finance the special effects for the next installment of Transformers. But so what? Let them make Spiderman 12 and Ocean’s Nineteen and Pirates of the Caribbean - the End of Our Interest. We have other things to do with our time and energy.

Right now today, with almost no money, you can take your own little video camera that you picked up at Best Buy, and go out and make the next Juno, the next South Park, or the next Lars and the Real Girl. And you can release it yourself, not onto TV or in a clunky movie theater, but directly onto the web. So why the heck are you fretting over that spec episode of 30 Rock?

This is what I mean when I say that you’ve already won. You’re the one person in the room with a brain that actually thinks. If an agent or an executive had a creative bone in his or her body, he or she wouldn’t be knotting a neck tie or pulling on heels. They’d put on a T-shirt and sneakers and go out and shoot a video. You’re the one with all the power because you’re the only one with the imaginative neurons.

The Writers’ Strike may be the best thing that ever happened to all of you aspiring screen writers out there who, up until November, were scrambling to finish your spec episode of Reaper, or desperately trying to rework your spec screenplay. You don’t have to do that anymore. You’re already free.

Take a deep breath and think for a minute. Maybe you don’t need to pen that spec or genuflect to that agent. Maybe what you need to do is bypass them all and just do it yourself.

Do I mean that you should make a short movie or three-minute TV series on your own and then post it on the web for free? Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. Can you think of a more effective way to introduce yourself to the world? If you get ten thousand hits on your video, don’t you suppose that people with money to invest will come looking for you?

The ’07-’08 Writers Strike could be the seminal moment in the collective lives of every screenwriter alive. This could be the beginning of the biggest tectonic shift in the history of entertainment.

This could be the moment when you realize that you don’t need those other people anymore: the gate keepers, the hot shots, the insiders. You don’t need an agent. You don’t need a producer. You don’t need Hollywood. You have everything that you need in your own apartment. You have a lap-top. You have software from Final Draft, Adobe, Apple, and Avid. You have a camera that you can hold in the palm of your hand. You have friends. You have your own imagination. You have the web. What else do you need?

Wake up, people. You’ve already won.

ShowHype: hype it up!

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Tavis said...

Thanks for posting that-- very encouraging.

Everything is now.

Anonymous said...

Sound encouraging and all, but not sure how an aspiring filmmaker can be a filmmaker in the new 'free world'? What I mean is that just because one aspires to do something doesn't mean he/she is good at that something. Watch American Idol and you see what I mean. People with the worst singing voice can't really hear it because they're tone deft. I'm afraid with the freedom you envision, the 'new world' is going to be flooded with trash and it will backfire the film industry, yes?

I'm not saying that people who run studios and production companies don't green light trash, most of them are tone deft too, but I think we do need some kind of system in place.

Julie Gray said...

Really interesting comment; provocative and you make good points. But - it's - tone DEAF. I'm sorry, I can't help myself! Tone deft would actually be a good thing :)

Anonymous said...

That's why you're good at what you're doing:-)

Emily Blake said...

A brave new world.

I'm sure people are panicking about it, but in the end talent will out and the industry will figure itself out.

We're lucky, I think, to be breaking in now when we can exert so much control for so little money and put our material in front of people so easily.

Good article. Thanks for sharing.

Jake Hollywood said...

One way or the other there's always been a Hollywood studio system and even in this "new age" there still will borrow a phrase, " has always been thus, thus will always be."

And frankly, it's a good thing. I'm no studio systems stooge, but I actually like the idea of somebody else actually taking the monetary risks it takes for a movie to be produced...

As much as I like to think I'm God and/or perfect, I know I'm not. I need to be edited. I need to be controlled, to have somebody else say, "no, that's not economically sound." Etc. etc. etc.

The idea of checks and balances is a good one--studio vs. writer, director vs. writer, actor vs. director, etc.--it's important to have that system in place. And the studios (as much as they frustrated me) are necessary.

And one more thing, writing talent will always rise to the top. It may take a while, but you'll get there.

Geena said...

"Right now today, with almost no money, you can take your own little video camera . . .
and make the next Juno"

Depends on your definition of almost no money and Juno.

With almost no money, you can make the short films you see on Trigger or Sundance. Juno, Napoleon Dynamite takes at least 50,000 - $100,000

You better off trying to make what you see on Trigger or Sundance, and convincing someone else to give you that "almost no money" of $100,000