Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Creation Of Memories

Is what good writers do. That's why I get kinda annoyed when cruising the blogs during this time of the WGA strike and see the shills coming on to every site and spewing their [ironically]scripted mantra about overpaid writers.

The creation of memories is why the AMPTP are barking up the wrong tree with their version of what makes the best bottom line.

The AMPTP business model is take a film out wide, hope the theatrical release goes someway to cover costs, especially the heavy marketing needed to get any bums on seats, then make a profit on the dvd sales and TV sell through. On which they make a vast margin.

As a numbers game that works. In the short term. But in 'entertainment' if that is all you have in the short term then you are little better than the travelling circus with a bearded lady showing up at the small village. After the initial buzz, pretty soon the villagers are saying 'Is that all you got?'

I don't care whether the method of delivery is internet, movie theatre, TV or dvd. The important thing is it has to connect with an audience on a deep level. Much deeper than the bottom line expectations of the money men. Because without that deeper level of connection there will be no meaningful bottom line.

That's why they need writers. Writers are vital to that bottom line. In fact, without writers that bottom line wouldn't exist. Which is maybe why writers are treated like shit? When money and art get together, money generally doesn't want art calling the shots. And I can see their point. Money is about risk. Minimising risk in this business can easily be about keeping the creatives on a leash. A lot of us are so nuts we don't give a shit about bottom line. And neither should we if it makes us slaves rather than creators. You can go so far then that is the choice you have to make. The best money men know how to work that. The Studios and Networks are owned by money men very far removed from scripted entertainment .

But what we do, they just can't. One of the biggest B.O and more importantly DVD sellers in recent years was Pirates Of The Caribbean. Yeah it was a movie based on a theme park ride and blah blah blah. But to me, it was an almost perfect movie. And they are very rare. That's why it did huge numbers.

The Bourne Ultimatum. Again in my opinion an almost perfect movie. And the opposite of Pirates Of the Caribbean because in this case the franchise got better as it went on.

And in my opinion these movies were huge successes because they said something to the audience that was much deeper than the superficial story. Questions about who we are? Why do we do what we do? The nature of authority? And even just creating something that really entertained us enough to remember them after leaving the cinema.

Which is why DVD's are so important. I've seen a lot of traffic on the blogs from people saying the WGA should forget about the dvd formula. That is water under the bridge and they should focus on internet residuals.

Personally I think that is bollocks put forward by AMPT vested interests. Yes, internet delivery will be the prime pipeline in the near future. But that is just the initial pipeline. Because I don't think the long term thoughts of the consumer are being taken into account.


That's why people download from I- tunes and still buy the CD. That's why people stream Family Guy and still buy the box set. Not all. But the real fans of the show or movie.

Create something people really like. And I don't mean along the likes of American Idol or Deal or No Deal. They are a hand job in a dark alley with a $10 hooker as opposed to a night with a very drunk and randy Famke Janssen.

Create something that means something to a lot of people. Dollars will follow. Providing you have a strong union fighting for those dollars. Remember that in this business writers are regarded as the flint in the zippo. The current crop of execs can trade on the zippo name for so long but sooner or later the buyers will decide that zippos are shit. Because they were too 'cheapskate' to have decent flints.

They are the English F.A of the entertainment world. People with no grounding or experience or training in football. But they control the cash.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Internet, Stars and Marketing

I'm an Internet moron as anyone reading this blog knows. I just about have the technical ability to write a blog page and that is it. Leave aside the quality of the content.

But even I can see that it will be the viewing medium of choice for a vast audience in the very near future.

And I think that opens up a lot of opportunity for creative people to get together and ...well ....create.

In the UK there are probably less than a dozen gatekeepers who determine everything you see on TV. A yes or no from them means your project either gets green lit or languishes in the ever growing pile of spec scripts that didn't make it.

But the Internet? If you can make something you can get it on. Unfortunately that requires 3 very important other factors. Money to make something with decent production values. An audience. A revenue stream.

But say for instance you managed to attract a STAR with a good script? And say that star attachment attracts finance for production? And say you hook up with a top notch media booker and marketing department? Then all things are possible.

I don't think it will be long before this happens. Okay you could argue it already has with Quarterlife and others, but I'm talking about A list stars. Because at this point in the process I think that is what you need to generate sufficient viewing numbers to be attractive to financiers. I don't think that will always be the case by any means. But right here and now you need a hook.

So you see, I'm not thinking in terms of 'Let's shoot the thing right here, kids' I'm thinking about an actual business model, with finance and distribution.

Most A listers already have their own prodcos, and some aren't just vanity titles. They know how to get product made.

The audience is changing rapidly. People are getting more and more used to segmented payment for entertainment. Be it downloads on their phones, I tunes, Sky or Virgin Media pay per view. You name it.
The internet market is young but it is going to be huge. The distribution bottle neck is going to be broken by producers, writers and actors creating content and arranging strategic alliancies with advertisers and marketers. Or heaven forfend - even financiers who believe top class entertainment will produce profits.

Kinda like what happens now. Except it's not us that does it. It's the networks and cable outlets. But it ain't rocket science. Even for me.!

I'm going to start looking out for possible alliances now. Be back later.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Talking Turkey

So the AMPTP and WGA resume talks on the 26th. Good news. Providing it's not a cynical ploy by the AMPTP because they know they are losing the PR battle. Once again they propose a deal which is completely unacceptable and then use their media outlets to blame the WGA. I hope not. But I am optimistic because I don't think the WGA are going to take any crap. And I think the majority of the members will support that.

Having said that, I am not a smart guy. I just got a statement saying something I wrote a couple of years ago, on a one hour prime time drama series , has aired in Canada. There are two figures on the statement and I'm so dumb I can't work out if the payment is for one episode or two. The total is about £130. No great shakes but keeps me in beer and pizza for the week so no complaints.

But it set me thinking about how much admiration I have for the negotiating committee of the WGA in terms of how much detail they have to know. They don't just have to negotiate in broad terms for a fair deal. They have to wrap it up airtight, I mean duck's arse airtight, so that the AMPTP can't wriggle out of it.

See, what set me thinking was the payment I received was my share of the BBC licensing the episode[s?] to the Canadian outlet. The Canadian outlet was BBC Canada. Okay I didn't even know there was a BBC Canada but there you go. To be honest I rarely look at the source of the cash on these statements unless it is a big enough figure for me to say a silent prayer of thanks.

But I thought I would in this instance. Maybe because the whole residual thing is so high profile right now.

Now I'm not saying the BEEB are up to any shenanigans by for instance licensing the episode for a paltry fee to a subsiduary company in order to bypass meaningful royalty payments. Far from it. They have no need to. But think about the vertical integration and sprawling media empire of the AMPTP?

Studios are already well known for dubious licensing deals on film properties with a view to minimising revenue and therefore gross and net profit participation of talent. Just a small part of the notorious smoke and mirrors of studio accounting. Made easy by the incestuous and tangled associations between provider and pipeline.

It is this that the WGA negotiators are up against. Especially difficult when they don't have access to the AMPTP figures on internet revenue. I don't envy them, but I do admire them and wish them well.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Turning Worms

Being a writer, especially for film and TV has it's moments of triumph. The joy of working through a script, the .......... okay I'll come back to that.

But there is also a lot of insecurity both financially and emotionally. Most peoples jobs don't entail baring their emotions on the page, spending hours living and breathing other characters, and being told it needs a rewrite. lol

Yes it's not chopping wood. But then a job chopping wood doesn't rely on how great was the last log you chopped. I mean no disrespect to wood choppers you understand? I'm getting at the level of insecurity the job engenders on a day to day basis.

It is this insecurity that the 'bosses' trade on. Writing is a precarious occupation, with poverty around every corner. Ignore the headlines about the millionaire writers. They are the lottery winners. In fact there are probably more lottery winners than millionaire writers.

Writers will generally bend over backwards to keep a job. If they make waves they are in danger of not only getting fired from the show they are on, but no doubt a reputation for being 'difficult' will soon percolate through the industry.

I think this state of affairs has become so endemic that the AMPTP figured the WGA would cave easily. But I don't think they understand a writers psychology.

The worst fear a writer has is being out of a job. That is the power the employers have over them. And why we eat so much shit.

But Lo and Behold! The worst has happened. And you know what? I think the writers have a new sense of empowerment because of it. They don't have to eat shit. This is their golden opportunity to get together in force and show writer solidarity against all that's wrong with the business.

I think that sense of empowerment is what is keeping morale so high. And it is something the AMPTP probably haven't come across before. Without the threat of being fired, a pissed off writer is someone you don't want to be fighting. Because they are crazy enough to take it to the death. Something the AMPTP cartel should factor into their thinking.

Cartel? Did you know that the AMPTP have a 'secret' establishment in Encino where figures for worldwide sales of product in every possible revenue stream are collated and distributed to every member? I mean ALL the figures to EVERY member. Now forgive my muddle headed thinking, but is that not heading towards a Cartel rather than an Association?

What do I know, I'm just a crazy writer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More thoughts on the strike

God bless the Showrunners.

Despite threats to sue them for the entire budget of the shows, they have walked out. And that is something I don't think the AMPTP expected.

To me I don't believe this strike is so much a battle over residuals and internet and more a fight to the death over the very existance of the WGA. Given the AMPTPs stance on negotiation I can see no other logical reason for their position other than seeking the obliteration of the Guild. Something that would be disasterous for writers everywhere.

But the showrunners? Now it is a different ball game. The AMPTP were full of bluster about how many scripts they had stockpiled and they would essentially starve the writers back to work.

But with the showrunners walking out that threat is meaningless. The stockpiled scripts will lie there unfilmed.

The AMPTP argue they have deep pockets and will wait out the writers. Guess what? The showruners have deep pockets too. And without them it doesn't matter how many starving writers want to return to work. No showruner, no show.

Without them it doesn't matter how many veiled threats the AMPTP leak to mouthpieces like Variety indicating writers from Canada and the UK are being approached to scab. Without the showrunners that doesn't mean a thing.

The conglomorates who make up the AMPTP are only interested in one thing. The bottom line. I doubt if they have any understanding of the creative process whatsoever, and certainly don't seem to realise that without the writer there is no industry.

The showrunners walkout will quickly dispel the notion that writers are unimporant. The advertisers will be screaming very soon. It's been reported that there has already been a 30% drop in late night ratings. The networks 'give backs'' i.e free advertising given because ratings didn't hit targets, will be colossal.

And that is the major effect the showruners walkout will have. Instead of months of product the networks have weeks at most. And the advertisers know this. And will be going ape shit. The only way to get the AMPTP back to the table is to hit the bottom line.

And the showrunners are doing just that. I hope they keep their resolve.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Questions Questions

Okay so the Dev Ex has read your script, likes it and calls you in for a meeting. The breeze is shot, and then come the questions. The ones that for me, bluff mode is required to answer.


Which network do you see this on?

Truthful answer.

I haven't got a scooby. I just write. People like it or they don't. I don't give a monkey's which network. Isn't that someone elses job to figure out?

Actual answer.

BBC 2 - 9pm. {If in doubt always say BBC2 - 9pm.}


Where do you see the story and lead character in series three?

Truthful answer

How the hell do I know? I've done enough free work without blocking out three series. Put some cash on the table and I'll figure it out.

Actual answer

There's going to be a major twist at the end of series two that propells the lead and story right through series three. I'm still working on the fine detail.


Who do you see in the lead?

Truthful answer

Anyone you do.

Actual answer.

I think there are a number of young sexy leads who could play this. It wasn't written with anyone specific in mind.

Then it is your turn.

Truthful question

So are you serious about this or just spinning your wheels taking meetings to justify your job?

Actual question

I'm really glad you like this. Where do we go from here?

The truthful answer to that would be -if we were that interested we would already be speaking to your agent.

The actual answer will be -I have to run it past the boss and see what he says.

Three weeks later comes the email that you chased for saying they already have something similar in development.

I kid. It's not always as bad as that. Just enough to make it a cliche.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Finger Of fate

So Josh Friedman is posting again. He has an interesting take on the studio execs driving past the pickets and flipping them the finger.

Essentially saying it's refreshing to get a full frontal Fuck You rather than the earnest butt fuck they normally engage in .

Personaly I hope the writers are making note of who these assholes are, and come payback time, which will come, when these same finger flippers are blowing smoke up writers' asses, and claiming mistaken identity, the writer gives a long slow finger and takes the project down the street.

But at least it shows the writer what some of these execs actually think about them. I say some, because there are also execs who are very supportive of writers, and if had any say in the matter would offer a fair deal.

But for those execs for whom it is all about the deal, and all about the money you can see why they are pissed off at writers. Writers and actors are the two elements that they have least control over. They don't like that. It is a variable that is difficult to quantify. Talent always is. They understand balance sheets and budgets okay, it is the marker they cling to, and this strike is screwing that up for them. Advertisers are getting ansty. Distribution companies are wondering about standard of product. Foreign TV networks who have shelled out for Lost, and Heroes and CSI are saying WTF?

Writers and actors are the difficult kids, the nut jobs of the industry. If they could do away with them that would be fantastic.

But they can't. So HA!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fade Out. What now?

So I've just finished a spec. I mean literally, just finished. Or to be more precise, I've just finished the first draft.

Any excuse for a celebration so I'm going to........oh wait, I'm on the waggon at the mo. Dammit. I'll blog instead.

I tend to revise as I write, so I don't expect huge changes to the draft when I revisit it. Which I'll do in a day or two. Because I like a bit of distance before I dive into rewriting. Or polishing. Because assuming I haven't screwed up the concept [not always safe to assume] that polishing can make all the difference.

Here's one thing it is safe to assume, execs will look for reasons to NOT do a spec rather than find ways to make it work. That isn't a complaint. That is the nature of the business when faced with shelves full of spec scripts.

So my polish will be a 'reader' polish. Specifically geared to make it shine off the page as an interesting and exciting READ.

Heresy! I hear some say. Show don't tell. You can't film adjectives. And the rest of those ''rules''


The name of the game in a spec is getting the idea, story and characters across to the reader in the clearest, fastest, and most interesting way possible.

I've read a few scripts recently that were technically perfect. Format was spot on. Very professional looking in every regard.

And the dullest read imaginable. You could feel the writers looking at their 'How To Write A Blockbuster ' self help tome on every page.
There is economical writing and there is stark to the point of anal. Stark to the point of anal is not what you want in a spec script. Help the reader out. Don't sacrifice clarity on the alter of format. Most of which seems to be propogated by people who don't actually make a living as professional writers.

If it is capable of being acted you can write it.

''Josh smiles, but in his heart of hearts knows it's bullshit.

Yeah. Sounds good.''


Yeah. Sounds good.

Ignore the literary merits of my dashed-off example. If I were a reader or an actor or a director I know which one I'd prefer to see. Obviously, assuming the spade work has been done previously then you can do the [falsely] example. But , what if it is at the start of the script? Why risk the meaning of the scene in a paranthetical that may or may not be the best use of the 3 words you can fit in? Why not tell what you are going for in clear concise terms? Again, if it can be filmed or acted, you can write it.

A lot of the best moments you seen on screen are implied in the script. Not written as such. But definitely implied.
The first example allows the actor and director to get exactly what they are supposed to be doing at this point. With a confident actor and director, magic might happen.

But most importantly of all for a spec. The reader gets exactly what is going on.

Friday, November 02, 2007

For anyone wondering

........what all the strike fuss is about, this post, from the WA board by way of Artful Writer comments kinda says it all.

''Some of us have been screwed for a while now, and not in the pleasant sense. The below is an email post from Micah Wright, posted on the WriterAction (WGA-only board). I requested and have his written permission to spread it like the plague. ~ Tina

(FYI, to set the scene, the tone of Micah’s intro is in response to another WA poster unhappy with our leadership).

Well this is ONE angry Horad that’s confused about your stance. The AMPTP clearly never intends to pay us one single cent for internet delivery. The music business model clearly indicates that internet delivery for most, if not all content is the future. What then were we supposed to do when faced with rollbacks and refusals to bargain in good faith? Pray? Or just swallow the bullshit they were trying to shove down our throats, and forget about not only what we’re making, but also what every person who ever follows us into this union will ever make?

People like you keep bitching about the DVD negotiating point, and yeah, you’re right: DVD was lost 20 years ago, but there’s no magic rule which says we can’t reopen that topic. More importantly, though, DVD didn’t take off for almost a decade after the ‘88 strike… the Internet is here NOW, and it’s here FOREVER, and if we give in and allow them to pay us ZERO on Internet delivery, we can just kiss the idea of ever getting paid residuals goodbye forever.

It’s not self-righteousness which is driving this negotiation… it’s quite simply the greed of the AMPTP, which clearly sees this as the year in which they intend to break the WGA on the rack once and for all. But you don’t see that… you seem unable to get it through your head that the AMPTP doesn’t want to ever pay us anything. If you think these people are so reasonable and that they deal in good faith, then try talking to writers who work in Animation and Reality… THAT is the future that the AMPTP has in store for EVERY WRITER IN THE WGA. Because if they don’t have to pay residuals to the woman who wrote The Lion King, then why should they ever have to pay one to YOU? Or anyone else?

Oh, and before you give me some fucking sob story about the disastrous strike of 1988, let me bring you up to date with a more RECENT story: mine.
I came to this guild having had a “successful” career writing Animation for $1400/week for five years. During that time, I wrote on several of Nickelodeon’s highest-rated shows. My writing partner wrote and directed 1/4 of the episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants” and I was responsible for 1/5 of the episodes of “The Angry Beavers.” The current value that those shows have generated for Viacom? $12 Billion dollars. My writing partner topped out at $2100/week. In the year 2001, tired of not receiving residuals for my endlessly- repeating work (even though the actors and composers for my episodes do), I joined with 28 other writers and we signed our WGA cards.
So, Nickelodeon quickly filed suit against our petition for an election, and set about trying to ferret out who the “ringleaders” were. In the meantime, they canceled the show that I had created 4 episodes into an order of 26. Then they fired the 3 writers who’d been working on my show. Then they fired 20 more of my fellow writers and shut down three more shows, kicking almost their entire primetime lineup for 2002 to the curb, and laying off 250 artists.

Then, once the WGA’s petition for election was tied up in court over our illegal firings, Nickelodeon called in the IATSE Local 839 “Cartoonists Guild” — a racket union which exists only the screw the WGA and its own members — and they signed a deal which forever locks the WGA out of Nickelodeon, even though we were there first. Neato!
Then Nickelodeon’s brass decided —out of thin fucking air— that myself and two other writers had been “the ringleaders” of this organizing effort, so they called around to Warner Bros. Animation, the Cartoon Network, Disney Animation, and Fox Kids, effectively blacklisting the three of us out of animation permanently.

And why did Nickelodeon do this? Why were they so eager to decimate their own 2002 schedule, fire 24 writers, break multiple federal labor laws, sign a union deal, and to even bring back the fucking blacklist? They did all of that to prevent us from getting the same whopping $5 residual that the actors & composers of our shows get.
For five lousy fucking bucks, they destroyed three people’s careers and put 250 artists out of work and fucked up their own channel for a year.

Ahh, but my episodes run about 400 times a year worldwide, though, so obviously Sumner Redstone (Salary in 2001: $65 million dollars) and Tom Freston (2001 salary: $55 million) were right to do what they did… myself and those other 23 writers might have broken the bank, what with each of us going to cost them another TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS each! OH NO! That… that’s… FORTY EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS!

So don’t come crying to those of us who have EXPERIENCED what the AMPTP plans for all of the rest of you, that people who are deciding to stand up to bully-boy tactics like that are the crazy bunch of “horads” lustily marching “throught” the streets searching for blood. The AMPTP are the barbarians sacking Rome in this scenario.

The AMPTP and their glittering-eyed weasel lawyers are a bunch of lying, blacklisting, law-breaking scumbags, and the fact that they haven’t budged off of ANY of their proposals in the last three months proves that what they have in store for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU is exactly what they did to us at Nickelodeon, and what they can do any day of the week in daytime animation. Or reality.

Strike or no strike. That’s their plan: to winnow down your membership, to snip away at your MBA, to chew away at your health & pension plans until there’s just nothing left of the WGA. Why? Because they’ve had a good strong drink of how much money they make off of animation when they don’t have to cut the creators in for any of the cash, and now they want to extend that free ride to all of live action as well. THAT is why they have pushed for this strike at every step, with their insulting press releases, with their refusals to negotiate, etc. — because they’re HOPING we go on strike, and that enough cowards and Quislings come crawling out of the woodwork after six weeks that they can force us to accept the same deal that Reality TV show writers have.
If you doubt me, go read their contract proposals again… there’s not ONE of them which isn’t an insult and a deal-breaking non-starter.
So can we PLEASE stop hearing about how it’s the current WGA management which is the fucking problem here? Because, frankly, that canard is getting a little stale.
Or perhaps you prefer presidents like the President of the Guild back in 2001 who just threw up her hands when we were fired and blacklisted out of our careers and said, and I quote, “oh well, it was a good try”?''

A screwing is a screwing is a screwing. The WGGB have indicated their full support for the WGA strike and while that means fuck all in real terms for the vast majority of us, at least I hope our American brothers know they have it.

For those of us it does affect, I refer you to the words of pastor Martin Niemoller. ''When they came for me there was no one left to defend me''

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good Luck WGA

Just a word of support for the American readers. I know no one wanted this strike but if it has to happen then it has to.

From this side of the pond it seems the AMPTP has taken a belligerent stance from the outset forcing the WGA into a corner. For a long time, almost since the inception of movies and TV, writers have tended to be the least well paid and least regarded of the creative forces. Odd when without a script everyone else would be sitting around doing nothing. But there you go.

I've been on various websites and there always seems to be a screed of ''so called' writers almost apologising for being writers and saying things like ' a screenplay is worth nothing without a director and actors because without them you just have a script.

Horseshit. I think they are AMPTP aggitators.

If a studio is willing to spend a million dollars buying a spec script, then that screenplay is worth a million dollars. I don't see any visible director or actor making it worth that at the point of sale?

If the studios are making 80% of their revenue from DVD and TV sell through then the writers of that content deserve a fair share of that.

If a formula for payment of download and streaming content has to be negotiated it shouldn't be tied to rollbacks of existing payments for non downloaded content.

Nick Counter's days are numbered. He will be the AMPTP sacrificial lamb. More power to you WGA and the brave members willing to take a stand.