Carlo was wondering,
Also, what do you think is a better medium in terms of where it is right now - TV or Movies? And which are better for writers? (Likely teevee, but that isn't exactly sunshine and marshmallows either).
Each medium is better for certain writers, but neither are better for writers as a whole. I can't speak specifically to features, since we have not been deemed valid to make money at them (which just happens to be how the system works), but based on what I know of the feature biz, it's not particularly writer-friendly. In order to work in features, you have to get hired. Usually, you're trying to get hired on an open writing assignment. This is one of several things: A spec the studio bought that needs to be rewritten; a pitch the studio bought that needs to be written; a property they acquired (remake, comic book, novel, video game, theme park ride or Hasbro game); an "idea" hatched by an executive or Steven Spielberg.
You would think the process would proceed thusly.
Producer or Executive needs to find a writer for a project. They read scripts. Maybe they meet some writers, to see how compatible they would be for the project (you know; like they do in TeeVee). Then they find the writer they want and have him or her come in with their "take" on the project. If they like the take, they hire the writer. If not, they go find another one. Lather, rinse, repeat.
That, however, is not how it's done. Instead, they trawl for writers. They cast their net out behind the SS Paramount and catch an assload of writers. Then they proceed to make each and every one come in with their take on the project. The executives' main accomplishment with this is that they justify their jobs. Which, let's face it, is their only reason for existence in this corporate landscape. They have to prove their worth. Their schedules need to be filled up. So the only way to do this is to lengthen and muddy the process, and that's what this "audition" phase is all about. Now, it makes some kind of crazy sense to me that somebody like Spielberg would talk to several writers to hear their take on whatever project he's going to direct next. However, we're not talking about go projects here. We're talking about projects in active development. The majority of these projects will never be made.
But still, the studios spend tons of money on development. Not just on the writers, but on the executive salaries. The executives are always going to make their salaries. But if you bring twenty writers in on one project, only one of those guys is going to make any money. And nineteen of them have just spent their valuable time breaking a story for a project they aren't going to write.
Basically, writers have to go suck the cock of their corporate masters and if that master thinks someone else has sucked it better, he can beat you and leave you in an alley. And not face one day of jail time for it, either. But for a more reasoned, rational response to this question, check out Josh's comment. As he says, there are scripts that need work. Once, totally against the law, I got to see the back-and-forth between Spielberg (I don't know why I keep mentioning him. Sorry) and the myriad writers he brought in for Schindler's List. The writers (and Spielberg himself) were grappling with Schindler's likeability. There were a lot of memos back and forth and several writers just couldn't crack it. That's a situation in which you NEED to get different perspectives. The process was not abused in that instance. But all the rest of this shit? Ridiculous.
TeeVee is slightly different. Because TeeVee actually has to get made. If a show is ordered, then the rule (there are exceptions) is that it needs to get written and produced. So at some point, writers need to be hired. Some writers are treated well in TeeVee, and they in turn treat other writers well. But if you're looking for purity in the medium, don't look to TeeVee. Things have actually changed a lot since I got in. There are more layers, more hoops to jump through. And that cuts down on the time that's most valuable to a TeeVee staff -- breaking the story and writing the script. Because really, those are the only two steps you need. But so much time is spent generating the documents that keep the executives busy that the valuable writing time suffers.
A caveat, though. This isn't to say that there aren't terrific executives in film and TeeVee. There are. A good executive can save your ass. They can protect you and promote you and be an excellent go-between. They can facilitate your movie getting greenlit and your show getting picked up. To me, a good executive is the type of person who acts as a filter between the writer and the studio/network. They get what you're trying to do, and they get what the corporate entity needs. It's a very difficult job and the good execs are worth their weight in gold. But do we really need ten of these people? Is it really necessary to have four people on a studio call for notes on a one-page story area?
These layers are what makes TeeVee difficult for writers. Because even if you have great executives at the studio and at the network, too many of them are not helpful. Luckily, we seem to be dealing with smart and helpful people on Moonlight. But more often than not, you are stuck between the network and the studio, spending so much time putting out those fires that you don't have any time to actually make the show good.
So is it better for writers in film or in TeeVee? I say neither. Until these corporations can actually trust the creative people they hire, it will only get worse. For the writers, it's up to us to figure out how to game the system. Because until the internets take off and we can afford to bring our own visions to life, we need them. They've tried to not need us but so far, that hasn't worked out. I think we need to keep that in mind instead of despairing. We need them, but THEY NEED US.
Long enough answer to the question?
P.S., re: the 'splosion' of the Internet, don't hold your breath. Infrastructure (not to mention the hardware sophistication of the general American public who live between the coasts) still has a loooong way to go.
Couldn't agree more. Every time I try to say this, I get shouted down. But as someone who knows a thing or two about video formats and what have you, I just don't think this is going to be the boon people think it is. Not yet.
Here's how I can tell the strike (or lock out as I prefer to look at it since the AMPTP walked out on negotiations) hasn't changed my life much:
1. My agent still doesn't return my calls (my bookie does, but not my agent).
2. My sometime writing partner is at the Oscars (I think he's sitting with either Julia Roberts or Marty Scorsese --he's worked with both) and I'm sitting at home and commenting on blogs.
Aw, dude!!! That sucks. And it's more evidence that this business doesn't have a fair bone in its body. I don't want to rant more about that now because there's a whole blog post in it. But I know where you're coming from. Just keep plugging, okay?
David Bishop says,
A minor factual correction: Eleventh Hour was first broadcast by ITV, not the BBC. Four episodes for a new drama series isn't unknown in the UK, though six eps is more common. As for why the British version didn't get picked up for a second run, that's another whole ball of wax better addressed by the show's creator Stephen Gallager.
Honestly, I felt the concept was weak. It was too nebulous and complicated. Too many rules. When I hear a concept for a show, I imagine sitting in the writer's room, trying to come up with stories. It's one thing when the creator of the show -- the person who actually sat down and came up with it and knows how to work in Teevee -- is sitting there with you. But a feature guy who's adapting a show that only ran four eps and has a weak concept? Now, I know someone who could probably run the hell out of a show like that, but I'll bet you right now he won't be hired to run it. I know one very specific reason why (it has to do with the POD involved) and the slightly less stupid reason is that it would just make too much sense.
Kay, in response to your response to my comment: Well, sure, the audience doesn't care how much 'Lost' costs per se. But there does seem to be an audience hunger for a type of story-telling style on network TV that just inherently costs a lot of money. I mean, take away the POD deals and feature directors and so forth (please!), and still, every show that's broken through in the past few years on network would still be really freaking expensive. Except maybe for Brothers & Sisters. I mean, suppose ABC plunked down a nice cheap basic cable show like 'Burn Notice' in the 'Lost' time slot and gave it the same promotional budget. Do you really think it could build the same size audience? Do you think it would have a shot at being a CSI-like franchise? I don't. At least not given where audience tastes are right now in February 2008.
If only expensive shows are shot and ordered, then only expensive shows are going to be hits. So it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying Burn Notice or Psych would be a hit on network TeeVee, but if you took the business model for those shows and made network shows, then yeah, I think you'd see something interesting happen. If you spend money on the actual production of a show, the cost of production goes down. Don't use PODs. Don't staff the show with those expensive co-EPs you've got deals with. Buy from actual TeeVee showrunners so you don't have to spend an additional fifty grand an episode on a showrunner. Hire midlevel writers with experience. Don't spend a gazillion dollars on Jimmy Smits or James Woods. Stop with the development deals completely. FIRE SOME EXECUTIVES. Get a good line producer and experienced TeeVee directors.
What would happen if the studios and networks made and ordered pilots that cost less than ten million dollars each? The advertisers don't care how much a studio spends for a pilot, and the ad rates are the major influence on the network licensing fee. The licensing fee is never going to come close to that. So the studio winds up having to make the show for perhaps one FIFTH of the pilot budget. But what if you spent three million on a pilot and the licensing fee dictates a two million dollar per episode budget? Your budget is then two thirds of the pilot budget. First of all, that's much more viable. Secondly, the network isn't going to be in the position of being disappointed. "Well, in the pilot, you blew up a boat and the main character went to the Moon. Where's my Moon??" There are numerous reasons a pilot is going to be more expensive than an episode but a lower budget pilot can still be a perfectly adequate sales tool. And the network isn't going to put undue pressure on the production to live up to the glitzy pilot.
I hate to sound like a pessimist, because I'm an hour long writer too, and I hope you're right and I'm wrong. But I really do fear the financial problems in scripted are deeper than PODs and fancy directors.
Wow. I'M the optimist? Something's totally wrong here. But seriously, we go through this all the time. And whenever it looks most dire, a huge scripted hit explodes. There are definitely two ways to look at it. One, all a corporation cares about is making money and looking good to the shareholders. That says that an affordable reality TeeVee slate makes the most sense. That's quantifiable. But the whole reason this business keeps employing artists is because of the unquantifiable, that certain element a corporation can't quite replicate. They would if they could, and they are trying, but they haven't been successful yet. That's why scripted shows are always going to be around, in my hackneyed opinion.
Or, all the stuff that Jake said. And, Blogger of the Year? Shucks. Now I feel like Diablo Cody.
Speaking of Diablo Cody, I did not intend to imply that if you didn't like Juno, it's because of your blind jealousy towards our resident former stripper (lookin' at you, Kati!). My post was in response to that idiotic article. My loathing of Little Miss Sunshine has nothing to do with any jealousy, for example. I just hated it. So if you hated Juno, no problem by me.
And the fabulous Robert Meyer Burnett stopped by:
Nice seeing you at Steve's. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out your blog's strike coverage. What started out as a cursory glance turned into three hours plus of wildly entertaining reading.
Well, shucks! Thanks. Can you believe we actually had X-Files to discuss? What a fucking weird time travel moment.
Regarding Mr. Mazin, well, I worked with Craig at an ad agency in the mid-nineties and was a producer on a film he directed almost a decade ago (THE SPECIALS). Rather than listen to my advice, he had his agent ban me from the edit bay so I couldn't see what he was shooting. That's how he rolled then. That's how he rolls now. Leopards and their spots, I suppose.
Oy. I don't like hearing that, but my guess is that based on Free Enterprise, he was jealous of your superior skills in the editing room.
Anyway, incredible blog. Destination reading. I drink it up.
David Rosiak, you make me sound like I vomit sunshine and rainbows. Keep posting!
np -- Chris Rea, "Presents the Delmonts." Holy shit. This is awesome. Chris Rea as Dick Dale.