Monday, October 01, 2012

Idea Factories

Oh hello.

Thank you to everyone who boosted/tweeted/liked the page for our IdeaBOOST project. We've made the next round! Now it's up to A Specific Group of People Who We Do Not Know But Greatly Admire to choose the projects that will participate in the project. We should know around the middle of October.


You know how you think 1990 was ten years ago, but it was really over 20 years ago and when you realize that you want to primal scream in the middle of Target? I think the TeeVee business is like that, too. It's changed a ton since we first got in, but mostly you're just trying to keep up so you don't take a moment to look around and see what's happened.

Ratings are substantially lower than they were when we were on Millennium because if we got those ratings NOW, we'd be a monster hit. We lost a broadcast network when the WB and UPN merged, which sucks, even though most of you would probably make fun of it because you're awful people. We've gained cable, but that's not quite the job boon you would think. Staffs all around are about half of what they used to be. The rise of PODs as studios has helped bloat budgets. Episode orders are smaller (which is excellent creatively and would be a good thing if they could work out a more stable business model for it). Pilots are massively more expensive than they've ever been, used as dazzling sales tools to wow the advertising folks. Feature producers, writers and directors are abandoning their dead business to take over television.

A good entertainment futurist (a new job I've just invented and I will be the first one) could have predicted all of this. Pretty sure nobody in the business did, though.

There are more layers of executives and producers to get through before you can even pitch your idea. Networks are looking for things that are infinitesimally specific and hugely vague at the same time. While they haven't abandoned their desire to hear the stories YOU want to tell, they just can't be in the business of relying on a writer's vision. Not unless it's a giant ape (nomenclature reserved for the biggest names in Hollywood, you know who they are). Things are too expensive and jobs are too fragile to take a flyer. So writers are desperate for information, just for something upon which to build their pitch. Because even if you have something great, if that's not what people are looking for you'd better be the most highly sought-after writer in town or else you're going to get a pass.

So I guess it makes sense, to a certain degree, that writers aren't really developing their own ideas anymore. Or they write them as specs, which is something I find intriguing and a possible basis for a whole new television business model, only it's just taking root in my mind at the moment and not in the Real World. And then there are the feature writers, who are used to going in and pitching on specific projects with fifty other feature writers. NO WONDER THEY ARE COMING TO TELEVISION I MEAN MY GOD. Not being a white male feature writer, I don't know what it's like when you go meet TeeVee producers and executives, but my notion that it's similar to what it's like for me, only with much more excitement, is apparently mistaken. Something is happening out there. I don't know if it's specific to feature writers because of how their business has devolved, or if seasoned television writers are going this way as well.

Writers, it seems, have stopped coming in with ideas. That sounds ludicrous, right? Since ideas are our products. A writer without ideas is just some asshole endlessly procrastinating at Starbuck's. Now, television is turning into features in that the networks seem to be mostly interested in Things That Came Before, whether that be modernized versions of classics or adaptation of Scandinavian or Israeli shows. So at a certain level, it makes sense that some higher profile writers just wait to be pitched to. It's stupid, BTW, to go into a pitch meeting and not have a pitch, but okay, player. I'll give you that one.

Apparently, though, this is becoming a problem. I've heard rumblings from people about how writers go in for meetings and want an idea handed to them. This doesn't appear to be an isolated incident, which I discovered via Stephen Gallagher's blog. Hence THIS blog post. Is this a new generation thing? Is it only because of the massive influx of damaged, beaten feature writers? Is it about writers realizing that the system is running no matter what they do, so they've just given up? I have no idea. But unless I know going in that the producer or executive has something they want to pitch, I can't imagine a scenario in which I walk into a room and demand an idea. We've had meetings that are supposed to be general but turn into pitch meetings and guess what? We always have half a dozen or so. Going into a meeting without ideas? How can you call yourself a writer?

I know ideas don't come easily to everyone, and some writers struggle with finding the ideas about which they can become passionate. Everybody works differently. But you WORK. The business has gotten weird and intractable and almost impossible, but then you have to work harder to find the right match for your idea. Sorry, but that's the way it is. If you're going to give up even finding ideas, then just give up altogether. It's embarrassing.

Anyone else had experience with this bit of strangeness?


Cunningham said...

The whole notion of writers coming in to a meeting without one of their own ideas to pitch to "the company" is similar to what has been happening to comics for decades. Why give away your best ideas for someone else to profit from - when there's every opportunity to own it and do it yourself?

It started with paper and it's now transferred to the domain of the moving image.

kimshum said...

This happens a lot at TV studios, especially with writers who have overall deals.

cgeye said...

Thinking back to the strike, hasn't the environment for compensation and autonomy become more harsh, due to the Great Recession or general belt-tightening? Also, how many writers have successfully fought for their intellectual property rights in cases of copyright infringement? If that percentage has gone down, then pitching ideas might be cutting off the potential revenue stream that might only be preserved through self-production.

In such discouraging times -- and with the refugees from features gumming up the works -- wouldn't the equivalent of a sitdown strike be writers passively accepting the ideas the suits are willing to develop, or corporate lawyers able to defend? If the bane of writers nowadays has become development executives believing they're writers, then why not give them their head, until the system crashes?

Once the costs of production and transmission become practical for writers to make the jump to self-production, then those ideas can come out of hiding. Until then, let them sell the rope to hang the Hollywood development system with. I know, just a pipe dream, but if there's a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.