Magazine article Variety

Still Mightier Than the Sword?

Magazine article Variety

Still Mightier Than the Sword?

Article excerpt

With the spec market kaput and paydays plummeting, scribe tribe drumbeat is downbeat

Hollywood's creative community is trying to figure out the following anomaly: While distributors of entertainment are carving out an ever bigger slice of the revenue pie, the creators of entertainment have an ever shrinking one.

If you're skeptical about this, study the glowing earnings reports of the multinationals, then contrast the trends with random data on writers or actors. For example, writers of feature films earned 34% less in aggregate last year than they did five years ago (TV writers did only marginally better), according to the Writers Guild of America.

We all know that writers are chronic complainers, but at this moment in time they may actually have something to complain about. It's getting tougher to make a living at the writing trade.

"Working as a feature film writer has gone from a poor career choice to a blood sport," observes screenwriter John C. Richards.

Given this phenomenon, I decided to spend some time talking with a cross-section of writers to discover their strategies for survival in a tough economy. I've focused on working writers, avoiding weekend dabblers as well as that elite fraternity of overpaid rewrite gurus who make $100,000 a week (and up) to do last minute bodyand-fender work on superhero epics.

The keys to survival? Versatility, resilience and an understanding that screenwriting is now akin to guerrilla warfare.

"When a door opens, you plunge through it," notes Bruce Feirstein, who is starting a script to be shot by a Chinese company in Shanghai. Underscoring his versatility, Feirstein has written three James Bond movies, five Bond videogames, plus random books and scripts on other subjects; he also serves as a contributor to Vanity Fair and is developing a TV show for eOne. The vidgame route came as a surprise to him. "It was not exactly my plan in life to become a videogame rock star," he acknowledges.

Survival and versatility are redefined by Invention Films topper Nicholas Weinstock as the Three Things Doctrine. "Every writer in Hollywood should be working on at least three projects at all times given the current landscape of grudging movie studios and fickle television networks," he explains.

"It's not just about 'gaming' the system," says Weinstock. "It's really about staying emotionally sane. Even two projects is too few, leaving you just two bad phone calls away from the terror and desperation of an utterly blank slate. …

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