It's been a very difficult time being a writer in Hollywood, especially in the last decade.
The studios have been making fewer and fewer films since the early 2000s. Once they found out that tent poles would bring them a greater return on investment, they began phasing out the mid-budget films that dominated the 80s and 90s and making recordings aimed at intellectual property and sequels.
Fewer movies meant less work.
If you were a writer who broke into Hollywood the idea was to write a spec that could be sold and made, then get hired on a few studio projects and make a name for yourself with your hard work.
But that changed quickly. Now people were writing great specs that should become samples. You write a few of these in the hope that one will be made, or one would be so good that you will be hired to write or rewrite something based on someone else's intellectual property.
When you do enough of this, hopefully for WGA signers, you can hop into the WGA or get a shot at a studio gig.
This is where the competition or the back-off playing field comes into play.
What are you?
Sweepstakes pitching (also known as "bake-off" within the writing community) gets a studio or producer to recruit many different scriptwriters for the same project before deciding which one to choose. These writers do a lot of freelance work.
You will be asked to throw, sometimes bat, outline, or even make treatments.
All for no money.
In almost all cases, sweepstakes occur when the studio owns a property that they think is incredibly valuable or that becomes a tent pole, such as an apartment building. B. a mythical character, board game, or even a book that needs to be customized.
You get a number of screenwriters to come up with a wide range of ideas. They try to go to a lot of people, usually between five and 20. In fact, from my own experience, I've met three people once, all of whom were on the same project as me. Neither of us understood.
The studios love this because they have a dozen different ideas for the entire film.
In fact, there are times when a studio is beta testing, if it is ever going to make a movie of that project.
It's been like that for a while. There's a great 2010 Los Angeles Times article and a Hollywood Reporter article this week about how a studio did the same for the Hot Wheels estate.
You might say, "What's the problem when you send your idea to multiple people to choose the best version?"
The answer is complicated. Scriptwriters often spend days or weeks preparing a project. I have participated in some of these situations and can tell you that it even takes months of preparation. Jobs are becoming scarce and people are becoming desperate.
These weeks or months are all unpaid. and by the time you're done, you've probably made a three-act story with deep characters and a specific vision. One you may not have. Plus, your chances of getting the job or even the movie in the future are slim.
This has drawn many writers and the WGA to take a stand. How can you treat them as unpaid research and development?
Perhaps the idea of theft is an even bigger problem. Because studios or producers end up hearing multiple takes, they may use elements from a pitch without hiring the author who created them. You might do this accidentally or knowingly, but either way, you don't have any ideas for your ideas.
The WGA launched a "No Letter Left" campaign to combat this situation.
"All writers need jobs and especially if it's early in their careers they may have to do whatever it takes to get hired," said screenwriter and WGAW board member Michele Mulroney. “But leaving treatment for a producer or an executive behind is the equivalent of free writing. It opens the door to often months of freelance work such as retrieving treatment notes and revising them multiple times. Guild rules don't allow unpaid work, and members need to know that they just don't have to give in to these requests. "
“Everyone wants to be a buddy, courteous. However, this is a situation where helping out hurts you and other writers, ”said screenwriter and WGAW board member John August. "Submitting your pages makes it harder for any other screenwriter to say no when asked. Things only change when we all say no."
This is a situation where all hands are on deck. The problem is that any writer has to refuse to leave things in writing in order to get jobs. And if producers or studios asked them about the stuff, they'd have to refuse. You can agree to the pitch, but you should not give any treatments.
It's easier said than done.
There have been many times that I've wanted to work so badly that I would have done anything to get the opportunity. I took this job at No Film School to make sure I didn't have to zero my bank account to get there, but most people are not afforded that luxury.
I'm not sure how to fix the system. Aside from requiring writers to be paid for their pitches, which studios may oppose, we operate on the honor system. One that writers are incredibly disadvantaged on. They have to look like team players who are easy to get along with, while also setting limits on how much they're willing to do for nothing.
Your agent or manager should set a precedent, but they want you to do whatever it takes to get their 10%. If your team isn't standing up for you, maybe it shouldn't be on your team.
Nothing is easy here. I think the best that can happen to writers is the surge in streamers. Hopefully more films will be made these back-offs will be a thing of the past. When it comes to getting started as a writer now, I don't have a lot of advice. There are times when I'm still trying to figure it out.
All I can say is that writing a good script got me repetition, turned that script into a movie, and got me to work. Now I work sporadically. I guess I'm waiting to win a back-off but I hope the job I do brings me a reputation for getting into these rooms.
I think time will tell. and I have no idea if I'm the typical case either.
What do you think of this situation in Hollywood?
Do you have any corrections?
Let us know in the comments.