Monday, May 16, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Just Slimey

Not much happening on Ghostkeeper and Christmas script is rolling along so I'm taking a bit of departure.

I've noticed a disturbing trend in writer-land, meaning screenwriting, novels and journalism and probably a dozen other writing worlds. But they say you should write what you know so I'll stick with the above, all of which I've done.

A lot of you have probably heard of the Huffiington Post, run by Arianna Huffington, and who offers a liberal view from her blog. She recently sold her blogsite to AOl for $315 million.

Not bad, huh? 

A lot of writers worked for Arianna, turning out liberal blogs every day for a few years. But most of them weren't paid a dime. The word Arianna likes is "intern". Meaning no pay.

Her history, as I know it, was this; Greek nobody arrives in America, marries Republican Michael Huffington who's worth big bucks, he loses Governor campaign, is outed as bi-sexual and she ends up with a bit of cash.

Now I don't mind anyone who becomes successful in America. But I don't like it when it's on the backs of young and even experienced writers who work for  nothing to "get experience and exposure" while she pays others a modest fee. This makes her a carpetbagger in my book.

I don't think I can count the number of times I was asked to work for free, maybe a hundred or even two hundred if I count friends. With friends like that I should be careful.

There is, inherently something about writers that suggests "use me" or "use me for free". This goes back to the Greeks, I'm sure. It sure was evident in Shakespeare's day too. I've always wondered why "they" think we should work for free.

And maybe some of you think that too.

If you remember, The Town That Christmas Forgot, the movie I wrote for Hallmark last year, they even forgot to pay me.

Once again, they forgot to pay me.

 The movie was filmed and being edited when I discovered, by accident, that it had been made. Normally and contractually, the writer is paid on the 1st day of principal photography. This is in WGA and WGC rules. Not suggestions -- rules.

It took me and WGC 2 weeks to get my money and a few times, they even thought they couldn't send money from Canada to USA. They really said that.

And in the end, it took an accountant who was smart and experienced, to say that it was all ridiculous and went over everyone' s head and paid me within 2 days.

Now I knew I would be paid, since the company is a signatory to WGC and it was quite funny as well, I kept all the emails and would be happy to send you them. Or I can post it if you ask.

But the question is raised; why do "they" not like writers? Yes, it doesn't happen all the time but it does happen. Often.

I always thought it was 2 things;

1. They never really see us work.  For all they know, a neighbor does it, or my friend's cat.

2. We're the first ones they have to pay.  We get paid even before they know if they'll get the money to make the movie. Before the crew, before the director, even before the actors. 

And they must really hate that. 

The money they pay is the option, 10% of the purchase price. And if they want rewrites they have to pay us for that. It is work after all. Even though most people don't know why writers should get paid. After all, everyone writes. A note, email, a check.

So what's the big deal about writers. Anyone can do it, can't they?

Once I pitched a story at the request of 2 producers and found out in the middle that I was to work for free. A complete surprise to me because they said I would be paid. They just meant "afterwards".

The job was relatively easy so I said ok, and wrote it in 3 weeks and handed it in. They liked it but a few weeks later the production company didn't. They wanted to hold onto it. And that's when I said they had to pay me.

They didn't understand. Didn't we have an agreement?

No, we didn't. I said I would write it for free, but if it wasn't going to be made then the script became mine. And I never signed any of the 4 contracts they sent me. And since the production company wanted to make it... we were in the classic Mexican stand-off.

So they paid me. Not the full amount but an option, a couple of thousand dollars. Certainly enough for the 3 weeks it took. It wasn't my greatest script but it was a good script.

Another time an exec at Granada, a big prodco, wouldn't pay me the full amount of a screenplay until WGA said either they pay or WGA comes after them. Fearing WGA they paid but said "this leaves a sour taste in our mouth for future work with Jim".

My agent said he'd pass it along to me.

One year later, that same exec met me at a party and praised my script and how well the production went. And that we have to work together again.

My agent reminded me of another Hollywood saying; "you'll never work in this town again -- or at least until we need you."

I've got more stories, but you get the idea.

So Arianna, give your hardworking and talented writers a few bucks out of your $315 million. Or a pizza.

And I won't even mention the new ads you have for your AOL/Huffington post -- which I saw in a local trade. 

Interns wanted.