Thursday, July 12, 2012

The amateur and the pro -- part 2

So why do studios and networks and small prodco's even entertain the thought of working with amateurs rather than pros?

Well, first of all, most studios don't even consider aspiring screenwriters, they spend too much money to take a chance on untested talent. True, some new writers with screenwriting awards from major competitions like the Nichols competition and fellowship and a few others but the few dozen or so other competitions are mostly scams wherein aspiring writers pay $50 or more to enter. There are thousands of these aspiring writers so at $50 a pop, a competition in some little city can make some money for the sponsors.

A little history here now; why and when did all these aspiring screenwriters come from? It probably started back in the 1980's when new writers like Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas  sold spec screenplays for half a million and more. This was new to Hollywood, experienced screenwriters who did specs for big action thrillers like Lethal Weapon and others.

Suddenly specs got heat, as they say and every writer who could write a spec did one. It lasted into the early 90's and slowly disappeared after a number of specs were bought for huge amounts. Eszterhas supposedly was paid $4 million for a story he wrote on a napkin! The movie that was made from that spec died at the box office.

So studios returned to the old ways, taking time to figure out if a screenplay was do-able.

But it became a gold rush for Generation X, many of whom went to film school or took a few classes. Specs became the new gold.

But it was already too late as studios and networks settled in with writers they knew and trusted.

But then the mini-studio happened. Small companies who did movies for around $2 - $5 million and made primarily for international sales and dvds. They were looking for anything they could find at a price that was affordable.

How affordable? Some of them were asking writers to work for free, suggesting their script would get them attention. This happens often today. Others would pay a little bit of money and of course this includes WGA members who are not allowed to work for non-signatories.

But some of them did; one has to pay the rent and face the wrath of the WGA.

Then something else started.

Web sites that actually featured producers and companies looking for scripts. This time they upped the stakes by encouraging WGA writers as well as non-WGA writers. Websites like InkTip which charges $60 a year to receive the weekly handful of producers looking for screenplays.

The problem, often, was that they were asking for very specific screenplays like "smart sci-fi stories", or faith-based scripts, contained scripts (very few locations and actors), humans hunting humans scripts, Persian comedies, etc. etc.

Somehow the demand changed from writers writing specs to producers looking for very specific genres and even narrower subject matter.  And rules happened, you could not contact the companies by any method, only the website could contact them beyond your official reply.

But writers go to these sites, as agencies have merged with agencies thus leaving few agents to solicit for new writers, it has become a race for who can deliver a script for "fairy tale adaptations featuring dogs" (that was a a real request).

So where does it go?

One thing I've always said is that I'm glad I had my hat in the ring from 1990 to 2005 where several parties were held yearly at the Roosevelt Hotel bemoaning the "end of the TV Movie". With it came the end of an era when there was a fair amount of work for a lot of writers.

It's now become a "who gets there first" mentality for the b-movie writers (and directors), many of whom could make a fair amount of money doing episodic and dvd movies. The big guys, Paramount, Universal and the others have reduced their product to blockbusters that cost $150 million or more and writers in television make a great living.

But for most of us, it's more bleak than encouraging as different medias begin to take over and a new generation watches bits of movies on their iPhones. Consider that the WGA has an 85% unemployment ratio as compared to America's unemployment figures at around 8-15%.

Where does it go considering the odds of selling a screenplay?

I met a woman who had just graduated from NYU in writing and directing and owed $85,000 in student loans. She is starting out looking for a job in an industry that doesn't know what new media is going to hit it with a generation that likes things for free.

Ah, but is it all gone? No, reinvention is the key word. 

Got a female marital arts script?