INT. HOMELESS SHELTER - WRITERS ROOM - NIGHT
July 2, 2010 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Screenwriters find work is dwindling. While screen writers conferences are still enthusiastically marketed all over the country, and eagerly reported on, the working reality for screenwriters these days, is that work is growing ever more scarce. 'This week the Writers Guild of America, West reported that while earnings for screenwriters have bounced back to pre-strike levels' (2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike), 'there is a lot less work going around: employment has fallen 11% in the last three years, with 226 fewer screenwriters working in 2009 than 2006, the year before the 100-day walkout and the lowest level in at least six years.' '"Except for current A-list writers, the picture is as bleak as I've ever seen it," said former Writers Guild President Dan Petrie Jr.'

'Indeed, the recession has given the movie studios a reason — or an excuse, depending on the perspective — to adjust in their favor how they employ screenwriters.

When screenwriters do get a shot at work, they are increasingly subject to "sweepstakes pitching," in which as many as a dozen are pitted against one another, with producers picking the one they like best.

Or writers are often paid only for the first draft of the script in "one-step deals," and no longer offered a fee for subsequent drafts, as in the past. Writers also are expected to produce elaborate outlines of the script before they are hired for the project, losing valuable time if they are not selected.'

'Writers think the crimp in what the studios are willing to pay puts a cramp on creativity since it doesn't encourage risk-taking.

"When a writer is working on a one-step deal, he's going to be risk-averse because if he takes a flier on a wildly creative or inventive way of telling the story, he might wind up getting fired," said Billy Ray, writer of the thrillers "Flightplan" and "Color of Night," whose last four projects have all been one-step deals. "He won't have another draft or two to make it work, so he's going to write it down the middle."'

'To cut expenses further, studios have slashed spending on development — the industry's equivalent of R&D — while scaling back the number of movies they release each year: the guild bestowed writers' credits on 237 films last year, down from 299 in 2008.

With the closing of several independent distribution labels, studios have been purchasing fewer scripts in favor or adaptations of comic books, graphic novels, remakes and TV shows.

All of which has meant fewer jobs for rank-and-file writers, especially those who are trying to sell original scripts.'
posted by VikingSword (244 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
 
Everyone has tough times these days. It's interesting though that studios are adopting contracting measures that will result in less risky writing - but this may be a feature, not a bug, from the studio point of view. (Billy Ray portrays it as a bad thing)

With the strike coinciding with the recession, it's much harder to separate out which has resulted in what.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:44 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read this earlier today and found it depressing. It is a variation on what companies are doing to workers all over the country--figuring out a way to tighten the screws on workers, make them jump through endless hoops in the hope of getting hired, then slamming the door in their faces. In the case of the Hollywood screenwriters, I would guess that having so many movie sequels instead of originals isn't helping, just as endless reality shows are cutting into TV writers' ranks.

I wish I could tell you the number of times I'd been asked to, say, write an in-depth outline on how to do something--promote a company through social media-- or jump in and edit someone's work because I'm just about to be hired in a day or two--only to then be refused the job. In the second case, no one was hired; in the first, someone cheaper and less qualified got the job. I am quite certain my work got used, just not by me.

Some day, justice will catch up with these lying corporate bastards. I just hope to be there when it does.
posted by etaoin at 6:47 PM on July 2, 2010 [12 favorites]


the picture is as bleak as I've ever seen it," said former Writers Guild President Dan Petrie Jr.

Maybe if the pictures were a bit more peppy, the situation would be a bit less bleak.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:54 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I dunno if I'm A-list, but I suppose I'm at least high B-list and I've had no problem finding work over the last couple of years, thank God. But the screenwriting world is currently fucked.

What happened was this:

1. The writer's strike. Not only did this mean you couldn't earn while the strike was on, it killed every deal that had already been made stone dead. The industry took six months to get going again, which meant most of us were a year without pay. We all wrote specs of course, but the studios didn't buy them.

2. The crash. Just as we were getting back on our feet, the crash hit. The studios continued to make money, but their corporate owners demanded the same austerity measures they did from other divisions. As a result, D-budgets were cut or frozen. I was asked to turn a pirate movie into a space opera for the price of a set of revisions, which I did under protest. Then the studio asked me to do another pass for free, at which point we parted company.

3. Avatar. This was the killer. Suddenly the only movies the studios were interested in were 3-D $200m+ blockbusters and low budget horrors/comedies. Dramas are dead and the numbers of projects under development are way down. This is the studios' version of 'risk averse', but as they have discovered this summer, it is anything but.

It's not all bade news because

4. This summer has been a fucking disaster for the studios. They've had a few hits but so many 'sure things' have crashed and burned. Studio heads have been reduced to touring round the agencies trying to get some ideas. The model is not working, and no wonder.

You have to understand the guys and gals who run the studios are not stupid or craven or idiots. I know several of them and they are mostly terrific people who care just as much about making good movies as anyone else. But they are working within the constraints of their corporate owners.

Screenwriting is as bad as it's ever been. I pity anyone trying to break in right now. There are no spec sales. But... things always turn around. I know one head of production of one of the major studios who would *love* to do a massive family melodrama. They are desperate to find a way to do classic love stories. The massive over-emphasis on $100m + movies means there is a gap in the market for much lower budget material. Someone will exploit that.

It's always darkest just before dawn, is my view. Things will turn. They always do.
posted by unSane at 7:02 PM on July 2, 2010 [153 favorites]


The WGA pretty much slit its own throat in the 1988 strike. After that, the studios were determined that writers would never have that kind of power again. The industry was never the same after that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:07 PM on July 2, 2010


Maybe if the pictures were a bit more peppy, the situation would be a bit less bleak.


This meme that 'if the writers just wrote better pictures...' needs to die. Writers want to write fantastic pictures. The studios refuse to make them. That's all there is to it.

Every A,B and C list writer has a pile of specs that you would just fucking adore if they were ever made into movies. Heartbreaking dramas, love stories, strange comedies, brutal war films, mindboggling flights of fancy, incredible personal stories. Shakespearian mob dramas, epic cop corruption tales, WWI ghost stories, fuck, I could go on and on and on.

The studios will not touch them with a barge pole. They are not interested. They want STRETCH ARMSTRONG, BATTLESHIP!, MAGIC 8-BALL (I am not kidding... those are all in development) and some more Twilight sequels.
posted by unSane at 7:09 PM on July 2, 2010 [56 favorites]


This article could have been published at any time in the past twenty years. Screenwriters are always in crisis. You take every job you're offered because it might be the last job you ever get. Studios, networks, indies -- they're all always 'cutting back.' All of them. Always.

Those 'sweepstakes pitches' have been SOP for my entire career. The only difference now is that 'your' agents and managers don't bother to try to hide it from you that half their client list is pitching the same job.

And I'm just sayin' -- one-step deals can be a buyer's way of handling a writer who has a track record of ignoring deadlines or becoming difficult to work with. Writers are awesome for sure in theory but missed deadlines (by years in some cases) and repeatedly ignoring the buyer's notes are quite common in this business.
posted by grounded at 7:12 PM on July 2, 2010


They're not the only people affected by the recession. They get paid gazilions of dollars so maybe they can spend some of their savings. They work in a fantasy land, and when the magic kingdom doesn't want them anymore then we're supposed to feel oh so sorry for them.
They have my sympathies, but then so do all the candlestick makers and carpet tile stackers that are also suffering right now.
posted by Monkeymoo at 7:13 PM on July 2, 2010


I agree the WGA bears a large amount of responsibility. I hate them. The money (six figures) I lost due to the last strike will never be recouped. But leaving the WGA is next to impossible if you want to work in Hollywood. If there was a way, I would do so tomorrow.
posted by unSane at 7:14 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


They get paid gazilions of dollars so maybe they can spend some of their savings.

You know we're talking about screenwriters, right? Not studio executives or A-list actors?
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:17 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


I agree that sweepstakes pitching is SOP. In some ways it has improved since there are now many less writers in the frame for any given project. Generally it is three to five other writers.

I've never been offered a one-step deal, but then I have never missed a deadline. You do see a few more cut-offs (especially in animation deals) but these are fairly standard and I am generally OK with them... I'd rather the studio killed the project at the treatment stage than wasted my time going to script when it only had a 5% chance of getting any further than that.
posted by unSane at 7:18 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


gazilions of dollars

most screenwriters get paid nothing in any particular year

I am in the top 5% of earners among WGA members, and average one to one and a half jobs a year, for which I am paid (coming clean here) mid to low six figures.

Bear in mind you need *at least* two years of survival money put aside.

So don't feel bad for me. But the other 95% of writers?
posted by unSane at 7:22 PM on July 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


*Watches with empathy as a barrage of spec scripts crash into unSane's memail*
posted by cavalier at 7:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [26 favorites]


So don't feel bad for me. But the other 95% of writers?

But if you are in the other 95% of writers, is writing your primary source of income? Artists in any medium generally rely on some kind of steady work (or the income of their spouses) to eat. I would imagine that a person writing spec scripts that may or may not sell (and, if they do sell, are not a guarantee of future sales) is in the same boat, right?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:32 PM on July 2, 2010


I'm curious about how this "one step deal" works. Are you expected to work on subsequent drafts for free? Or are you just not guaranteed subsequent work?
posted by double bubble at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2010


unSane has it right. I just read the treatment for VIEW MASTER: THE MOVIE. It made me very, very sad.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


I don't know a thing about the movie industry, but, intuitively, it seems as though the dearth of creativity will probably be fixed, to some degree, when

1) the studios (or whatever entity arises to compete with them) find an effective way of niche-marketing and micro-targeting... and then actually uses it, on an enormous and systematic scale. Obviously, big newspaper print ads make sense mainly for the massiest of mass-market, crowd-pleasing, Take the Whole Gang films.

Want better advertising returns? Get whatever micro-tracked, Your Email Tells Us You'd Like This profile-based mechanism is on offer from Google et al.

2) (somewhat less importantly) the It's-All-Free-Online-After-A-Week-So-Why-Buy-A-Ticket piracy problem is dealt with.
posted by darth_tedious at 7:34 PM on July 2, 2010


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a scriptwriter is $44,350. Popular and successful writers can command extremely high salaries, often ranging between $100,000 and $600,000 per script. Screenplays for low-budget films bring in less money. Sometimes writers negotiate for a percentage of the movie profits (called a royalty).
Could I please eat some humble pie and change my phrase 'they get paid gazillions of dollars' to 'they get paid a reasonable amount on average'. I do think we put the whole industry on too much of a pedestal.
*scurries away
posted by Monkeymoo at 7:35 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


boofuckinghoo
posted by liza at 7:39 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about how this "one step deal" works. Are you expected to work on subsequent drafts for free? Or are you just not guaranteed subsequent work?

A typical script deal is one draft, two sets of revisions and a polish, with perhaps a treatment before any of that. This means you are guaranteed to get paid for all of these steps., which will probably take 12 to 18 months all told. Thus, when you land a deal like this, you can relax for a while, which is a good thing, as hustling for work is a full-time job.

A one-step deal is basically: we pay you to write a draft and any further steps (if any) are optional to the studio. You'd still get paid, but they are not guaranteed.

In animation deals it is quite normal to have a treatment cut-off. This means the deal is mostly guaranteed, but the studio can bail once it sees the treatment. I don't really mind these deals for reasons stated in an earlier response.

re spec scripts, let me just state for the record that I will not read your fucking script.
posted by unSane at 7:47 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Or writers are often paid only for the first draft of the script in "one-step deals," and no longer offered a fee for subsequent drafts, as in the past.

I have heard that some people were abusing the old system and deliberately turning in shitty first drafts, second drafts, etc. so they could pad their earnings.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:48 PM on July 2, 2010


Could I please eat some humble pie and change my phrase 'they get paid gazillions of dollars' to 'they get paid a reasonable amount on average'.

Yes, exactly. During the strike I can't tell you how many people bashed me with "so, heading back to your mansion now?" Yeah, er... no.

I am lucky enough to have worked pretty regularly, mainly in TV, (and if you think screenwriting is impossible right now, check out the incredible shrinking TV writing staffs) but like many writers I save my money to live on during the lean years. And these past two years have been the leanest I've ever had. It's ugly out there. My savings are gone, and in a state with 12 percent unemployment, it's not like we can all just go out there and do something else.

boofuckinghoo

Thanks. Very helpful.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:48 PM on July 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


Yes, it sucks to be a screenwriter. Right now, it sucks to be everything else, too.

The only sure employment is for doctors and nurses with advanced degrees, and only because the AMA decided to act as a cartel and strong-arm medical schools into shrinking their classes to unsustainable levels to maximize MD paychecks. This has not only tipped healthcare costs into crisis, it keeps may of the brightest students out of medicine, and funnelled into industries already seeing a glut of talented and smart employees - such as law, or, perhaps, screenwriting.

The higher education system in the US has been broken for at least fifteen years, with the cost of an education rocketing up every year, and the return on the investment a student makes in their education falling like a stone. Scientists are funneled into indentured servitude in academia instead of middle-class lifestyles in industry, the intelligent but undecided are shunted into Law whether it's good for them or not, and our medical system is starved for trained and competent professionals at all levels. Meanwhile, employers laugh openly at degrees like English or Philosophy, demanding that college act as a white-collar trade school to provide ready-made employees, rather investing in educated and intelligent people.

I say this as a an autodidact, someone who taught himself a trade without the benefit of a college degree - a college degree of any sort should be worth something. Right now - it's just not. I should be able to rely on a college grad, any college grad, to hunt down and understand the answer to any question I give them with the right amount of guidance and elbow grease. They're not trained to do that anymore. The courses are broken, the grading is broken, and you'll spend more than you'll make unless you land a scholarship.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on July 2, 2010 [40 favorites]


They want STRETCH ARMSTRONG, BATTLESHIP!, MAGIC 8-BALL (I am not kidding... those are all in development)

Holy shit. You said you weren't kidding but I thought you were kidding.
posted by enn at 7:49 PM on July 2, 2010


The one thing you shouldn't attack Hollywood corporations on is underpaying creative talent. Especially if you regard development execs and hands-on producers as essentially creative (and you should) there can't be any for-profit industry where talent compensation absorbs a larger share of revenue.
posted by MattD at 7:52 PM on July 2, 2010


Yes, it sucks to be a screenwriter. Right now, it sucks to be everything else, too.


Absolutely right. The source of frustration here is that, even in a dismal year like this, the studios are actually making billions of dollars, but the movie industry is not seeing the benefit because of the corporate ownership. Previously, during hard times, the movies and the people who worked in the movies continued to do well. This time round, they have been hurt, if not as badly, then at least much worse than ever before.

It's not just writers and other creatives. The studio infrastructure has been absolutely slashed to hell. There is an upside to this. The studios were massively top-heavy, especially with creative executives. That has gone. THANK GOD. Largely, the people who remain are rather smart and good in their jobs. But now, for example, the travel departments are massively understaffed. You need a flight because you have to pitch a movie to an A-list star, but there is no-one to book it. You end up booking it yourself and paying for it yourself. I'm not kidding.
posted by unSane at 7:59 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have heard that some people were abusing the old system and deliberately turning in shitty first drafts, second drafts, etc. so they could pad their earnings.

Those people, if they existed, had exactly one job in the movies.
posted by unSane at 8:00 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks unSane! The accountant in me always needs the specifics of the deal.

(looking for job security? - go accounting. We secretly rule the evil empire. )
posted by double bubble at 8:01 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Last night I was watching Tales from the Script on Netflix streaming (here). I would recommend it.
posted by milkrate at 8:02 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would imagine that a person writing spec scripts that may or may not sell (and, if they do sell, are not a guarantee of future sales) is in the same boat, right?

Nobody makes a living in the movies by selling spec scripts. You make a living by writing or rewriting commissioned material (eg novel adaptations, rewrites, purchased pitches and so on).

This is a full-time job. If you are not writing, you need to be hustling. You hear that you are up for an adaptation. You are up against five other writers or writing teams. You cannot be doing another job and be competitive. You need to have the same level of commitment as everyone else.

The WGA figures are skewed by people who got a job a couple of years ago and nothing since, for sure. I know a few writers who teach, but most of us are here manning the barricades. If we are not writing on commission, we are coming up with pitches, writing specs, writing novels, researching, doing graphic novels and so on.

It is not an occupation where you can have a plan B. That is one of the things I like about it.
posted by unSane at 8:09 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


unSane: "The studios will not touch them with a barge pole. They are not interested. They want STRETCH ARMSTRONG, BATTLESHIP!, MAGIC 8-BALL (I am not kidding... those are all in development) and some more Twilight sequels."

All that tidal wave of brand-name films, and we still don't have a Halo movie, even though we were thisclose to a dream project produced by Peter Jackson, directed by Neil Blomkamp (of District 9 fame), and with full creative control given to Bungie. An epic storyline with an existing fan base of millions, and it gets canceled while all the studios rush PONG: THE MOVIE and THE CHRONICLES OF TETRIS (3D) into production.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:14 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you're an accountant, you might like to know that a million dollar deal typically breaks down as follows.

$500,000 guaranteed, of which

$50,000 for treatment (may or may not have this step, figures adjust accordingly)
$300,000 first draft
$100,000 revisions
$50,000 polish

All these steps are paid 50% on commencement, 50% on delivery to studio -- which may mean two unspoken, uncontracted 'producer passes' to incorporate producer notes before it goes to the studio.

$500,000 bonus on first day of principal photography if movie goes into production.

2.5-5% net profit participation ('monkey points' - meaningless in 99% of cases).
posted by unSane at 8:15 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


I've also heard that movie projects are more often derived from books these days, so screenwriters are competing with novelists as well as other screenwriters. Not sure if is this is true or not.

boofuckinghoo

Wow, where does that attitude come from? Anger at people who are creative? I wouldn't try screenwriting primarily because of health concerns, but I do respect those who battle their way through it.
posted by angrycat at 8:15 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Screenwriters are not competing with novelists, we RELY on them. Novels are source material. Novelists are very very rarely asked to adapt their own books. When they do, it is generally a disaster and a screenwriter gets hired anyway.
posted by unSane at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2010


So why don't all the screenwriters band together and start your own fucking production company? You'd not have trouble attracting funding, if every one of you has brilliant movies that everybody will love already pre-written, waiting to be made.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The Movie.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:18 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anger at people who are creative?

Former Writers Guild President Dan Petrie Jr. has In The Army Now to his credit, so there may be some Pauly Shore-related rancor at work there.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


So why don't all the screenwriters band together and start your own fucking production company?

Right, that's realistic. Hundreds -- thousands, even! -- of writers will just band together magically and "start a production company." Oh, sorry, a fucking production company.

Anyway, on a slightly different note: My boyfriend's a commercial actor, and he says he's noticed an increase in auditions over the past year or two in which he and the other actors aren't even given a script; they're just given a general concept that they're asked to improv around. And then, crazily enough... the commercial will run months later, sometimes featuring the specific set-up (and even exact lines) that the actors improvised, but of course never got compensation for writing.
posted by scody at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [29 favorites]


I've never been able to wrap my head around the fact that writers aren't the top compensated contributors in film - without a script there can't be a movie. Or, at least why they aren't way up there in the compensation.
posted by double bubble at 8:31 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


(Oh, and I should clarify: I mean the commercial will include a set-up or lines improvised by an actor who didn't even get cast in the role, so it's not like they're getting compensated for appearing in the commercial. They're literally just having their improv audition lifted by the advertiser, turned into a script, and then given to another actor entirely. So that's nice, too.)
posted by scody at 8:33 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yes, it sucks to be a screenwriter. Right now, it sucks to be everything else, too.

Yes. Do we plan to go into every single thread about specific industries that are ailing and let them know that others, too, are suffering? Or can we collectively agree that that presumption exists?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:38 PM on July 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


So why don't all the screenwriters band together and start your own fucking production company?

Because our movies would not make money, given the current distribution system. If you really want to get into why the movies are like they are, you have to look at the fucked up way that movies make money, based on opening weekends in theaters, national advertising and so on. The studios have fought internet distribution tooth and nail because it would destroy this system, but the system may destroy them first.

Basically, it is set up so that only movies that appeal to 18-24 year old males will make money. You can make more money by appealing to more people, but that is your core demo.

18-24 year old males are 3.5% of the population. This is why movies suck, because that 3.5% of the population is all the studios care about. This is because revenues are driven by Friday and Saturday night box office at the multiplexes, and those young guys are the drivers there.

Studios are not irrational. They make shitty movies for a reason.
posted by unSane at 8:39 PM on July 2, 2010 [46 favorites]


Or, at least why they aren't way up there in the compensation.

Honestly, compared to everyone else, we are way up there in the compensation. Not compared to A-list talent, and not compared to producers if the movie gets made, but we are among the only ones who are well-compensated during the development process.

It does not suck to be a working writer. It sucks very, very, very hard indeed to be a writer who is struggling for work.
posted by unSane at 8:45 PM on July 2, 2010


Jesus, scody. That's lame. Seems part of the broader trend.

My wife and I've got a running joke about how all the movie previews we ever see anymore are for adaptations or remakes. Almost everything being produced these days seems to be some form of retread. Original ideas hardly ever seem to make it to the screen or on air anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:46 PM on July 2, 2010


this is a very cool thread. thanks for offering your insights, unSane.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:47 PM on July 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


They're literally just having their improv audition lifted by the advertiser, turned into a script, and then given to another actor entirely. So that's nice, too.

This used to be common in Chicago when the Compass Theater was around. The actors successfully sued. Your friend may have a case.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:47 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Studios are not irrational. They make shitty movies for a reason.

I've been on all sides of this bidness for a long time. Let me tell you this - it is absolutely insane and counterintuitive. Yet, it works. Every day, when you witness yet another absolute insanity, you wonder, how can this possibly not explode as a business model? And yet. Here's what will blow your mind: the studios have survived for close to a century now. That, friends, is longevity any way you slice it. Meanwhile, countless challenges to the system have fallen to the wayside - you think Dreamworks SDK was the first try by powerful insiders to start their own? Hardly, there've been many... anyone remember UA? That's when I laughed at someone suggesting writers start a studio. Actors tried, directors tried, producers tried, all failed.

But wait. It gets better. So just when you think the mystery cannot get any deeper, consider this: the film business is one of America's strongest industries, towering over the international competition. That's right. As fucked up - as utterly baroquely fucked up as it is, nobody IN THE WORLD can compete against us. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Those are the thoughts that go through my head, as I see yet another example of utter madness from some exec. I think to myself - verily, we live in a mysterious universe.
posted by VikingSword at 8:50 PM on July 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


Err, SKG, that is.
posted by VikingSword at 8:51 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Studios are not irrational. They make shitty movies for a reason.

There's something very sad in the fact that economic rationality means making crappy movies. And there's no one to even blame, really -- it takes cooperation from executives and writers and directors and actors and everyone, plus of course the crappy audience that is demanding crappy movies, to make such crap profitable.
posted by Forktine at 8:52 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing is that good movies do still get made. We should concentrate on how and why that happens, in my opinion.
posted by unSane at 8:55 PM on July 2, 2010 [12 favorites]


Seems part of the broader trend.

Yep, definitely. What also sucks is SAG's reluctance to really hold advertisers' feet to the fire on a whole host of issues (particularly on tracking the actual airing of commercials, which impacts residuals), which it's my understanding was part of a package of concessions that the guild made to the advertisers earlier in the decade.

This used to be common in Chicago when the Compass Theater was around. The actors successfully sued. Your friend may have a case.

Ooh, that's good to know... thanks for the info. I'm going to see if I can do a little research. (Or if you have further info, feel free to memail me!)
posted by scody at 8:56 PM on July 2, 2010


The interesting thing is that good movies do still get made.

And, as Pixar demonstrated a few weeks ago, even sequels can be terrific and make huge box office.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:59 PM on July 2, 2010


And, as Pixar demonstrated a few weeks ago, even sequels can be terrific and make huge box office.

Right, and there wasn't even any mystery about why that movie worked.
posted by unSane at 9:01 PM on July 2, 2010


This summer has been a fucking disaster for the studios

They really deserve it, the movies this year have been dire. I love a good popcorn action movie but the ones this year have just been grim and flat and lifeless.
posted by octothorpe at 9:03 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right, and there wasn't even any mystery about why that movie worked.

It's true! It wasn't no Napoleon Dynamite. Just good storytelling.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:04 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


*renews excitement to see Toy Story 3 this weekend!*
posted by scody at 9:05 PM on July 2, 2010


yep. toy story 3 was really, really good.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is what I don't understand - suppose you have to play to the 19-24 yo male. (so you will have a big action movie with explosions and bikini babes) And suppose you decide you will only make sequels and tie-ins etc (so your action movie will be called Battleship).

Still, you could make a good movie within those parameters. It wouldn't *hurt* your appeal to the all-important demo to make it have funny joke rather than unfunny jokes, to close gaping plot holes, etc. And there's lots of underemployed writers, so presumably you can find somebody good to write it up. So what's stopping that from happening? Is it the execs etc who just don't know that the scripts suck? Is it that big-name directors get hired who have wrong tastes?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 PM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


18-24 year old males are 3.5% of the population. This is why movies suck, because that 3.5% of the population is all the studios care about. This is because revenues are driven by Friday and Saturday night box office at the multiplexes, and those young guys are the drivers there.

I don't understand. Don't more than that 3.5% go to movies? Don't they buy tickets? Don't some movies make a lot of money on the second, third, and fourth weekend, and sometimes even later when it comes out and becomes a hit in various other countries?

I'm not saying I disagree--I just don't understand.
posted by eye of newt at 9:15 PM on July 2, 2010


Can anyone explain how exactly STRETCH ARMSTRONG, BATTLESHIP!, and MAGIC 8-BALL cater to 18 to 24-year-old males?

It seems to me that they cater much more to 28 to 44-year-old nostalgiac executives with deep pockets, poor judgment, and attics full of well-loved A-Team, GI Joe and Transformers toys.

18 to 24-year-old males do not own those shows, games or toys, did not grow up with them, do not care about them, and in all likelihood do not have children old enough to appreciate them either.
posted by condiments at 9:16 PM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I work at a conference, and yeah, we marketed like mad this year, but we also had a landmark year for entries. Speaking of which, if anyone in the austin area has screen writing experience and/or a pretty good knowledge of screen writing, we need readers, just memail me and i will give you some more details. If you make your quota you get a producer badge to the fest/conference.

As a person who wants to be a paid screenwriter, every time i hear stuff like this i get bummed out.
posted by djduckie at 9:20 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


2.5-5% net profit participation ('monkey points' - meaningless in 99% of cases).

...because the studios play wonderful games with the accounting to guarantee that there is no profit, on paper. See "Fess Parker".

That's why people who have the leverage these days bargain for a percentage of the gross rather than a percentage of the profits. (E.g. Keanu Reeves got 15% of the gross from each of the last two Matrix movies.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:22 PM on July 2, 2010


I don't understand. Don't more than that 3.5% go to movies? Don't they buy tickets? Don't some movies make a lot of money on the second, third, and fourth weekend, and sometimes even later when it comes out and becomes a hit in various other countries?

In the current distribution system, the opening weekend drives everything else. The entire marketing budget is basically aimed at that three day window. The print budget defines how many theaters the movie can get into. Nobody cares how much you movie does on the second weekend if it didn't win the first. This then becomes the metric by which every foreign sale, foreign advertising budget, DVD advertising budget etc etc etc gets judged.

18-24 yr old males drive the N. American opening weekend, and that drives everything else. Secondly, foreign sales are crucial, so nothing which is dialogue-heavy is going to travel. Plus, there are many great actors who don't travel either. This is why Tom Cruise is such a dominant box office presence. In North America, we remember couch-jumping. In Laos, not so much.

So that 3.5% is half of the 7% of the 18-24 demo but has a much stronger influence on what is seen. The other demos typically do not go to movie theaters, so they belong to the (far less important) tail end of the revenue stream. Basically, if it doesn't get into the multiplexes, it has almost no chance of making a bunch of money on DVD or streamed, because no-one has heard of it.

All of this changes if we get day & date releasing where the same movie is released in all territories and media on the same day. Suddenly that $5m heartwarming indie drama that even your mom could love can go head to head with STRETCH ARMSTRONG III: THE BREAING POINT.

Guess why studios are fighting it.
posted by unSane at 9:23 PM on July 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


So for this 18-24 bracket... why then isn't everybody trying to make the next Star Wars? Or do they think they are? (And I mean the better, old ones).
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:24 PM on July 2, 2010


Nobody gets a % of gross any more.
posted by unSane at 9:24 PM on July 2, 2010


A lot of people are trying to come up with the next Star Wars.

As for how BATTLESHIP attracts the 18-24 demo, basically you have a big pre-sold property and you then try to position it for the 18-24 y.o.s by casting Megan Fox and Taylor Lautner. Except that ain't working. Cue studio panic.
posted by unSane at 9:26 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes. Do we plan to go into every single thread about specific industries that are ailing and let them know that others, too, are suffering? Or can we collectively agree that that presumption exists?

Wake up. It's not isolated - right now the deck is stacked against the working middle class in a way it hasn't been in 80 years. The plight of the screenwriter and the lawyer and the biochemist and the computer programmer are not isolated incidents, but the result of a deliberate and methodical dismantling of the institutions created to foster and protect prosperity for the majority of workers.

First they came for the working-class Unions and the honor of blue-collar labor, and we did nothing. Now they are coming for us in our white collar ivory towers, and our unions and trade associations and educations are useless. Unless something is done and soon, the population will shift back to poverty as the default, not a margin case... there are some in power who see this as an ideal situation. They'll be making less money, true, but they'll own more of the money that's out there, and that's worth something to them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:38 PM on July 2, 2010 [26 favorites]


If you want to go really wide-angle on this, this is what a depression feels like. Deflation ain't pretty.
posted by unSane at 9:40 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wake up. It's not isolated - right now the deck is stacked against the working middle class in a way it hasn't been in 80 years.

You may have missed my point, so let me clarify. When somebody tells you their mother has cancer, you don't respond with "Wake up -- a lot of people are sick."

Everybody is perfectly aware of the economy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:41 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


double bubble: I've never been able to wrap my head around the fact that writers aren't the top compensated contributors in film - without a script there can't be a movie. Or, at least why they aren't way up there in the compensation.

In the theater or on British TV, the writers have much more power and respect. Back when the WGA was formed, the writers had no backbone and agreed to give away their rights to the script. So now when a studio buys your film, they buy it outright and you no longer own it and they can kick you to the curb. So now we live/work in the shadow of this poor decision of the past.

In the theater, the playwright can pull the plug on a production, they almost never do, but they can.

Also, one thing neglected here is the foreign markets. The garbage on the screen will sell well overseas because you don't need a command of english to watch giant robots beat the shit out of each other, and in a way, Avatar might even be better if you only understand a word here and there. So even if a movie fails here, it makes it all back overseas and then they make more.
posted by CarlRossi at 9:43 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


on British TV, the writers have much more power and respect.

You are fucking joking, right? Every time I go back to London to see my friends who write for e.g. Eastenders, I can't make myself heard for the moaning. I would run away to sea rather than attempt to write for British TV right now.
posted by unSane at 9:48 PM on July 2, 2010


I'm specifically referring to Terry Nation's dead body receiving royalties every time the Daleks appear on Doctor Who.

Do we get that same treatment here?

Perhaps my wording should have been more about playwrights power and respect, and British writers' respect, but less power. I'll admit to some poor wording.

But wow... You know I'm on your side, right?
posted by CarlRossi at 9:53 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never been able to wrap my head around the fact that writers aren't the top compensated contributors in film - without a script there can't be a movie. Or, at least why they aren't way up there in the compensation.

No one goes to a movie because it was "written by Whosis Whatsis". But there are actors who have followers, who will pay to watch a movie because Tom Cruise is in it irrespective of what it's about or whether it's any good.

So Tom Cruise gets the big bucks. Or Eddie Murphy. (At least, he used to.) Or Harrison Ford.

You know Tom Cruise was in the "Mission Impossible" films, of course. Without looking it up, can you tell me who wrote them? Can you name any writer whose work you follow?

There have been writers who had some of that kind of pull (e.g. Paddy Chayefsky) but I don't think there are any now.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:58 PM on July 2, 2010


Terry Nation's estate gets royalties because it was in his contract a thousand years ago. Nothing to do with respect.
posted by unSane at 9:59 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sad to say, even Chayefsky didn't have that power. Playwrights did, though. Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter (a very fine screenwriter in his own right). Nowadays its comic book authors. Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, their friends and relations.

(No surprise that most screenwriters I now have comic book scripts on the go).
posted by unSane at 10:02 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Score composers have it bad too. Just sayin.
posted by hanoixan at 10:05 PM on July 2, 2010


It is a variation on what companies are doing to workers all over the country--figuring out a way to tighten the screws on workers, make them jump through endless hoops in the hope of getting hired, then slamming the door in their faces.

Yes, exactly. Which is why this is, perversely, good: because it will encourage the screenwriters -- who shape our shared culture -- to more greatly identify with, to tell the story of, the vast majority of us who are getting more and more screwed and used by that tiny oligarchy which rules.
posted by orthogonality at 10:06 PM on July 2, 2010


*know - the 'K' on my laptop is ailing
posted by unSane at 10:07 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I stand corrected, my mistake was assuming that this was standard practice.
posted by CarlRossi at 10:09 PM on July 2, 2010


All of this changes if we get day & date releasing where the same movie is released in all territories and media on the same day.

What's stopping this?

My guess is the movie studios' only weapon against it are the rights to their back catalogs. Apple, Amazon and Netflix need the rights to distribute that content, which gives the movie studios leverage--that leverage lets them continue to control the production and distribution of new content as well. But given how much more powerful Apple and Amazon have become, I imagine that the day is near when the movie studios find themselves at the brink of insolvency and Apple and Amazon clean house.
posted by mullacc at 10:09 PM on July 2, 2010


Where is that recent link where the film critic explained how Transformers 2 completely dispensed with the concept of plot as we currently know it? Who needs writers now?
posted by ovvl at 10:12 PM on July 2, 2010


Can you name any writer whose work you follow?

Sure: John Sayles, David Mamet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Charlie Kaufman, Mike Leigh, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland, Michael Mann...
posted by scody at 10:16 PM on July 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Related: 11 Writers Later
posted by CarlRossi at 10:16 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


What's stopping this?

What's stopping this is the old-fashioned way of dividing up territories and release windows. Basically, there is a hierarchy of exclusivities and each gets their bite at the cherry in turn. First, North American theatrical release. Then Europe. Then the Far East. And so on. Then first run cable. then DVD. Blah blah blah, probably got the sequencing wrong. But the whole industry is set up to respect this division and everybody knows how it works. If a movie makes X on its opening weekend, we can project our foreign sales, ad recoup, DVD numbers etc etc etc.

Day & Date is terrifying for studios because (1) they have no idea how to calculate the numbers (2) it involves rejigging all the contractual arrangements they have used for the last 50 yrs but most of all (3) once they are not in charge of the integrated distribution chain WHAT NEXT? HUMANS AND DOGS FUCKING IN THE STREET?

Let's say you and I make a cute little $5m indie movie. Right now, our chances of getting it distributed are, frankly, nil. But in a world where every movie has to fight it out with every other movie on the day it's released, on internet as well as in the multiplexes, well frankly it's more of a fair fight. My indie movie vs. THE LAST AIRBENDER. O-Kaaay, let's take some bets here.

The studios will not relinquish their power over the multiplexes until they are forced to by the internet routing around them. You though the MPAA thing was about lost DVD revenue? Are you kidding. The MPAA thing was about the whole business model.

Right now is actually a golden moment to pick up a camera and go make some movies. Honestly.
posted by unSane at 10:24 PM on July 2, 2010 [22 favorites]


I stand corrected, my mistake was assuming that this was standard practice.


No, it is sort of standard practice, but not just in the UK. Assume you are a writer, and you come up with a character or set of characters in the course of a script (eg a guy whose superpower is to sing a painfully high note that incapacitates everyone around him). Subsequently ShrillMan becomes a returning character in a series, or the basis for his own movie. As the writer, you will receive royalties on uses and merchandising of that charcter. It's complicated and arcane but basically how it wors. On both sides of the Atlantic.
posted by unSane at 10:35 PM on July 2, 2010


Why do they need screenwriters when they coming out with "Remake of Half-Forgotten 30 Year Old Movie Part 3" and reality TV shows?
posted by Daddy-O at 10:40 PM on July 2, 2010


If a movie makes X on its opening weekend, we can project our foreign sales, ad recoup, DVD numbers etc etc etc.

Yeah, but what about those movies that do well on opening weekend then plummet? Or do just okay on opening weekend, but then hold up for months? (I'm thinking of Coraline as an example).

It seems weird to base all this accounting on something that could end up being a poor predictor of long-term profits.
posted by eye of newt at 10:43 PM on July 2, 2010


Avatar might even be better if you only understand a word here and there.
Half the movie wasn't even in English.
No one goes to a movie because it was "written by Whosis Whatsis".
Except maybe Diablo Cody? I know people talked about "Jennifer's body" being written by her.
Related: 11 Writers Later
That's fascinating. The studio paying for The A-Team spent millions on scripts over the years? Wow.

---

In 20 years, scripts will be written by computer. You just plug in some parameters, and the machine will crap out a script. Fanboys will entertain themselves immensely watching entirely computer created movies featuring the erotic adventures of Salor moon.
posted by delmoi at 10:57 PM on July 2, 2010


Oh yeah:
Metafilter: The movie
.

Metafilter II: Dhoyt's revenge!

When do we get movies made from top websites? "Hot Chicks with douchebags, the movie" MySpace, the long and sad decline" or "Google: I'm feeling lucky". Or Facebook: The Social Network.... oh, shit.
posted by delmoi at 11:03 PM on July 2, 2010


So is the root of the fucked-upness of the whole shebang, the beyond-logic business model VikingSword and unSane have us all agog at, the fact that movies cost so goddamn much to make and distribute?

If you someone could make an Avatar for, say, $1 million, and everyone around the world could watch it somehow immediately and on demand, would the industry eventually start to make some kind of quality-vs-effort-vs-demand-vs-financial sense?

(I'm thinking about equalizers like the RED camera, Robert Rodriguez et al's DIY approach, things like that.)
posted by gottabefunky at 11:04 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


One reason screenwriters are "followed" less than actors by audiences is that they're not advertised much, so no one knows who wrote a film.

Occasionally a writer gets well-known enough to be mentioned on a project, and then people do follow them. Like scody, I certainly go out of my way to see a Charlie Kaufman film, for example.

But it doesn't get mentioned a lot. I can think of hundreds of commercials I've seen that blared BY THE PRODUCERS OF SUCH-AND-SUCH BIGNAME FILM (my reaction to that is invariably, the producers? Who the hell cares who the producers were?)

I remember a couple of times I've seen BY THE AUTHOR OF BLAH-DE-BLAH ... but not a whole heck of a lot.
posted by kyrademon at 11:08 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is going to lead to more down on their luck writers being taken in by eccentric former stars and then killed. All of the down on your luck writers, please be wary of the eccentrics who take you in - do your Googling before succumbing to their every whim.
posted by amethysts at 11:25 PM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


STRETCH ARMSTRONG, BATTLESHIP!, and MAGIC 8-BALL

I had a general (meeting) with an executive from one of the companies producing one of the above films this week. She told me it was okay to laugh. I've met a lot of film execs this summer who are deeply ashamed of what's going on. They know they're producing garbage, and contrary to the popular opinion, they don't really want to make garbage. But their bosses are scared and nobody knows what they're doing.

Anyway, I write for television and am just starting to look at dipping my toes into feature writing, and brothers and sisters, if I was aspiring right now I'd aspire towards television. Or I'd go make my own movie. Even compared to the craziness of teevee, the movie world is effed up.

I'm specifically referring to Terry Nation's dead body receiving royalties every time the Daleks appear on Doctor Who.

Do we get that same treatment here?


Indeed we do! Character creation payments do accrue to writers on teevee shows; I'm in line for some this year. It's not a huge amount of money, but hey, every bit counts.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wow! I made a leeeetle joke, but thanks so much for hanging around the thread, unSane! :)
posted by cavalier at 11:35 PM on July 2, 2010


There have been writers who had some of that kind of pull (e.g. Paddy Chayefsky) but I don't think there are any now.

Charlie Kaufman's the only "pure" screenwriter (not known for his direction; didn't come from plays) I can think of who has that pull with the layperson.

Curtis Hanson

Wha? Why?!
posted by dobbs at 11:48 PM on July 2, 2010


Curtis Hanson

Wha? Why?!


Not to speak for scody, but the adaption he did with Brian Hegland of LA Confidential is a goddamn masterpiece, one of the greatest adaptations I'm aware of. I imagine Brian deserves most of the credit, but I don't know it for a fact.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:52 PM on July 2, 2010


His adaptation of L.A. Confidential with Brian Helgeland is fucking great. (on preview: jinx, Bookhouse!) Although I was thinking that he also adapted Wonder Boys, but I realize now that he directed it without writing it.
posted by scody at 11:54 PM on July 2, 2010


Yeah, I think Helgeland is mostly responsible for that. (I think it's the greatest adaptation ever done.) His other work as writer is pretty bad. He's a fascinating guy who's done tons of interesting stuff, working as far back as Bonnie and Clyde, but he's not someone who's name as writer at all excites me.
posted by dobbs at 11:57 PM on July 2, 2010


So, being a writer sounds a lot like being an architect.
posted by Xoebe at 11:59 PM on July 2, 2010


unSane: "All of this changes if we get day & date releasing where the same movie is released in all territories and media on the same day. Suddenly that $5m heartwarming indie drama that even your mom could love can go head to head with STRETCH ARMSTRONG III: THE BREAING POINT.

Guess why studios are fighting it.
"

Errr, I don't know! I can't guess! Tell me! (please)

I think what I don't see in this is: why don't the studios just make their own version of the $5M indiemomdrama and make their own profits? Is it, essentially, that the entire studio system is so blinkered that it can't imagine another way of doing things, or that the $5M indiemomdramas don't bring in the megabux they're used to, and so those sorts of movies aren't even on the radar?
posted by barnacles at 12:19 AM on July 3, 2010


If you're a screenwriter, what are you gonna do? Stop?

If you're doing this for the money....sheesh. I can't even describe how much I pity you for thinking you'll make money at this.

Me? I love watching my characters say my words in my settings. If you knew who I was, you could check my IMDB page and see that sometimes, that's a blessing and a curse. You might even pity me.
Don't.
I got paid and it led to getting paid again and there's a real chance or two it could happen again.

Remember: HOLLYWOOD CANNOT DO WHAT THEY DO WITHOUT A GOOD STORY.
IT WORKS FOR A WHILE (AVATAR), BUT PEOPLE WANT STORIES. THEY WANT TO FEEL REAL FEELINGS. THEY WANT TO COMPLETE THE METAPHOR.

advice given if asked...if you're not insulting and from melbourne (hey, grudges, sorry)
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:33 AM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's stopping this is the old-fashioned way of dividing up territories and release windows. Basically, there is a hierarchy of exclusivities and each gets their bite at the cherry in turn. First, North American theatrical release. Then Europe. Then the Far East. And so on. Then first run cable. then DVD. Blah blah blah, probably got the sequencing wrong. But the whole industry is set up to respect this division and everybody knows how it works. If a movie makes X on its opening weekend, we can project our foreign sales, ad recoup, DVD numbers etc etc etc.

Oh god this. Here in New Zealand it's actually illegal to import DVDs for supply if it's within 9 months of the first release anywhere in the world because a lot of local stores were only to happy to feed the market of movie fans who are FUCKING FED UP with studios TAKING THE FUCKING PISS by releasing moves HALF A YEAR TO A YEAR after they're available in North America. Cue industry lobbying against importers, cue criminalisation of DVD imports.
posted by rodgerd at 2:29 AM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Let's not forget: you can make a bad movie from a good script but you can't make a good movie from a bad script.
posted by alby at 2:41 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


the fact that movies cost so goddamn much to make and distribute?

You've got to be careful there because the quoted movie budgets can be wildly inflated. That is partly where the whole 'monkey points' thing comes from: Hollywood has made an art out of making movies appear on paper to never make a profit by inflating costs.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:57 AM on July 3, 2010


Sad to say, even Chayefsky didn't have that power. Playwrights did, though. Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter (a very fine screenwriter in his own right). Nowadays its comic book authors. Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, their friends and relations.

(No surprise that most screenwriters I now have comic book scripts on the go).


If screenwriters are looking at comics as a way to garner respect and power, holy shit, you guys are really fucked. I say this without rancor of any kind (although without naming names, screenwriters who don't seem to realize that a comic is not a storyboard have historically been responsible for writing some pretty bad comics), but as a heartfelt warning: Moore and Ellis are not the rule. If screenwriters want to build names for themselves outside of movies, I personally would strongly suggest writing novels over writing comics; I know comics seem more like movies on paper, but they're actually very different forms, and a well-known novelist gets a lot more respect than the best-known comic book writer.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:37 AM on July 3, 2010


The only sure employment is for doctors and nurses with advanced degrees

*hollow laugh*

My husband is a pathologist in an extremely busy hospital in New York, and they just had 7 people laid off from his department. He will be going back to working the hours that he did in residency to cover those staff.

It sucks for everyone. I'm sure the intermittent nature of screenwriting paychecks means it sucks really really hard for them.
posted by gaspode at 5:37 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


*puffs pipe*
So, tell me more about this "shrillman".
Who can we get to play him?
Rob Halford? Jon Anderson? Geddy Lee? Bruce Dickinson? Get the phone!
posted by wittgenstein at 5:41 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The massive over-emphasis on $100m + movies means there is a gap in the market for much lower budget material. Someone will exploit that.

Yeah, this is one of those well, duh moments in human history. It should be plainly obvious. For <>start making their ideas come true.

Things that are required to jump-start the next film zeigist: lots of unemployed actors (check!) and… writers.

Come on, America, you know you got this. Fucking movies, man. This is, like, what we're supposed to rule at.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:42 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Guess why studios are fighting it."

Errr, I don't know! I can't guess! Tell me! (please)


Didn't mean to be opaque. In the current multiplex model, exhibitors (movie theaters) will only show movies which are heavily advertised and likely to attract the multiplex audience. This mostly means they have to have 3000 prints on release day and an advertising budget in the $100m range. Your $5m will not compete, except for the sporadic breakout like PRECIOUS or BLAIR WITCH, the chances of which happening to your indie movie are slightly less than being struck by lightning every Thursday for two years.

Moreover, of a $10 ticket price, the exhibitor takes $5 and the distributor $2.50, before the production cost, prints and advertising start to be paid off. So to recoup a $100m movie with its $100m P&A budget at the box office, you need to pull in (100+100) x 4 = $800m in box office returns, DVD sales, merchandising etc etc etc.

Actually this is not quite right because all these things split out differently but you get the idea.

This is why we can't have nice movies.

Now let's think about the $5m movie. In the current model the problem is that almost no-one will exhibit it. It needs to recoup about $20-40m before it is in substantial profit. It has no chance at all of doing that unless it is a breakout, which (to say the least) you can't count on.

However in the download model, it can potentially find an audience. It's still going to be an uphill battle, but it is at least *available*. More importantly, it is available to and targeted at an entirely different audience. All those $100m+ movies are aimed at teenage boys. But the indie drama, let's say, is targeted at the audience -- people like you -- who are not addressed by Hollywood's current output. Think of all the people with home theaters and disposable incomes who never go to the movies because the films are shit. Those people.

Moreover, it can potentially go day & date (release in all formats and territories simultaneously) because it doesn't have to navigate through the Gordian knot of distributor agreements and custom and practice.

Let me be clear: this model DOES NOT EXIST FOR A REASON. The studios are entirely set up to exploit the current model. They know how to make billions of dollars a year that way. They are terrified of the internet because they saw what happened to the music business. They do not want STRETCH ARMSTRONG XII: THE TWIST going head to head with CONVERSATIONS WITH MY INUIT GRANDMOTHER. Because they are afraid they might lose.
posted by unSane at 5:42 AM on July 3, 2010 [39 favorites]


If you someone could make an Avatar for, say, $1 million,

You can sure make a (possibly great) movie for $1m. You cannot make an Avatar for $1m.
posted by unSane at 5:44 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


milkrate: Last night I was watching Tales from the Script on Netflix streaming

Strongly second this. Most germane to this discussion, and very entertaining.

(I dare you not to laugh at Guinevere Turner's anecdote about Bloodrayne!)
posted by Trochanter at 5:49 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


While screen writers conferences are still enthusiastically marketed all over the country, and eagerly reported on, the working reality for screenwriters these days, is that work is growing ever more scarce.

Sounds a lot like literary writing/poetry and MFA programs. The only positive in that situation is that the proliferation of MFA programs has included increased funding across the board, but it's still a machine that's producing more writers than the business--and the audience--can bear.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:50 AM on July 3, 2010


Still, you could make a good movie within those parameters. It wouldn't *hurt* your appeal to the all-important demo to make it have funny joke rather than unfunny jokes, to close gaping plot holes, etc.

Unfortunately this alone would not make it a good movie.

It is VERY VERY HARD to write a good movie within the action/adventure paradigm. You need a compelling and original concept. You need to go operatic in an original way every ten minutes, and you cannot have extended dialogue sequences (by extended I mean more than a page -- that's one minute -- long. Moreover, if it is supposed to be PG13 -- which it IS, trust me -- you can't show blood and you can't have any real cursing.

You also can't do anything which is going to offend, upset or confuse the audience. Your protagonist must be sympathetic at all points. He (and it must be a he) must be physically attractive and proactive. He must have a romantic interest with a female who must also be attractive. Your movie must not be too dark. Your character must follow a well-trodden hero's journey. There must be a ticking clock and an existential threat (a thing-which-will-destory-the world). America must not be painted in a bad light. You must not use any long words.

You MUST have an up ending. You MUST continually throw twists at the audience (one every ten minutes, like the opera).

Oh, and your movie must also be directly comparable to the last two or three smash hits in its genre. Currently, Avatar, Dark Knight, Star Trek, Iron Man, all cool with the studios.

Believe it or not, none of this would be too bad if that were all that was required. These things are at least quantifiable. Existential threat? Check! Operatic action? Check! Compelling and original concept? Check!

But your movie must also be fresh, and edgy. Above all, it must be marketable.

Guess what? Execudroids -- even the good ones -- have no fucking idea whatsoever what these terms mean. And neither do I.

So, do you understand? Your movie must be fresh, but follow exactly the same formula as every other movie in Hollywood. It must be edgy, but not offend anyone. It must be sexy without any actual sex.

Oh, yeah. And marketable. Which means it must have two A-list stars (change weekly), lots of shiny things for the trailer, a clear and popular genre (only scifi/superhero/heist and a couple of others need apply) and a whole bunch of other stuff that marketing pull out of their ass to project foreign sales.

Oh, yeah, and they need to be confident they can attract an A-list director. Raimi, Greengrass, Howard, Cameron, one of the Scotts, you get the picture. Kevin Smith and Tarantino need not apply.

And they need to see this IN THE SCRIPT, before anyone is attached.

If your script does not supply ALL OF THESE THINGS you will be sent helpful notes from Your Dear Leaders describing ways you could put these things in the movie. And you will go away and attempt to do just that, repeatedly, without destroying what only you know is the heart of the movie, and the reason you got involved in the first place.

Does your brain hurt yet? Good. This is why they pay you the big bucks.

The miracle is not that movies suck, but that good movies are still made. DARK KNIGHT, for all its faults, was one of those miracles. Ditto IRON MAN. Ditto, well you get it.
posted by unSane at 6:16 AM on July 3, 2010 [52 favorites]


Did I mention that it must also be 3-D?
posted by unSane at 6:19 AM on July 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wrote my first screenplay, on a whim, about 10 years ago. In the ensuing years I've written 4 more, with increasing skill and in shorter and shorter time spans. Recently finished a spec script that took me 6 weeks from concept to solid first draft. Now what? Holy shit, indeed.

I don't write in the hopes of becoming famous or rich (though a livable annual income would be nice). I write because I love to tell stories, watch characters come alive, feel the push and pull of all the elements that go into writing something interesting and compelling. I pop out of bed in the morning to write. If I had to drag my ass to a job (which is inevitable sometime in the next 3 months), I'd have to drag my ass out of bed. I'm only now working at a level that I believe allows me to attempt to sell what I'm writing. I never thought it would be easy, but this thread leads me believe it nigh on impossible.

This thread started with an assertion that while screenwriters incomes and opportunities tank, conferences, competitions, consultancies...are flourishing. It's obvious that there's a whole industry out there to take money from naive, hopeful, neophyte screenwriters. It's akin to those who realized it was going to be a LOT more lucrative to sell shovels to gold-rush prospectors than it was to stake a claim in the wilderness. But when all is said and done, I'd rather hang out with the prospectors than watch the retailers count their money. (Even if they toss me a couple of coins for my labors.) And don't be surprised if you send a script out to 3 or 4 thoughtfully chosen competitions, only to go nowhere and yet see your slightly-tweaked idea being taken into development by a successful production company, partnering with a huge network which is owned by an even larger network, which is owned by a multi-national corporation. Naive, hopeful neophyte beware. "Lawyering up" seems akin to tilting at windmills.

There's some of the age-old "chicken and egg" in this thread. I guess, if pressed, I believe the corporations will ultimately do what they feel will yield the most profit. Regardless of the quality of the product. It's kind of the definition of corporate capitalism. Why worry how good it is if management made money? (Anyone who believes management cares about shareholders is a fool.) And don't look back, or too far into the future. Volatility is the norm. Just keep yourself on top of the pile using any method necessary. Studio execs may be sincere, hardworking, intelligent, and embarrassed by this summer's fare. but so what? The proof is on the silver screen. The question is, what are they going to do about it?

And no one has even mentioned the sorry state of representation. What the hell do agents actually do these days?
posted by kidkilowatt at 6:29 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


You cannot make an Avatar for $1m.

Not quite yet, but movies like Ink , an effects heavy indie produced in the directors basement, should have got a wide release. What was Avatar but a bunch of actors in a greenscreen room? The 3D was done very well but tools to do that will migrate to the desktop.

The great mystery is not how to turn a $5 million production into a $500 or even $20 million, but reliably make a reasonable profit. How many investors (even banks) would line up if $5 had a 30% chance of making $7? The windfall principal is a huge loose in so many ways.
posted by sammyo at 6:40 AM on July 3, 2010


(No surprise that most screenwriters I now have comic book scripts on the go).

oh god. I hate that. They almost always get a ton of attention, because they've worked in a "proper medium" like film or TV, and they almost always suck at writing comics, because it turns out it's a specialised skill set and you have to put some thought and effort into doing it right.
posted by Artw at 6:51 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know what I wish would happen? That people would read screenplays. For enjoyment. That might help give the scribblers just a milligram of influence. I'm not talking about some micro-economic way of adding to their income, but just a way to get them known -- to get them talked about.

I recommend Robert Town's "Chinatown" as a start. It's a joy as a thing to read.
posted by Trochanter at 7:18 AM on July 3, 2010


Town+e, though.
posted by Trochanter at 7:20 AM on July 3, 2010


What was Avatar but a bunch of actors in a greenscreen room?

This conveniently ignores what was going on in the greenscreen, which was, y'know, the whole point of the fucking movie.

I'm no particular fan of AVATAR but this is akin to saying 'what was Beethoven's fifth but a bunch of ink splotches on a page and some old guys scraping away on bits of wood and catgut'.
posted by unSane at 7:35 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The miracle is not that movies suck, but that good movies are still made. DARK KNIGHT, for all its faults, was one of those miracles.

I'm sorry, unSane, but I gotta call you on this. To me, Dark Knight, and poorly written scripts like it, are the reason we're in this mess. This script was utterly, laughably, ridiculous. It made over a billion dollars. Had it flopped, as it should have, or just made a reasonable amount of money, and that scenario been the case for Avatar, etc etc, Hollywood wouldn't be gangbusters for shitass stories.

Without hyperbole, as baffled as people are about Magic 8 Ball and Stretch Armstrong, I'm baffled at the way the public swallowed Dark Knight. (Yes, I'm baffled about what some poor writer will come up with for the scripts for these forthcoming pictures, but I am *not* surprised that studios want to make them, given what makes money these days.)

I don't want to get into an is it or isn't it a good movie conversation about DK (that discussion's been had on the blue multiple times), but it's difficult to be sympathetic to writers who are finding it hard to get quality work produced when DK is the goto title for quality.
posted by dobbs at 7:43 AM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


As with so many things, the existing system isn't going to be defeated in a straight, head-on battle. The mammals didn't out-dynosaur the dynosaurs, after all, and Microsoft didn't out-IBM IBM. Large organizations get stuck in existing paradigms and, even if they see the threat, usually can't seem to get their shit together to effectively compete when the game changes radically.

Here's an example of the future. Technology allows a movie to get made by a small crew on a tight budget with targeted distribution to an interested and enthusiastic audience.

I don't think mega-money uber-projects, like Avatar or Iron Man, are going to vanish, any more than IBM vanished, but I think it's going to get increasingly easier to make technically and artistically competent movies small project movies that can find audiences and make enough of a project to fund a going business.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of this changes if we get day & date releasing where the same movie is released in all territories and media on the same day. Suddenly that $5m heartwarming indie drama that even your mom could love can go head to head with STRETCH ARMSTRONG III: THE BREAING POINT.

Guess why studios are fighting it.


It's not just the studios; the chain exhibitors are refusing to open indies that have day-and-date deals. My GF is head of sales for a (super-cool!) indie studio and to open their latest (James Franco! Jon Hamm!) in LA at all she's had to "4-wall" (rent a theater).

The problem is that marquees and one-sheets are the primary way a small movie gets mindshare. Print ads don't put asses in seats and indies don't have TV budgets, and their trailers aren't on studio pictures, and if you aren't in theaters you aren't getting reviewed. Basically, you have to get into theaters to get rented or sell DVDs, so exhibitors run the show — and they hate day-and-date.
posted by nicwolff at 8:18 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hollywood antagonism to writers is nothing new, of course. Back in the day, Sam Goldwyn is said to have grumbled about the writers in their bungalows because he could never tell when they were actually working.

without a script there can't be a movie.

Without an idea. New Yorker has an article on Steve Carrell and how he and comedians like him can't resist going all improv on the script. Encouraged, no doubt, by the appeal of the blooper reel. Not too much of leap for producers to say who needs a writer? (By the way, haven't seen Dinner for Schmucks, but the French original is well worth watching.)

Slightly off the radar, there are small time movie makers trying to make interesting films. Strongbow Pictures and Forbes Films come to mind. I expect there are others and who knows but that others may follow.

(Thank you, unSane for the commentary. Mind you, still wondering why Hollywood accounting has not caught the interest of the IRS....)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't want to get into an is it or isn't it a good movie conversation about DK (that discussion's been had on the blue multiple times), but it's difficult to be sympathetic to writers who are finding it hard to get quality work produced when DK is the goto title for quality.

It's all relative -- if the question is whether Dark Knight is a quality film compared to Transformers, the answer is yes. For a big dumb blockbuster, it is much better than one would expect. (And Iron Man is much better still, but never mind that.) I think what unSane is saying here is that the kind of film Dark Knight is is usually not anywhere near as good as Dark Knight, and the ways in which it's good (an ambiguous hero, a downer ending) are usually squelched at a script level long before the cameras roll.

That said, I agree with you that the amount of praise that's been heaped upon it by critics borders on the ridiculous. It's a good Batman movie. That's it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:30 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


What amused me most about this post is that I confused Dan Petrie Jr. with Rob Petrie -- the lead character on the Dick Van Dyke show. "Hollywood's fallen on hard hard times if even fictional comedy legends are feeling the pinch," I thought. The lesson, as always: I am an idiot.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:42 AM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think what unSane is saying here is that the kind of film Dark Knight is is usually not anywhere near as good as Dark Knight, and the ways in which it's good (an ambiguous hero, a downer ending) are usually squelched at a script level long before the cameras roll.

I'll agree with that. Sorry if I misunderstood.
posted by dobbs at 8:56 AM on July 3, 2010


Had it flopped, as it should have

Why should it have flopped? Because you sniff your nose at it? Okaaay then. Back to your criterion box sets with you!

I know it's really tempting to find a way to blame the sucky writers for the movies you don't like, and assume we're all tasteless buffoons sucking on the great tit of the unwashed, but that's not how it is. Nevertheless, if that makes you more comfortable, carry on.

But 'hurf durf just write something better' or 'hurf durf, if THAT'S your idea of a good movie...' is just ignorant of the actual operation of the movie business. Did you read my post about what an action movie has to deliver? For Dark Knight to exist within those boundaries -- and in many cases tear them to shreds -- is genuinely amazing.

Is it a movie I personally am going to watch for pleasure? No. Do my kids love it? Yes.
posted by unSane at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2010


full creative control given to Bungie.

By the way, this here pretty much guarantees a train wreck. You dodged a bullet.
posted by unSane at 9:08 AM on July 3, 2010


If the $5 million indie is guaranteed not to make money, then where does the $5 million come from? Is it a kind of venture capitalism long-shot bet? Or (more likely in my mind) is it that the books are manipulated to make it seem these movies never make money, much like sports teams often appear to lose money year after year and yet somehow their value goes up and up? That is, you make money by appearing to lose money? I mean, $5 million is still a lot of money and there must be a rational economic incentive somewhere in the chain -- since irrational love of art folks generally don't have 5 million to burn.
posted by Rumple at 9:08 AM on July 3, 2010


unSane, could you put your 'If I were king' hat on for a moment and outline for us the movie creation/delivery system that you wish were in place? Ignoring for a moment the 'how do you get there from here factor, how do you think it could be done?
posted by woodblock100 at 9:13 AM on July 3, 2010


For a big dumb blockbuster, it is much better than one would expect.

The thing that is amazing to me is how low the bar has fallen. I mean, the big dumb blockbuster used to be Jaws, it used to be Raiders, it used to be Star Wars. The difference in quality between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Transformers is equal to the difference in quality between Transformers and Transmorphers. (Actually, I never saw Transmorphers, maybe its good).

OK, maybe Raiders is a classic and is an unfair place for comparison. So go watch Speed and Transformers back to back. Speed is a goddamn masterpiece of scriptwriting and well-choreographed action compared to most modern blockbusters.

Sigh. This thread, echoing many conversations I've had recently in Hollywood, is majorly bumming me out.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:17 AM on July 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why should it have flopped? Because you sniff your nose at it?

Because it's gibberish. It is FULL of plot holes and makes no sense.

I know it's really tempting to find a way to blame the sucky writers for the movies you don't like, and assume we're all tasteless buffoons sucking on the great tit of the unwashed, but that's not how it is.

I never said that's how it is. In fact, I've said the opposite countless times on the blue and green.

I know it's really tempting to find a way to blame the sucky writers for the movies you don't like,

I didn't comment on the movie. I commented on the script.
posted by dobbs at 9:32 AM on July 3, 2010


Fucking movies, man. This is, like, what we're supposed to rule at.

Hey, at least we can always fall back on music and microcode. And high-speed pizza delivery.
posted by asterix at 10:01 AM on July 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Here in New Zealand it's actually illegal to import DVDs for supply if it's within 9 months of the first release anywhere in the world because a lot of local stores were only to happy to feed the market of movie fans who are FUCKING FED UP with studios TAKING THE FUCKING PISS by releasing moves HALF A YEAR TO A YEAR after they're available in North America. Cue industry lobbying against importers, cue criminalisation of DVD imports."

This is so idiotic. I can't think of a better way, short of advertising and financially supporting a tracker, to push people into torrenting your content.
posted by Mitheral at 10:50 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unsane:

"Novelists are very very rarely asked to adapt their own books. When they do, it is generally a disaster and a screenwriter gets hired anyway."

There are exceptions (William Peter Blatty comes to mind), but, yeah. Likewise, there are excellent screenwriters who have no idea what to do with a novel-length story.

This is because -- wait for it -- writing novels and writing screenplays are two different disciplines, featuring skill sets which overlap but have vasty areas where they don't.

I'm occasionally asked whether if Old Man's War or another one of my books were to made into a movie, if I would want to take a crack at a screenplay. My thought on that is that I would rather have an experienced screenwriter doing to adaptation instead, because he or she would know what they were doing in that medium and I wouldn't.

Additionally, one of the reasons I took a consulting gig with Stargate: Universe was that it offered the opportunity to watch scripts go through the entire production process -- basically on the job training. After two seasons of participating in the production and writing process, I'm at a point where I'd be comfortable writing a script, because I've seen enough of them go by to have an idea of the process. It's not to say that script would necessarily be good, but it would recognizably be a script.
posted by jscalzi at 10:59 AM on July 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry, can someone explain the Iron Man love? I'm honestly perplexed at why this is regarded as good. I guess that I'm part of the problem since I have adopted a "wait 10 years" approach to movie-going to let all the marketing and lowered expectations settle out (I saw IM at a large outdoor bbq-and-film social event).

What's stopping this is the old-fashioned way of dividing up territories and release windows. Basically, there is a hierarchy of exclusivities and each gets their bite at the cherry in turn. First, North American theatrical release. Then Europe. Then the Far East. And so on. Then first run cable. then DVD. Blah blah blah, probably got the sequencing wrong. But the whole industry is set up to respect this division and everybody knows how it works. If a movie makes X on its opening weekend, we can project our foreign sales, ad recoup, DVD numbers etc etc etc.

There's an actual point to part of that setup. By charging more to see it RIGHT NOW the studios can extract more money from the people who want it more. Charging everyone the price that they're willing to pay is very economically efficient compared to charging everyone the same.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2010


All this makes me wonder both how Paranormal Activity (which I quite enjoyed) ever made it to the theaters.

And why does M. Night Shyamalan keep getting another chance to spend millions of dollars when his last few movies sucked (and, from what I hear, The Last Airbender is no better)?
posted by misha at 11:23 AM on July 3, 2010


And why does M. Night Shyamalan keep getting another chance to spend millions of dollars when his last few movies sucked when his last few movies sucked

Sure, they sucked -- but with only one exception they all still turned a profit (funnily enough, this came up the other day in the green).

TEH SUCK < TEH BUCKS
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


They may all have turned a profit, but (according to Ebert's twitter, at least) The Last Airbender cost TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS. This is a mindboggling, incomprehensible amount of money, now more than ever. I believe that the decisions the studios make may not seem stupid to them, but there is absolutely no way it makes sense to throw that much money at a movie by a director whose last two films have been duds.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:39 AM on July 3, 2010


Plus, guess all the bad reviews have not hurt The Last Airbender so far - the business it did at the box office didn't drop off from Thursday to Friday - Thursday $16.4 million, Friday $16.0 for the number two position - that's very solid performance. If he has money-making films - which he does - he'll keep getting money to make more, never mind if he's a hack or not - worse, he can be Mel Gibson and still work (Mel is making a movie as we speak). It's the green that counts.
posted by VikingSword at 11:42 AM on July 3, 2010


Uhhh...duds? The Happening made a ginormous amount of money.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:44 AM on July 3, 2010


The Happening aside, there are quite a few people who did enjoy Lady in the Water.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, wow, it did (though that's still about a hundred million dollars of shy of what Last Airbender will need just to break even). Fuck me, people have some bad taste.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2010


The thing about independent movies that frustrates me is that there are no places left to see them. There are plenty of screens to go around but they're all filled up with the same giant movies. One of the local AMC Megaplexes has 22 screens but are only showing 11 movies right now and only one of those is a non summer blockbuster (A Solitary Man). One of the only commercial theaters that showed independent movies just closed this spring and none of the giant theaters have taken up the slack. Basically we're down to the two theaters run by the non-profit cultural trust if we want to see anything in a theater but dumb movies with explosions.
posted by octothorpe at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2010


Damn, I just realized I completely borked that last link. Anyway, it was video of a Canon 5D mark 2 + quadcopter for an example of some incredibly smooth, amazingly cheap (considering) aerial shooting. Regular people can do this, without the need for a studio's budget. It's an amazing time for indies.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:31 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Additionally, one of the reasons I took a consulting gig with Stargate: Universe was that it offered the opportunity to watch scripts go through the entire production process -- basically on the job training. After two seasons of participating in the production and writing process, I'm at a point where I'd be comfortable writing a script, because I've seen enough of them go by to have an idea of the process. It's not to say that script would necessarily be good, but it would recognizably be a script.

I've found that learning feature-writing after working in television is just as difficult for me as learning television writing was when I was focusing more on fiction. Maybe more.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:37 PM on July 3, 2010


full creative control given to Bungie.

By the way, this here pretty much guarantees a train wreck. You dodged a bullet.


@unSane, I'm actually pretty curious about this statement, having heard very little insider talk about what happens when game studios and film studios have to work together. I know there is a lot of 3D asset sharing and whatnot that goes on, but is there currently a "typical" film/game studio relationship, now that game adaptations are becoming more commonplace? Are there horror stories? Is there an emerging set of attitudes in Hollywood/among writers/etc about what it's like to work with game studios on an adaptation, or on games in the first place?

Just curious.
posted by macross city flaneur at 12:44 PM on July 3, 2010


Unsane:

I'm intrigued by this Stretch Armstrong franchise you keep referring to. Is this something we can look forward to in the future?
posted by Bonzai at 12:49 PM on July 3, 2010


Bonzai: Yes, get excited.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2010


Sorry, can someone explain the Iron Man love? I'm honestly perplexed at why this is regarded as good. I guess that I'm part of the problem since I have adopted a "wait 10 years" approach to movie-going to let all the marketing and lowered expectations settle out (I saw IM at a large outdoor bbq-and-film social event).

posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:02 AM on July 3 [+] [!]


You just don't want any competition.

Seriously, though there's some great screwball stylings with Downie and Paltrow, and enjoyable moustache twirling from the villain. It turns into meaningless banging and crashing at the end, but on balance it was a fun movie that felt like it was enjoying itself.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:32 PM on July 3, 2010


All this makes me wonder both how Paranormal Activity (which I quite enjoyed) ever made it to the theaters.

The way I heard it was, the movie was seen and bought by the studio with no intention of releasing it; it was bought to be remade with a bigger budget and name actors. The movie had been sitting on the shelf for some time before the studio realized they had no money to remake this movie, much less to market movies that were already in production. Therefore, thinking they could make some money on DVD after a quick release, they stuck a new ending on it -- and had an inadvertent hit.

This is the story I heard, anyway.
posted by OolooKitty at 2:21 PM on July 3, 2010


So, you mean, "read the Trades" isn't the answer?
posted by kidkilowatt at 3:33 PM on July 3, 2010


Just want to add my thanks to everyone for their insights in this thread. This is a great thread.
posted by Danila at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


What was Avatar but a bunch of actors in a greenscreen room?

Facepalm.

How about hundreds and hundreds of Visual Effects Artists - animators, riggers, environmental artists, modelers, Virtual Camera operators, tech artists, lighters, texture artists, mocap data processors, to name a few...?
posted by Squee at 5:30 PM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Karlos the Jackal: "Bonzai: Yes, get excited."

Oh for god's sake. Hollywood needs to be cleansed by fire.
posted by Bonzai at 5:39 PM on July 3, 2010


One thing about Iron Man: It was actually mostly made by Marvel, which wasn't really a 'traditional' movie studio. That's one thing that might have made less formulaic.
posted by delmoi at 6:50 PM on July 3, 2010



Maybe if the pictures were a bit more peppy, the situation would be a bit less bleak.

This meme that 'if the writers just wrote better pictures...' needs to die.


I'm not aware of that meme. Writers are not the ones to blame. I'm certain there are oodles of well-written and unrealized pictures drifting in the ether, for the reasons you mention and others, unSane.

I was being a bit jokey. "Picture is bleak..." "Pictures are bleak..." But you know what? Whatever it is that I do, I'm sure that if I did it better, it would be a good thing all around. And to this I will aspire. Including the making of more perfect jokey comments.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:52 PM on July 3, 2010


unSane, could you put your 'If I were king' hat on for a moment and outline for us the movie creation/delivery system that you wish were in place? Ignoring for a moment the 'how do you get there from here factor, how do you think it could be done?


In my ideal world, you would turn on your TV and be able to instantly watch any movie ever made (price determined by market forces), including movies released yesterday and movies released at the dawn of time. Roughly 50% of the amount you paid would flow back to the production. That is all it would take.

Sounds like the music biz, right? Now you know why it hasn't happened.
posted by unSane at 7:37 PM on July 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


I mean, the big dumb blockbuster used to be Jaws, it used to be Raiders, it used to be Star Wars.

That wasn't really a lengthy period, it was more of a moment. 1975-1979: the fraction of a second when nostalgic, New-Wave influenced young American directors were first getting a tryout with decent budgets. There were no "blockbusters" before that. You can't deliberately reproduce the influences that made those movies. They were unique historical conditions, not a forgotten business model.
posted by stammer at 7:44 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Remember, Jaws also introduced a whole new way of marketing movies.
posted by Trochanter at 7:50 PM on July 3, 2010


One thing about Iron Man: It was actually mostly made by Marvel, which wasn't really a 'traditional' movie studio. That's one thing that might have made less formulaic.

What does this statement mean?

a) Since it was originally Marvel comic book, it was less formulaic.
b) It was produced/represented for Marvel by Ari Avad, the king of movie-izing Marvel IP, so it was less formulaic.

Because, from soup to nuts, outside of Ari and the Marvel Studios name, and the original story credits, the Iron Man franchise is pretty much chock full of Hollywood above the line.
posted by cavalier at 8:11 PM on July 3, 2010


Are there horror stories? Is there an emerging set of attitudes in Hollywood/among writers/etc about what it's like to work with game studios on an adaptation, or on games in the first place?

The problem is that game studios have not the faintest fucking idea what makes a good movie. Giving them creative control is a recipe for Ultimate Disaster. Bear in mind you are not giving the Heroic UberCool Game Designers creative control. You are giving the Fat Guy in the Suit control.
posted by unSane at 8:44 PM on July 3, 2010


In my ideal world, you would turn on your TV and be able to instantly watch any movie ever made

It's sort of not too difficult to see how such a system could work (technically, etc.), but this skips over the question of watching films in theatres, which obviously a lot of people still want to do. There seem to be two conflicting requirements: people want to watch stuff 'together' in communal fashion, and yet this means (by definition) that the marketing has to be based on 'mass appeal', leading to LCD movies.

The concept of a Cineplex was supposed to be a way around this - a facility with large rooms for mass market stuff combined with smaller rooms for more 'arty' offerings.

So why isn't that working?
posted by woodblock100 at 11:03 PM on July 3, 2010


Well, it costs a couple thousand dollars to make one print of a movie so if you want to have your movie available in thousands of screens that means millions of dollars already spent before recouping a dime. As I understand it, this is why the industry has distributors that serve as the gateways or middlemen to make deals with theaters and to control what movies get shown where and when. If you don't have a distributor, good luck getting any theater anywhere to show your movie. In a perfect future world where all the bugs have been worked out of Digital Cinema, then you'd have no need for these guys and a theater could theoretically decide to show any movie for any length of engagement they wanted, be it indie or mainstream, much like walking into a DVD rental store and picking whatever they wanted to show (except the menu would be first-run titles.) But I have a feeling that industry forces very much do not want that because as it is now they can strong-arm theaters into exhibiting exactly what they want them to, when they want them to, due to the distributors having all the negotiating power.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:43 PM on July 3, 2010


Digital cinema is definitely bringing the cost of distribution copies down, at least. While a 35mm exhibition print costs a couple of thousand dollars (in the US, at least, here in Mexico, it's quite a lot cheaper), a DCP is just a few hundred gigs of data copied onto a standard SATA drive. People are probably still paying several hundred dollars for it, but the real cost should go down to maybe 150 bucks or so once it becomes really common. So that's one part of the problem solved.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:23 AM on July 4, 2010


What percentage of theaters use digital projection now? I'm in New Orleans, and to my knowlege no theaters around here still use 35mm projection. It's large metro area, sure, but hardly one known for its technological advancement.
posted by raysmj at 1:50 AM on July 4, 2010


From Wikipedia: In March 2009 AMC Theatres announced that it closed on a $315 million deal with Sony to replace all of its movie projectors with 4k digital projectors starting in the second quarter of 2009 and completing in 2012.

As of June, 2010, there are close to 16,000 digital cinema screens, with over 5000 of them being stereoscopic setups.


According to the National Association of Theater Owners, there were 39,000 screens in the US at the end of 2009, so it's closing on 50% digital.

That seems to count absolutely every screen, though (they even count drive-ins), and the list of top ten "circuits" (basically largest cinema chains) adds up to some 22,500 screens, and it's likely most of the 16k digital screens are with them, so maybe something like 60%-70% of multiplex screens in the US are digital now?

I'm going to guess that the transition to digital will be very quick over the next year or two, and then stagnate at around 90%, as the smaller theaters will be slow to transition, given the price.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:02 AM on July 4, 2010


I think the cooperative model would work extremely well in the filmmaking world. Writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, etc. band together to dream up and complete projects. Hollywood has done a great job of divide and conquer, pay some astronomical amounts and make others beg for the scraps. This does not have to be some weird, hippy-dippy leftist thing. Just creative types that get together, combine their skills, work together and make films that can't seemingly get made in Hollywood. It could be formal or informal, depending on those involved. I've had a lot of experience in cooperative ventures and they can work. They're not a magic bullet, but motivated people who are sick of begging for work or a break can get a lot done.
posted by kidkilowatt at 4:22 AM on July 4, 2010


It's sort of not too difficult to see how such a system could work (technically, etc.), but this skips over the question of watching films in theatres, which obviously a lot of people still want to do.

Is that actually true?

If first-run movies were available day-and-date on your domestic TV, would you really schlep all the way out the Multiplex? I mean, obviously some people would, but any conversation with regular folks about movie theaters and dates turns almost immediately to how fucking expensive it is -- fifty to eight dollars is what gets quoted to me, taking in transport/parking/concessions and all the rest.

The studios could probably charge a substantial premium for a day and date stream of a movie, given that people would probably gather in groups to watch it.

I'm not saying it isn't true, but the distribution system is currently designed to funnel as many people as possible into the theatrical experience.
posted by unSane at 7:19 AM on July 4, 2010


Is that actually true?

Going to the movies is magic in a way that watching a movie at home is not. There's something about sitting in that big crowd of strangers and watching the lights dim and hearing that little crackle as the green PREVIEW screen comes on that makes it a totally different experience. All these different people--old people who can barely walk up the stairs, young people clearly embarrassed to be at the movies with their parents, people sweating through first dates, that dude who came in for the air conditioning and ended up snoring through the film--are all watching with you. You and some person you've never met and never will meet laugh at the same weird facial expression no one else finds funny.

And I'm a snooty snootyface who hates action movies and blockbusters and the latest Jennifer Aniston/Lopez/Love Hewitt/Garner schmaltz. I hardly ever have the time, and I almost never want to spend the money. But I still fucking love going to the movies, god knows why.
posted by sallybrown at 8:14 AM on July 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


If first-run movies were available day-and-date on your domestic TV, would you really schlep all the way out the Multiplex?

I won't do that now for most movies, and I had a movie pass one year that let me see first run movies every weekend, so I'm not a movie-hater. When I go now, it's generally for a silent movie with a live score, a movie that has personal attachment for me (e.g., the documentary featuring my husband's cousin as a talking head), or a date kind of occasion, in which case we go to the Alamo Drafthouse for a meal with the movie. I might go to the local IMAX, which I didn't even know shows commercial films until I checked it out right now, despite living in Austin for close to three years. Effective advertising, guys.

But the cinema experience is uncompelling for me when I can get everything on Netflix in a few months and I can watch trailers on Apple's web site. It has to be something special, or why should I go? It's just that studios assume special means "big budget SF" and as much as I like some of that (I'll be all over the opening weekend of Inception), I really want more options for my (mainstream) movie theater experience than I currently have.
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on July 4, 2010


I hardly ever have the time, and I almost never want to spend the money.

I think this nails it really, however much you love the movie theater experience. Plus, a lot of the things you describe (other people, basically) are turn-offs for many people.
posted by unSane at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Going to the movies is magic in a way that watching a movie at home is not. There's something about sitting in that big crowd of strangers and watching the lights dim and hearing that little crackle as the green PREVIEW screen comes on that makes it a totally different experience.

It ain't 1994 anymore. Going to the movies is no longer going to the movies--it's volunteering to watch cell phone and car commercials ads at a ridiculous volume before realizing you're sitting amongst a bunch of morons too stupid to turn off their phones and stop talking to one another.

In the 90s, I saw on average one film every single day for the entire decade. Not all of them were theatrical, of course, but many, many were. During the Toronto Film Fest I'd see fifty in 10 days every year. Every week, I'd see two movies Tuesday (which was always the cheapest day of the week so you could see two first-run movies for $5 total). I went on dates, I went with friends, I went by myself. I saw every art house film, every blockbuster, didn't matter. I loved going to the movies.

On average in the past ten years I've seen 2 to 3 movies per year in the theatre. If I bother with the Toronto Film Fest, I'll maybe see 3 movies total.

Going to the movies is a torturous experience these days. The ads are never-ending and brutally loud. People bring in french fries, hot dogs, crunchy nachos. Children are screaming, cell phones and text message dings go off every single time--hell, I saw a movie once where a woman made two phone calls! ("Yeah, I'm just seeing a movie. What are you doing?") Woulda been more I'm sure if we hadn't screamed at her. Ushers never patrol the aisles to kick out the gabbers like they used to.

And I'm gonna pay $15 ticket fee for this experience? Fuck that. I'll rent or dl before it comes to that. The only exception are filmmakers who me and my friends love so I know if I don't see them first day then someone will tell me more about it than I want to hear--so I'll see Coen films, Haneke films, anything written by Lem Dobbs or David Mamet etc etc. Most of these filmmakers don't work super often so that leaves me with a handful of theatrical experiences each year.

I love movies. I hate going to the movies. If unSane's ideal comes true (and I have little doubt it will), I would embrace it wholeheartedly.
posted by dobbs at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Going to the movies is magic crappy in a way that watching a movie at home is not.

I hate the cineplex experience. Expensive, I can't always sit in a good location, the people behind me might have a toddler who kicks the back of my chair, the food is both bad and expensive, I have no say whatsoever about the volume, can't hit pause to go to the bathroom, and holy fuck THE ADS when I am already paying money to be there.

It's not accidental that that sounds a lot like the reasons flying is such a nightmare, too -- there's something very similar in how those two industries have taken experiences that could be nice and extracted every bit of joy and fun in the search of the most short-sighted version of profits imaginable.

I would welcome a world in which I could pay more to watch a new movie on opening night in the comfort of my living room, or wait and watch it a few months later (like I can now) for cheaper. Differential pricing is great; I think that there is enormously more the industry could be doing to expand their markets and allow for a lot more differentiation.
posted by Forktine at 9:22 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The studios could probably charge a substantial premium for a day and date stream of a movie, given that people would probably gather in groups to watch it.

I'm sure that would be their excuse, although if it did happen, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, most likely.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2010


Nobody goes to movies anymore. Too crowded.
posted by Trochanter at 9:51 AM on July 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think the cooperative model would work extremely well in the filmmaking world. Writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, etc. band together to dream up and complete projects.

Similar results could be obtained by placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.
posted by unSane at 10:05 AM on July 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think the cooperative model would work extremely well in the filmmaking world. Writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, etc. band together to dream up and complete projects.

How are they marketing the movie? With what money? Who is doing that?

Also, unSane already touched upon the unfeasibility of all these folks working well together without a very strong leader with real power. Art tends to be a dictatorship, not a democracy.

In my ideal world, you would turn on your TV and be able to instantly watch any movie ever made (price determined by market forces), including movies released yesterday and movies released at the dawn of time. Roughly 50% of the amount you paid would flow back to the production. That is all it would take.

Not quite that simple.

People are missing one of the key points to the studios power and longevity, and why competing against them is a bear. People say: I can't get my indie distributed! If only I had distribution! Not so fast. Do you understand why theaters only deal with distributors? It's because distributors put marketing dollars behind their product. If you are a theatre owner, of course you want the movie you are showing to be well advertised and marketed - that drives people into the theatre and makes money. A theatre chain is not doing marketing beyond exhibition info.

And marketing costs money. A ton of money. A shit ton of money. Many movies have marketing budgets as big or bigger than production budgets. We're talking tens of millions. Where is that money coming from, my little indie friend with your little indie movie? That's right, the studios. But wait, there's more. You need money, but perhaps even more importantly what you need is marketing expertise. Studios are experts at rolling out marketing campaigns. It takes a lot of know-how to do that world wide, a shit-ton of experience and contacts. Talk to people in the industry. You'll regularly hear things like "Fox has the same shit movies as everyone else, but their marketing guy is first class and that's why they usually do more with their product". It's not just about commissioning some study here or there. It's a whole specialty. This is how all industries work - how well do you think Proctor and Gamble would work, without marketing? In the latter case, it's ALL marketing. Do not, under any circumstances neglect marketing as a factor. Where is your marketing department, my little indie friend with your little indie movie?

And that's why people shop their indie movies to the studios for distribution. Cause it's not the 50's and four walling ain't working (and even in the 50's never worked particularly well compared to studio driven distribution/marketing).

This is also a reason why the scenario unSane outlined is oversimplified - it's not just about access to all those movies on all those channels all that time. It's about reaching viewers and mindshare. If people don't know about your movie, they are not going to see it. Yes, you may get lucky with publicity and so on, but waiting for lightning to strike is not a business model. You need a movie to be marketed. And that's where the studio comes in, like an 800 pound gorilla. And the studio has their own products to push. If they make a deal to pick up your little movie, they'll want to get paid. And paid, and paid. That's why they stay in business, while you live and die from project to project.

This is also why there is so much discussion about the internet. Will the net alter this dynamic? I come down on the side of studios surviving. No doubt the internet will change some things at the margin, but you still need someone to market. Because merely opening the fire hose of access is not going to do it - someone needs to pick the wheat from the chaff, and someone needs to bring things to the mass audience (market) attention. It's like when TV came about - studios did not disappear, even with TV movies. You still need marketing. And of course, many studios co-opted TV production etc. The internet is another medium. And don't think for a second that the studios are not thinking of how to co-opt that. This is one of the reasons the recent director/actor/writers strikes was so bitter - the future was being divined and discussed and bets were being placed.

But studios, don't cry for them, Argentina.
posted by VikingSword at 12:28 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is magic in the theater experience. There is more magic in the beer+pot+good food movie experience, and theaters just can't make that combo happen.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2010


Whenever I read about a specialized and glamorous field losing potential, I thank my lucky stars for my boring, unrewarding, pointless, low-paying job.
posted by tehloki at 3:46 PM on July 4, 2010


Whenever I read about a specialized and glamorous field losing potential

Yes, but this thread is about screenwriting!
posted by scody at 4:05 PM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is also a reason why the scenario unSane outlined is oversimplified - it's not just about access to all those movies on all those channels all that time. It's about reaching viewers and mindshare.

My utopian little daydream is orthogonal to marketing. But the one thing it does allow is something that is currently dead but used to be the mainstay of film releasing -- the platform release, killed stone dead by JAWS. Movies taking two years to play across the country, slowly building a wider audience etc.

Distributors stick to studios because of the marketing budget, sure, but that relates to the fact that the marginal cost of showing a particular movie in a theater is so high. Not just striking the print but the opportunity cost of NOT showing STRETCH ARMSTRONG XXIII. However the marginal cost of offering CONVERSATIONS WITH MY INUIT GRANDMOTHER in addition to STRETCH XXIII on a download basis is next to zero.

Currently the indie movie is not just outspent on marketing, but essentially locked out of the distribution chain. While there is no reason to think that studio marketing dollars won't still grab a vast swathe of mindshare, the fact that the distribution chain on a download model is no longer hermetically sealed will make a huge difference to low-budget indies and lower budget dramas, since the possibility of recoupment is actually there without having a hail-mary breakout hit.
posted by unSane at 4:47 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Similar results could be obtained by placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.

Don't take this as a premise. There's no such thing as an eternal, Platonic cinematographer's personality. The personality types you know and work with are those that were socialised under the current system of reward and punishment. If it really took root, a different way of making movies would bring into being different kinds of filmmakers.
posted by stammer at 5:45 PM on July 4, 2010


It's not the DPs I'm worried about.
posted by unSane at 6:24 PM on July 4, 2010


The thing about movies is they're such big projects. You guys talk about five million dollar projects as though they're negligible.

When projects are this big, and the contributors to the project are artists, probably you're going to need a project manager. And the project manager will start to be very important to the project. And right there you start to see the Hollywood system rise again.
posted by Trochanter at 6:52 PM on July 4, 2010


Um, the project manager is called a producer. Just so you know.
posted by unSane at 7:00 PM on July 4, 2010


placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.

I smell a BLOCKBUSTER
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:26 PM on July 4, 2010


the project manager is called a producer

That's what I was getting at. You get, or need to have, someone who just gets the thing finished. The nature of the task is not artistic, so he doesn't have to be an artist. So you have a non-artist in charge. Cue the suits.
posted by Trochanter at 7:37 PM on July 4, 2010


> placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.

I smell a BLOCKBUSTER


Naw, you can see that on YouTube for free.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:44 PM on July 4, 2010


producer ≠ studio
posted by unSane at 7:53 PM on July 4, 2010


But doesn't having non-artists in charge of things sort of lead to a studio system if you let my little thought experiment play out for a generation or two?
posted by Trochanter at 8:05 PM on July 4, 2010


It's not a big deal. It's just that with as much money involved as is involved in movies, it's going to get to be about money.
posted by Trochanter at 8:08 PM on July 4, 2010


unSane...

Good explanation on the economics from the studio's perspective. I want to tack on a little on your comment about the exhibitors. The exhibitors do not get $5 out of the $10. It may get close to this level in the 4th or 5th week of a run, but the general case is that exhibitors in the US make little or no money from ticket sales. All of their profit (if any) basically comes from popcorn. Unfortunately, us pointy headed mefites that like indie movies don't buy as much popcorn as the kids down the hall watching Transformers 4.

Hence the exhibitors would rather book the latest blockbuster (with mass teen appeal) on 6 screens than show an indie flick that will just bring a bunch of overeducated yuppies (pockets bulging with trader joe's snacks) into their theaters.

This preference flows back up the distribution chain. So if you want to see more good "small" movies, please do your part by buying an extra large popcorn, coke and red vines at your local megaplex.
posted by clark at 8:09 PM on July 4, 2010


^You know Tom Cruise was in the "Mission Impossible" films, of course. Without looking it up, can you tell me who wrote them? Can you name any writer whose work you follow?

But those movies sucked. Except for MI:3 which was written by Kurtzman and Orci and produced by J.J. Abrams,

As a fan of the original series, I can't be bothered with any of those movies.

They (director DePalma, star Cruise) wasted an excellent supporting cast within the first 40 minutes. That damn first movie was a love-letter written to Cruise's misshapen, L. Ron Hubbard-loving career.
posted by vhsiv at 8:23 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if you want to see more good "small" movies, please do your part by buying an extra large popcorn, coke and red vines at your local megaplex.

Finally an ethical rationalization for my incurable addiction to movie theatre popcorn! Thank you, clark!
posted by gompa at 8:29 PM on July 4, 2010


"Mission Impossible"

I just surprised the hell out of myself the other day by discovering that Robert Towne himself wrote one of them.
posted by Trochanter at 8:38 PM on July 4, 2010


the general case is that exhibitors in the US make little or no money from ticket sales. All of their profit (if any) basically comes from popcorn.

Thanks for this. I hope this bursts the last little remnants of the romantic bubble that surrounds the multiplex experience.
posted by unSane at 8:45 PM on July 4, 2010


Can you name any writer whose work you follow?

Stoppard, Towne, and Mammet would get my attention on the credits. But really, who wrote what? Every movie seems to have a history of three or four fired screenwriters, plus a doctoring and a polish. David S. Ward claims to have written 85% of the dialogue on "Mask of Zorro," and is not credited.

How the hell do you follow these guys?
posted by Trochanter at 8:53 PM on July 4, 2010


Stoppard, Towne, and Mammet would get my attention on the credits. But really, who wrote what? Every movie seems to have a history of three or four fired screenwriters, plus a doctoring and a polish. David S. Ward claims to have written 85% of the dialogue on "Mask of Zorro," and is not credited.

The issue of credit in some cases is mindblowing. I saw a draft of Sleepy Hollow that's attributed to Andrew Kevin Walker (he of Seven) that sketches the plot of the film but has little resemblance to it in many ways, most notably dialogue-wise; my understanding, gleaned from the internet, is that the script was rewritten by Tom Stoppard, which seems...extremely plausible to me. But the only other writing credit goes to Kevin Yagher (he of some terrific effects work and pretty much no other writing). I guess it's safer to presume that a published screenplay is the work of the person whose name's on the spine, though I have no idea whether that's necessarily a guarantee.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:30 PM on July 4, 2010


The Card Cheat: "> placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.

I smell a BLOCKBUSTER


Naw, you can see that on YouTube for free.
"

In 3d? I think not.
posted by Bonzai at 9:35 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


the script was rewritten by Tom Stoppard

Tim Burton has a marvellous visual sense, but he's one of the worst offenders out there as far as not valuing language. The one exception is Sleepy Hollow, and that had to be Stoppard.


YOUNG MASBATH
A strange sort of witch! -- with a
kind and loving heart! How can you
think so?

ICHABOD
I have a good reason.

YOUNG MASBATH
Then you are bewitched by reason.

ICHABOD
I am beaten down by it!



I love that exchange, and it's gotta be Stoppard.

In other places Burton will have dialogue like, "You go that way! You go that way! The rest come with me!" Which he uses in two movies. Planet of the Apes, and at another point in Sleepy Hollow.
posted by Trochanter at 9:55 PM on July 4, 2010


PS: I got that transcript off the web, and I'm pretty sure "I have a good reason" should actually read "I have good reason". But I can't prove it.
posted by Trochanter at 10:05 PM on July 4, 2010


"This preference flows back up the distribution chain. So if you want to see more good 'small' movies, please do your part by buying an extra large popcorn, coke and red vines at your local megaplex."

The problem being consession isn't segmented by movie. I imagine a lot of differentiation can be performed by start times but that's still going to be pretty fuzzy in a big multiplex where several theatres are starting at the same time.
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just surprised the hell out of myself the other day by discovering that Robert Towne himself wrote one of them.

He wrote MI 1 and 2, actually. Towne has been "friends" with Cruise since he wrote Days of Thunder for him. He also wrote The Firm script.

I saw a draft of Sleepy Hollow that's attributed to Andrew Kevin Walker (he of Seven)

One of my favorite DVDs for commentary is Fight Club. I don't think Fincher/Norton/Pitt mention credited screenwriter Jim Uhls once during the entire thing. Whenever the topic of the script comes up, they mention AK Walker, who is not officially credited. I say officially because, though Fincher wanted him to get a credit, the WGA said no go. So as the credits roll by you see three separate credits for security guards scroll past in a row. The actors are of course the actors but their unnamed (in the film) character names are Andrew, Kevin, and Walker.

To add insult to (Uhls') injury, on is own commentary, which he shares with novelist Chuck Palahniuk, he literally sounds like he didn't write the script. Chuck keeps asking him how he came up with such and such (which wasn't in the book) and Uhls sort of umms and ahhs and always settles on "I don't remember".

Fincher made sure Walker got his full name in his next film by making him an actor in Panic Room.

I gotta admit I love Walker's script for 8MM, though the film is atrocious. I think it's a fantastic example of Hollywood fucking up something without really changing much. The plot is the same; the story and characters are different. Well worth reading and comparing (the published script has an interview with Walker about how Schumacher fucked it up--also worth a read).

As I ask in most screenwriting threads, if there's any MeFites who want to swap scripts for feedback, memail me.
posted by dobbs at 11:24 PM on July 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Similar results could be obtained by placing, say, a dozen cats in a bag and tying it firmly closed.

Also, unSane already touched upon the unfeasibility of all these folks working well together without a very strong leader with real power. Art tends to be a dictatorship, not a democracy.


The supposed narcissistic and irascible nature of artists is as threadbare and useless as the idea that it takes a dictator to make a movie. Name one director that made a movie by himself. I bet you can name a thousand who screwed it up beyond belief or recognition. The whole "A (insert A-list director's name here) film" is the sorry and twisted remnants of the auteur movement. It works great for 20 or 30 directors.

And a cooperative model doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be a director. The process could remain essentially the same. If everyone working on the film knew that they and their specialty would be heard and appreciated, and that they would share in an equitable percentage of the profit (not necessarily equal), I think we'd find that more and better films would be made and people would take note.

If one doesn't control the process from beginning to end, one will always end up with scraps at best. Until the whole process is controlled by artists and producers/business people who love film and story, and who are motivated by creating compelling art, we'll continue to end up with junk. We have to get away from the idea that producers are bad, and "artists" are good. Most producers suffer the same way we do.

The days of the screenwriter sitting in his office banging out screenplays for a fair income never existed, and they never will. Until writers are willing to become part of a process that includes working from beginning to end with the other pieces of the puzzle, we'll be left with shite at the multiplex. Reading between the lines on this thread leads me to believe that what a lot of us (screenwriters) really want is a return of the auction frenzy of the 90's, so we can at least dream of winning the screenplay lottery and quit wondering where this month's rent is going to come from.


How are they marketing the movie? With what money? Who is doing that?

The prevailing problem in American pop culture is the "corporate" in corporate capitalism. When some guy three steps removed can pull down an extra quarter-million in bonus if the big summer blockbuster his corporation "made" hits paydirt, we're screwed. Why would he care if it was any "good" or not? It's antithetical and irrelevant to his whole worldview. Did it turn a profit: yes -- good, no -- bad. The end. If a new, professional, motivated, hard-working model (cooperative or other) is created that shows potential, though smaller, profitability, there will be capitalists willing to take the risk.

It's not Utopian to figure out ways to circumvent the prevailing monolith and create a better way to make film. It's just good business for artists.
posted by kidkilowatt at 7:43 AM on July 5, 2010


Studios are not irrational. They make shitty movies for a reason.

There's something very sad in the fact that economic rationality means making crappy movies. And there's no one to even blame, really


Of course there's someone to blame. It's everyone who's blindly bought into a system that can only rate the quality/value of a given movie based on its short-term economic viability. That is, it's not economic-rationality's fault that only movies whose trailers show lotsa stuff blowing up real good get made anymore. It's the culture in general (ie: the vast majority of us who've bought into the collective tunnel-blindness inherent in, dare I name it, unrestricted free market capitalism).

But don't worry. I'm not advocating for Marx here; just for a subtle step back from the greed trough. That is, fix our collective focus more on a movie's long term profitability (say over a ten/twenty year period) and we'll see way more stuff with broader/deeper/richer appeal than we're currently getting. This is already happening, of course, with TV (Mad Men, Sopranos, The Wire etc), and with so-called "cult movies" (Big Liebowski, Office Space etc).
posted by philip-random at 10:19 AM on July 5, 2010


It's not Utopian to figure out ways to circumvent the prevailing monolith and create a better way to make film.

The onus is on you to explain why in a hundred years of cinema it hasn't happened.
posted by unSane at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe because for a hundred years, manufacturing shooting, storing, distributing, and projecting film was very expensive and required a huge capital investment.
posted by stammer at 1:42 PM on July 5, 2010


I already gave y'all the answer. The movie studios are going to become so weak financially that they'll have to sell their IP to Apple or Amazon for peanuts. The studios will have no leverage and Apple/Amazon will do what unSane said--release content simultaneously through multiple channels. That will turn the movie distribution business on its head.
posted by mullacc at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2010


The high cost of film production is not in the cost of the film. Even now shooting with a Red camera vs. shooting on 35mm does not make a massive difference to the overall bottom line.
posted by unSane at 3:50 PM on July 5, 2010


The high cost of film production is not in the cost of the film.

How much does it cost--in liquid money and in existing capacity--to transport a film from Los Angeles to New York and to store it there for ten years? How much did it cost fifty years ago? I think after such a huge change in the logistics of film distribution, the onus is on people to explain why the production process should remain unchanged. The answer would seem to be a combination of sunk costs and nostalgia.
posted by stammer at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2010


Who said the production process has remained unchanged? You don't seem to understand what the costs of production are. Go and look at a real film budget and get back to us.
posted by unSane at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2010


Who's "us"? The profitable, flexible, forward-looking and optimistic film industry?
posted by stammer at 5:59 PM on July 5, 2010


So, Mister Gutenberg, who's going to illuminate all these machine-reproducible texts? Why don't you take a look at a real vellum manuscript budget and see where the costs are? It's not in distribution, I assure you!
posted by stammer at 6:02 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So in your view the cost of shooting on physical film is what makes movie production so expensive?

You do realize that many movies are shot digitally, and almost all movies are post-produced digitally, and almost all movies are projected digitally these days, right?

I am currently budgeting a $5m feature to direct and there is essentially no difference between shooting on 35mm and shooting on Red. The medium is irrelevant to the cost of locations, cast, grip, catering, costume, production design, script and rights, music, the principals of all major departments (DP, Editor etc), producer fees, insurance costs. And trust me, we are hurting to get the thing done on $5m. I had the same movie budgeted by a studio and it came in at $17m.
posted by unSane at 7:41 PM on July 5, 2010


So in your view the cost of shooting on physical film is what makes movie production so expensive?

No - the requirements of filming, reproducing, warehousing, distributing, and projecting physical film is part of what determined the current corporate structure of Hollywood. That's a structure that includes physical supply-chain as a position of substantial industry influence.

Now the costs of those things are cheap to the point of negligibility. As you say, they t barely show in budgets. And yet no radical reorganisation of production has followed, and old players remain powerful, using their century of accumulated networking, investment, and influence to exert pressure to keep the industry doing what they know, using organisational methods they feel they understand. (This basic scenario is not unique to Hollywood and some people think it is what has caused globally declining profit rates for the last forty years.) This outlook is strong enough that even creative, thoughtful, and imaginative people like screenwriters seem to think that bossy producers are some kind of eternal and universal archetype.

If society had never had Hollywood or movies or the Entertainment Industry, and then had invented BitTorrent and digital cameras, what would you suggest we do with them? I suggest you would not invent the cinema, or the "distributor".
posted by stammer at 9:19 PM on July 5, 2010


I'm sorry. You are barking up the wrong tree. However, you are welcome to it.
posted by unSane at 9:40 PM on July 5, 2010


STRETCH ARMSTRONG III: THE BREAING POINT
STRETCH ARMSTRONG XII: THE TWIST

Sorry to interrupt the serious conversation, unSane. But may I have another? Thanks, man!
posted by ryanrs at 12:13 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My essential point, when expressing that some form of "cooperative" model could be used to make films, is that the way the industry has evolved it has created a self-interested, neurotic Gordian knot, not a business model. And if most important people in the creative process--writers, directors, cinematographers, composers, production designers, etc.--don't take control of the process of filmmaking, it will continue to be a Gordian knot. There can be no frontal assault. The industry won't allow it; they have too much money, friends in too many places, and they divide and conquer.

Perhaps I shouldn't have used a "lefty" term. Perhaps I should have just said that creative types need simply to organize earlier and better during the process. By the time most people enter the process bad decisions have been made, and the die is cast. One way to address this would be to set up a company, capitalist in nature, but not corporate capitalist, in which the creative types controlled the creation of the film from day one. I wonder if there are any composers, costume designers, etc. who are sick of being referred to as being "below the line" and would like to be part of the process earlier so they don't have to work their fingers to the bone on a tight deadline to get tossed a few scraps.

Yes, it is an expensive business. But I wonder if that's to some degree a function of the Gordian knot the industry has tied. They control everything, and if the "important" people make a killing, who cares?
posted by kidkilowatt at 4:50 AM on July 6, 2010


But the creatives *are* the industry just as much as the studios are -- they want to get paid as much as anyone else. They (we) have mortgages and families. Most of us have no interest in being starving artists. I've done that, believe me. Film-making on a Hollywood scale is like building a cathedral. It is not folk-art.

No doubt *some* films could be made -- and perhaps very good ones, although I would submit also very very bad ones -- using the model you describe. But the skills involved in high-quality filmmaking are arcane and hard to develop and people naturally expect to be rewarded for putting that amount of effort in to developing.

I think there is a misconception that films are an art like painting or playing the guitar. They really aren't. Movies are at heart, and always have been, commercial endeavors because they require orders of magnitude more commitment, organisation, funding and co-ordination between generally strong-willed and sometimes pretty dysfunctional individuals.

Movie sets are hierarchically structured for a reason. There is a chain of command, no less that in a military unit. On a good set, all voices are heard and there is an esprit de corps which can make the hierarchy fade into the background. But when the light is fading and you have no money for a reshoot and you need to drop two pages, and the leading guy is doing some weird thing which isn't working, and the DP is taking too long to get the kick just right, you have to have someone who is listened to. And ultimately that means firing power. And that means money.

I built a house a few years ago (I mean I was the general contractor -- I didn't bang in a single nail myself). The entire process was almost *exactly* like making a movie. The script was the architect's plans. I think it's worth bearing that in mind when you think about the process.
posted by unSane at 6:00 AM on July 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


you asked for 'em

STRETCH ARMSTRONG VI - PRETZEL LOGIC
STRETCH ARMSTRONG XII - THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
STRETCH ARMSTRONG XIX - TORN BETWEEN TWO LOVERS (the weepy)
STRETCH ARMSTRONG XXIII - NO WAY BACK aka THE LONG GOODBYE
posted by unSane at 6:08 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lots of good points getting made here from any number of angles. My two-bits goes something like this.

unsane mentioned military-level hierarchy on film sets. I've heard it said that, barring going to war, no process is more complex than that of making movies, starting with script development, moving through budgeting, casting, set-building, decorating etc, into actual production (which is all many of us think of when it comes to movie making), then into editing, FX, post-sound, into marketing, into distribution, into exhibition, into actually chasing down the revenue and prying it from the greedy hands of all the various middle-men all the world over who get between you (the producer/creator) and the paying customer.

So there's a whole bunch of reasons why movies cost a lot of money, even the cheap ones.

That said, unsane mentioned 5 million as a low figure up above. I'm currently involved in a project that, as originally conceived, wanted a budget of somewhere between 6-12 million (dollars). Now, given the "corrected" post-digital, post-bit-torrent, post Sept-08 economic reality, we're thinking somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million.

How is this possible?

1. shoot digital
2. cast unknowns (not to be confused with "untalenteds")
3. less cash up front for screenplay, story rights
4. no big deal POP songs on the soundtrack (tough for a period piece that's aimed at a hip young audience but we've figured a way to do it)
5. scaled down production crew (not 80 odd people etc for eight solid weeks, more like 15 core positions with occasional padding to handle "big days")
6. tough, open-ledger negotiations with various unions and guilds
7. an overall "open-mind" to marketing, promotion and distribution options given the ongoing evolution of these aspects of the biz

Note that we are not cutting back on either total production days or post-production. This is the quickest, most effective way to turn a great screenplay into a merely average movie.
posted by philip-random at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2010


unsane:

It appears to me that nothing will change until the whole rotting structure falls down and something is built in its place; or, like-minded people start building now and either hasten its demise or subvert it. To expect those that run the present system to reform it seems like folly to me. From this thread it seems contested as to whether any money is actually being made or not. Are a small few rolling in piles of dough, or is the whole thing a financial house of cards? The comments seem mixed from what I read. I understand that it's an expensive and complicated endeavor, but why should that stop people. I also think that's one of the canards the industry uses to keep certain players on their team. So something is hard. Big deal. People find a way.

If (as written) all Hollywood films are made for 3.5% of the population (19-24 y.o. males), I suspect not only is it a house of cards, but one constructed on patent falsities. I don't have cause to go to the multiplex very often anymore. There's rarely anything I want to see. But in the last 5 years when I have made the trek, I've found the ticket line full of both genders, aged 8-60. Sure, it's anecdotal. It's just possible that Hollywood has it all wrong, and can't see the forest for the trees. I think that it's a lot like being in the army. yeah, the food in the chow hall sucks, but one has to eat. People want to go to the movies. So they go see what's in the theaters, what they see movies they've been bombarded with by marketing, and they forget about it before they hit the exit sign.

This thread has made me think of Orwell's, 1984. He wrote of a contraption that spit out mawkish, sentimental songs for the masses to hear and love. We might be there.
posted by kidkilowatt at 9:04 AM on July 6, 2010


From Nikke Finke's DEADLINE* today, everything you need to know about Hollywood accounting.

STUDIO SHAME! Even Harry Potter Pic Loses Money Because Of Warner Bros' Phony Baloney Net Profit Accounting

*the only news site that everybody and I mean everybody in Hollywood reads
posted by unSane at 12:30 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yup, first they tried it on out-of-the-loop nobodies like Stan Lee, and then they went big by screwing Peter Jackson. He pretty much didn't get paid for LOTR, and now refuses to work on The Hobbit.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:01 AM on July 7, 2010


Yup, first they tried it on out-of-the-loop nobodies like Stan Lee

This practice goes way back. I remember Sean Connery (or maybe it was Michael Caine, or both) suing over The Man Who Would Be King and, at the time (mid-70s), the scuttlebutt was that this was absolutely nothing new.

Hollywood is corrupt and pretty much always has been. This is why big deal stars get such huge salaries up front, because they know their movies will never get an honest accounting.
posted by philip-random at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010


Do you understand why theaters only deal with distributors? It's because distributors put marketing dollars behind their product. If you are a theatre owner, of course you want the movie you are showing to be well advertised and marketed - that drives people into the theatre and makes money.

Why don't they just make a really good movie instead?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:28 PM on July 7, 2010


quality doesn't hurt a movie's marketability. But if you're a biz-man looking for something you can reliably count on, advertising beats it every day. If it didn't Transformers 2 would never even have been considered.

This is not a failure of cinema. This is a failure of the market based economy.
posted by philip-random at 3:18 PM on July 7, 2010


Why do all working screenwriters write online about their craft in the same insufferably pedantic chest-pounding way?
posted by waxbanks at 6:14 PM on July 7, 2010


ooooo! burrrrnnnn!
posted by Trochanter at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2010


Why do all working screenwriters write online about their craft in the same insufferably pedantic chest-pounding way?

Because they know it drives the poseurs nuts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:53 PM on July 7, 2010


STRETCH ARMSTRONG XXIII - NO WAY BACK aka THE LONG GOODBYE

That last one wasn't supposed to be the end, but MGM went belly-up and...
posted by incessant at 12:47 AM on July 8, 2010


You laugh, but it's the Stretch Armstrong remake thirty years down the road that really shines.
posted by grubi at 10:18 PM on July 8, 2010


but it's the Stretch Armstrong remake thirty years down the road

Dude, it'll be a reboot, not a remake. And three years, not thirty. Remember, this is Hollywood.
posted by dobbs at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2010


Wait, I thought Finke's deadline site was more ha ha gossip, are you saying it genuinely is more watched industry wise than say the trades?

[Not-LA-Screenwriter-ist]
posted by cavalier at 2:48 PM on July 9, 2010


Why Hollywood Fears Nikki Finke
posted by scody at 3:07 PM on July 9, 2010


Is the U.S. remake of Let The Right One In doomed?

Here's hoping, though it is to be noted that the reason it may be in trouble are not to do with it being a fundamentally pointless remake and a bad idea.
posted by Artw at 3:15 PM on July 9, 2010


Wait, I thought Finke's deadline site was more ha ha gossip, are you saying it genuinely is more watched industry wise than say the trades?

Absolutely. The trades are dead in the water.
posted by unSane at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2010


The trades are "lol" in the industry. You use them only for when you get a promotion and they publish your photo next to the announcement - at which point you scoop, like 20 of them and send to your mom, your buddy, your ex, and stash the rest away for posterity. The trades don't break anything these days, and they are not hip. It's a different era. What circulation they have is out of inertia, cause the various companies or people haven't gotten around to canceling the subscription.
posted by VikingSword at 4:17 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons rise again!
posted by Trochanter at 4:40 PM on July 9, 2010


Wow. Another illusion shattered, keep em comin' you guys! <3
posted by cavalier at 4:48 PM on July 9, 2010


Yeah, here at the office we discuss Nikki Finke, never the trades.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:10 PM on July 9, 2010


Nikki is easily a match for Hedda and Louella. She's a piece of work, in (I think) a good way.
posted by unSane at 8:39 PM on July 9, 2010


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