Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #717: Desperately Seeking Scribblers

Hollywood is not a good place to be a writer right now.

It was never a great place, don't get me wrong, but right now it's never been harder. The major studios are making fewer movies, many of them sequels and remakes of blockbuster franchises, and appears to be hiring only the members of a rapidly shrinking circle of writers to do the screenplays. New talent with new and original screenplays that doesn't already have membership in the club, can pretty much forget about joining.

Well, 20th Century Fox is going to attempt to buck that trend. They are starting a new writers program. The purpose of this program is to find new "emerging" writers that they traditionally ignore, and hope that they come up with the sort of fresh original material that can become the remakes of the future.

Which begs the question: How will they screw it up?

Don't get me wrong, if any studio was going to try this, Fox has the best chance of success. The management philosophy is to never do anything that doesn't have any chance of a concrete return on their investment. This is the company whose Fox-Searchlight division is still chugging along while almost every other "indie" division is long gone.

However, this is the company that started Fox Atomic, lost focus of what it was supposed to do, while slapping it with a weak "B-Label" brand, only to have to fold it.

So you can see, that while they probably have, if not the best intentions, at least as much good intentions as a major Hollywood studio can have, their execution could result either into a whimpering, simpering fizzle out, or a complete disaster.

Let's look at what they need do to make this program work.


The old standby of asking agents who is new and novel in the world of screenwriting is not going to work as well you might think.

Agents, especially the ones from the big powerful agencies don't look for new writing talent, they poach writers from the smaller agencies who do, after said writer has made a few sales, meaning that they aren't as fresh as Fox is looking for. These big Hollywood agencies also have bills to pay, and are not going to burn major calories, and money only to take a risk on some who is untested, and most importantly unsold, where even if they do make a sale, it won't be near the money the more established scribes get.

They have to protect their own interests in the Hollywood shark tank, and many can't afford to take the risk.

So Fox is going to need a new system. One that comes to mind is the sort of Triggerstreet/Authonomy style system, where thousands of people gather on-line to read and criticize each other scripts, and hopefully the cream will rise to the top.

But here there be dragons, as they would say on old maps.

Often getting to the top of the heap relies more on the winning writer dedicating their lives to gaming the system, usually trading good reviews with other members, than with the actual quality of their writing product.

I use to be active in a similar system but made the mistake of being honest with my reviews. One script was presented as a "sexy thriller" but it didn't work that way, and I told the writer that he needed to rewrite it as a satire of Hollywood, and this pissed him off. It could have been a great satire, but he took it as a personal attack, and made a snippy comment about my "ignorant" review.

If Fox is going to do it right, they are going to have to go old fashioned, and burn some shoe leather. That means hiring professional readers, usually bitter unsold writers themselves, giving them a stack of unsolicited scripts, and giving them a stamp for what file they go into: Must Read File, Might Read File, & Circular File.

But this only after sifting through all the entries that don't use the right format, are written on toilet paper, or written in blood. It's a lot of work shoveling through dung, but it's the only way to reach the diamond.

Thanks to the internet Fox can recruit pro-readers from all over the world to work without stepping foot in the Axis of Ego. They could use a pay-per-report deal, using overlapping assignments to help weed out the scammers faking it, and toss cash rewards to readers who find quality scripts that get the green-light, and a bigger reward if it becomes a success.


Showbiz used to be the domain of gamblers. Men who regularly risked their jobs, fortunes, and reputations to make movies. Making movies is, was, and always will be a risky business. You might believe with all your heart that you have a sure-thing, but it could easily go down in flames taking everything you have with it.

Movies have become extremely expensive to make and market, mostly because of the studio's own piss-poor business practices. This has made the major studios extremely risk averse, and putting them on their current path of remakes and overpriced tent-pole flicks.

When it comes to the new, the novel, and the unproven, there is usually a tremendous failure of nerve on the part of the studios.

It doesn't have to be this way. When you're an outfit as big as Fox, you can mitigate those risks, and here's how:

1. Aim low. Look for the middle ground that most studios are ignoring. Smaller scale crime/action films, horror movies, comedies, etc., that have commercial appeal, but don't require huge stars, big FX, and long shooting schedules.

2. When you've found the golden goose, don't beat it. This means that you treat your new writers right. Pay them on time, pay them what they're owed, and don't go around playing the silly ass games with their money and time that makes writing screenplays such a pain in the ass.

Basically make it so that the writers who do good work will consider working for another studio a major blunder. Make them want to stay and do business with you instead of anyone else. Sure a studio may offer them slightly more cash and points in their proposition, but if they know that a deal with you is as good as having that money in the bank, there's a damn good chance that they will opt for security.

Now all this will take a hellacious amount of labor to accomplish.

Is Fox ready to do what it takes to make it work?

We will have to wait and see?

1 comment:

  1. Looks like FOX is doing to film what NICK and ABC.DISNEY are doing to TV. So far TV looks like where the BEST opportunities for new writers are.