Wednesday, January 13, 2010

F.U. money

Show business is high school with money
- Martin Mull

On a recent LA talk show Avatar director and producer James Cameron was being interviewed and said that after Titanic, he finally had F.U. money. The host snickered and they exchanged a laugh. I don't know if that term applies to every type of work, but it certainly is used in the film industry.

Writers and actors and directors dream of it, hope for it and work for it. But few get that dream fulfilled. Describing it in a polite way it simply means that you have enough money that you can tell the studios and the networks to... well, you know.  You won the lottery, you never have to bend to their demands ever again. You can finance your own movie.

Which means I don't have it.

Why this vindictive stance; because those entities do everything they can to keep every dime they make and to take advantage of every artist in the business. Obviously, the big stars and writers and directors have their F.U. money but 90% have to always get what they can and hope for residuals.

When I taught UCLA extension classes a few years ago one of the common questions was "how much do writers get"? Their estimates were usually $250,000 - $500,000 based on websites that had recent payments to writers for screenplays.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Truth is, most writers get far less. Scale for a low budget movie under $5 million is around $45,000 and scale for higher budgets is around $80,000. That's way below half a million. And you might think it's still a lot of money. It is, if it were consistent. Most writers make one sale every few years and once you spread that out, it's barely over poverty  level.

The average actor in Hollywood makes less than $8,000 a year. Try to live on that.

Director's salaries are similar to writers, a little more but not that far apart.

I never really complain about this though, because I always realize one truth that makes those of us who choose an artistic life accept the consequences of our decisions to be in that end of the business.

That truth is this; we chose this business.

I believe that most people fall into their jobs; you graduate from high school or college and hunt around for a job that will afford you as many of the luxuries this country can offer and the ability to have a family if you choose. And if you're lucky and you don't end up in a dead-end job, you manage somehow to make it through the day, maybe even enjoy it but some will wonder what they missed, what they could have been.

We chose a line of work where the odds of success are so incredibly against us that it makes Vegas slots look like easy money. And for what? To tell our little stories and hopefully earn enough to make the mortgage or rent payment and maybe manage a vacation once a year. But we have one thing most people don't -  we're living our lives on our terms. We decide our fate and our lives.

So why should we complain?

I don't. The most I made on a screenplay was about $80,000 and when I realized they paid me that much to write 120 pages of screenplay, I couldn't believe it. And being Canadian I felt guilty, they were so good to me and they even said they like me. They really like me.

But my agent eased my guilt when he suggested that the companies like me less and hire me more.

My deceased friend Phil Borsos said that once you make some good money in Hollywood, you have three years to establish yourself because after that you become just another writer or director or actor sliding on their way down. And to a point he's true, I lasted longer than that for some reason, and in fact, am still in the game. Not everybody returns my calls, but enough do.

I remember a quote from Dawn Steel who was a studio head for awhile and when she left she said this; "you go from 200 calls to 10, and mostly if I didn't initiate the call there wouldn't be one coming back to me".

I have that quote under her picture on my office wall because there are days like that. Way too many days.

I was talking with  a woman who had shared her life with me for several years and recently she told me that I was one of the few people she knew who was living his dream. Can't get much better than that... well, maybe the pretty blonde actress on a series I worked on when she ran up to me with the new script and said "it's so Jim".

I want that on my gravestone. 

Even without F.U. money.

Coming Friday: Who Do You Love?

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. Reality v fantasy. When you know the difference between both and still choose to do it, that's when you really know - it was destiny.