Friday, March 5, 2010

The Writer Got Screwed

A comment in Wednesday's blog got my blood running a little, in that I stated something that, according to Anonymous, was not true. Rather than repeat it, you can check it out if you want.

But it opened up a long-running sore with writers.

They don't get no respect.  

With apologies to Rodney Dangerfield.

This respect issue permeates the lives of many writers, even the famous ones. We just don't get any respect from the producers and directors and stars. Of course it's not always the case, as I have said often, I've had the privilege of working with a lot of good producers who do respect what I do and treat me accordingly.And before you think it's just a dozen whining writers, consider this:

The WGA, our bargaining entity and enforcer of all rules issues a palm-sized booklet, of which I scanned, with the following "rights". For example, and I edit slightly for space;

  • The director must meet with you if  you are the currently employed writer.
  • The director should invite you to the first cast reading.
  • Your name should be listed on the call sheet adjacent to the producer or director.
  • You may ask to visit the set.
  • The company must invite you to cast and crew events.
  • You have the right to view a cut of the film in sufficient time for suggestions.
  • The company must include your name and credits in the presskit.
  • The company will invite you to the premiere.
  • The company must give you a copy of the film.
Do you think anyone else on the crew, from director to driver needs to address those items above. Do you think this is a lack of respect? Why do we have to have it in writing that we can be allowed to visit the set?

On one set of a film I wrote I showed up and at least five of the crewmembers asked why I was there.

Because I WROTE THE GODDAM THING. And without me, none of them would have a job. And without them, I can still write and sell.

And right off the top, I have to clarify my own position here on respect. I really don't give a damn if anyone respects me or my work, frankly after 35 years in the business, it doesn't really matter because I respect myself. As my agent once said to a producer who said "we love Jim", the agent said he'd rather they like me less and hire me more.

I know my writing is good, I've been at it for a long time and just like the roofer who bangs his fingers on shingle roofs at first, eventually I learned how to write good.

Does that mean everyone loves my screenplays? 

No. They may hate the story, but they can't say the writing is bad. Story is a finicky thing, like movies that are made from them, some people like them, some don't. And you can't change that. So I accept it with the knowledge that it really isn't my fault. I just didn't connect with a story that particular producer didn't like.

The title of this blog refers to a book on contracts for writers; The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to) by Brooke Wharton. Reviews included:

  • "an indispensable resource for anyone who's ever considered writing for the entertainment industry".
  • "Recommend it to any aspiring screenwriter".
  • "A tool for the screenwriter who does not understand the business end of show business."
Now you can see why I got hot by a comment that I was wrong in stating that studios and producers often ask for free rewrites.I have had producers refuse to pay me money owing on rewrites or even on a sale of a screenplay and once Disney wanted to pay me monthly payments rather than a lump sum. 

But let's address the reasons why "they" don't give us respect, or at least why there might be a suggestion of that. And remember, I respect myself first and don't really care if anyone else does.

There's one major factor against writers that nobody ever considers.

We are hired first, and let go first. Once the script is done, they really don't need us anymore. And that can be months before the movie starts filming. Maybe years.

And one thing producers hate is that they have to pay us, regardless if the movie goes into production or not. I've been paid $8000 for an idea that was ultimately rejected. Does that sound fair?

Yes, after all we did work and if we work we should get paid. Like everyone else. 

Schmucks with typewriters. 

Words from Jack Warner, I think, about what he thought of writers.

Another thing is that nobody sees us work, at least in the old days writers worked in tiny offices at the studio. One studio boss would walk past the offices shouting "I don't hear the typewriters!"

But now, most of us write at home. And when we hand it the screenplay they really don't know if we wrote it, or our cat did. Or the mailman or the girl friend or the gas station attendant. After all, they all have screenplays, at least here in L.A.

And remember, once they get the script, they really don't need us anymore.

To be honest though, there are producers and directors who want the writers on set,  because they are not afraid that the writer will show them up or embarrass them.

An old joke I've heard is that directors don't like writers on the set because they're the only one who knows the director is faking it.

So this hopefully gives some of you an insight into a writer's world, and of course it's not everyone and as I've said, I've worked with some great directors and even had directors call me from a distant location to ask permission to change some dialog lines.

I like to think they have some respect for my work, rather than me, I'd prefer that.

And the check.  On time.


  1. I see "Smokey". I still miss him. gk

  2. Not to mention a good mentor to me, he was usually right on with his notes, and all it cost was some rubs and cat food.

  3. To the reader who conveniently hides behind their anonymous identity, I'm deleting your remarks and mine as they do little to serve my blog and too much to your ego.

    We disagree, not on what WGA says but the reality of a business where many (but not all) producers and studios try everything they can to screw us out of money and/or credit.

    So unless you want to tell me who you are, there's no point in continuing this.

  4. Sorry to anonymously post factual information. I can see how that would bother you.