Monday, April 23, 2012

Schmucks with Underwoods

Sooner or later the idea of respect hits many writers, if not all. The saying in the title was said by Jack Warner of the Warner Brothers studios, now in Burbank. Then there's the joke about the not-too-smart Actress who slept with the writer.

Nasty, huh, you have to wonder though, who got hurt the most, her or the writer.

This is also a touchy subject, a lot of writers will agree with me, a lot won't. But after 32 years of writing and making films, I have a bit of an edge over someone who's experience is reading Robert McKee or Truby (two of "how-to" books on screenwriters).

Why no respect?

Again, everyone has a different answer. For example, consider this:

I was hired by a Vancouver producer to write a screenplay on a book about a true murder in Vancouver in 1923. It was a great story, a Canadian version of Chinatown and I really wanted to do it. A handful of writers had already taken a shot at it, but none of them nailed it. I was hot after doing a couple of series and hand 2 screenplays in development so producer "Rob" hired me.

Rob was known as a somewhat dishonest producer, he owed money all over town and was pretty difficult. But I had the Guild behind me, in this instance, Writer's Guild of Canada. I wrote the screenplay after a few weeks of research, including meeting some actual people from that era.

When I finished it, the author of the book loved it, said it was different than he expected, but good. Very good. I was paid my first advance and now was ready to hand it in to Rob. However Rob was going to Hawaii. But I caught him at the office, and in front of his staff, handed him the screenplay.

Two weeks later he returned and refused to pay me, saying he didn't get the screenplay. Really, he said that. He owed me $10,000 and finally after I kept at him, he offered me a deal. $6000 and that's it. Take it or leave it.

I read the contract, his lawyer neglected one thing; to say that I was accepting the lower amount and that I could not go after him again. Dumb move as I had an out. So I signed it, he paid me $6000 and after I deposited the check...

But where's the Guild? Why aren't they told?

When the check cleared, I immediately called the Guild, told them the whole story and they immediately asked him for full payment. I got it within a week. And needless to say he told others that "I'd never work in that town again."

Producers like Rob, and there are many, feel that writers are just there to use and throw away. After all, there were others who tried to write that screenplay and some of them never got paid as they weren't in the Guild.

I've always thought that producers don't like us for a handful of reasons;

1. They hire us before anyone else and have to pay us first, even if the movie eventually doesn't get made.

2. They don't really know if we wrote it, after all we go home and write in total privacy. For all they know, the cat could have written it. Our job is the only one that the producer doesn't see work. When the film is shooting, he can see people work. But not us.

3. They stand the chance of not liking the screenplay (and I sympathize with them on this as sometimes the script doesn't work. And that means more money to pay the next writer.

4. They know they can hire another writer to "punch up" the script and maybe even another writer. Some movies have had a dozen writers on it, even though only 3 writers are allowed credits.

5. They know that most writers are only too happy to rewrite another writer, I've done it a dozen times or more. We are not a faithful bunch and they know it.

There's a joke I'm sure I said in other blogs but it goes like this:

 "Having a writer on the set of a movie is like having a hooker that you've used and paid for and is now hanging around" 

Another writer joke:  "Writer comes home, his house is burned down, cop says his wife has been attacked, kids are taken away and his agent called. Writer looks at the cop and says; "My agent called?" 

And I was using polite language for that joke, it's a lot darker.

So where does respect come from?

I'll tell you Thursday.

(Thurs: gimmie, gimmie respect)

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