Monday, March 25, 2013

How the internet changed screenwriting

As many of you have read, I'm more of a filmmaker than a writer although most of my efforts go towards selling my screenplays or trying to get them financed. In fact this blog which began in August 2009 was about my efforts to make Travel Day, a feature that unfortunately fell apart. 

But I have done almost every job there is on a movie, from being a P.A. who drives actors around or carries out the trash right up to director and producer. But again, most of my earnings came from writing.

There was a good article in the LA Times a few days ago which described the heady years of "spec scripts". I was thrown into that world around 1992 wherein my agent would "auction" my latest spec. Translated it means he would offer my speculative screenplay to whomever would buy it first. 

This all sounds good and it was at a time when spec scripts were auctioned as the agents would announce that the script is up for sale on Monday and will close on Friday so if a producer wanted it, they had to make up their minds.

My auctions weren't really ever bought, but I did get meetings which would give me work later on. The big stars of this bidding war were mainly two guys, Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas and a handful of others. Joe wrote Flashdance and Basic Instinct among others and Shane wrote the Lethal Weapon movies with rising star Mel Gibson. These guys made millions on their spec scripts.

Up till then screenplays were either based on books or ideas from studios or producers but the spec business went overboard. I did sell two specs but nowhere near the money those two guys got. Actually The Town That Christmas Forgot was a spec as well but I got WGC scale fees.

This spec function depended on different producers or studios bidding for the screenplay and since it was passed by courier (email still hadn't arrived fully yet) there was a gradual buildup of energy to see who would get what and for how much. Joe is believed to have written down a story on a napkin in a restaurant and sold it for somewhere between $2-$4 million.

But that all changed after the internet came up and made the process more democratic and less expensive. I still remember sending screenplays to producers and my agents couriering them to studios but when email and attachments arrived, it was faster.

So fast that when a spec was put up for auction everyone knew instantly about it and also who was interested and who wasn't.  This changed the rules in favor of the buyer. Gone were the days when it took a week to decide and not know what your enemy was considering to pay. Now everyone knew it as Deadline Hollywood began to print daily information, often refreshing the information as well

Now, it's very rare to get a spec sale in the millions, in fact the writer of the LA Times said a spec can bring around $100 thousand and even that's not always the case. Who wins - probably the studios and producers and since stars now don't really get as much as they used to either, prices are falling in Hollywood. 

The actor's story is interesting also, we're now in a situation where, as my friend Paul Lynch puts it, there are no more real stars that guarantee big money for studios and producers.

But that's the next blog.

Today I start my new spec screenplay just to test the water.

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