Thirty years ago I was profiled in The Wall Street Journal. Their reporter called me–I’ve memorized it—“… the prime broker for Hollywood’s hottest commodity: new writing talent.”
I mention this not to brag—though it’s surely worth bragging about, and I’m a shameless braggart—but to explain why agents and producers approach me regularly in search of new writers.
It used to be said, of course, that in Hollywood a producer is anyone with access to twenty-five cents and a payphone.
Many of these overtures are sincere; some are not. Regarding the latter, I’m often told by callers or e-mailers that they seek a writer who’s fresh, new, not entrenched in weary and wearying Hollywood gamesmanship, writers who simply love to create stories.
Almost inevitably they leave out they require also a writer who is willing to work for free.
They’ll rant enthusiastically about their connections, about back-end net profit payouts for the writer, and more.
“Net Profit” derives from the Russian “nyet profit.” That is, no profit.
It is sometimes said that the most highly creative writing in Hollywood occurs not in writers’ rooms but in studio accounting departments. Among a host of other scams, working mischief-making bookkeeping strategies such as ‘cross-collateralization’ makes it possible to write off profits against other pictures that bombed, and thereby turn a hit into a financial black hole that emits neither light nor cash.
With such producers I do not cooperate.
In fact, writers write for free all the time. It’s called speculating. The writer speculates—hopes; guesses; estimates; calculates—that eventually the script will sell. Of course, there are huge rewards that can accrue even from a script that fails to sell. I’ll review some of those benefits in another column on another day.
There’s nothing wrong—and everything right—with speculating, as long as the writer owns one hundred percent of the script she creates. When a script is based upon someone else’s notion, however, for example an erstwhile, self-styled “producer,” impediments arise regarding copyright issues. Lawyers call these ‘entanglements’ and ‘encumbrances.’
Writers should avoid them. In the words of my late mother, “Who needsunnecessary heartache?”
If producers are legitimate, however, if they guarantee writers a fee in advance regardless of the outcome of the project, I’m happy to refer them to worthy writers.
From time to time, producers assert they seek a particular kind of writer, for example a woman, a Latino, a gay man or lesbian, an African American, or a Muslim.
They’ll explain that the particular movie they intend to produce resonates with themes affecting one or another of those communities, and that only a member of the particular community, therefore, can tell the story in an informed, authentic voice.
If you happen to be a female, Latino, gay, lesbian, or African American writer, that might cheer you.
Don’t fall for it.
Implicit in the notion that certain scripts are uniquely suited to be written by, say, women, is the belief that there are certain scripts for which women are not suited.
There is a name for this sort of attitude: bigotry.
I’m one of those people who believes that old can write young, young can write old, gay can write straight and straight can write gay, black can write white and white can write black.
There are only two kinds of screenplays. These are not, for example, Latino screenplays and Anglo screenplays but good screenplays and bad screenplays.