February 2005 Archives
“My writing comes from a special place inside me. It pours forth from my soul.”
“I don’t know where my ideas come from. Maybe they’re in our collective unconscious, and we writers just know how to catch them, like butterflies in our nets…”
“I don’t write characters. I simply breathe life into them, and they speak to me…”
Enough. Please, for the love of God…enough.
I’ve never liked this kind of talk, but in the past it was simply because I found it cloying and precious. Ted, however, pinpointed an actual danger in this kind of neo-hippie discussion: it implies that anyone can write. When he explained this to me, I felt like someone had finally tapped into my vibrant energy and healed my essence.
In other words, I thought he hit the nail on the head.
Let’s be clear. Writing is a skill. Talent is a huge part of it, but there’s also a practice part. A science part. A “read yer freakin’ Campbell” part of it. There’s hard work. Self-criticism. Structure. Vocabulary. A memory for movies. Grammar. Story analysis. Philosophy.
Of course I can’t mechanize the entire process. Of course I have ideas sometimes and wonder where they came from. The problem is…so do producers. So do executives. So does everyone. Emphasizing the communo-spiritual aspect of writing is only encouraging dilettantism, and I really really really hate dilettantism. Shouldn’t every professional?
Yet the more we imply that successful writing comes from the proper milking of some sort of astral gland, the further we tread into swampy egalitarianism.
You know, I blame the movies. :) As Trey Parker & Matt Stone so brilliantly satirized, films tend to celebrate egalitarianism to the point of reducing all brutally difficult self-improvement down to one simple montage. And the point of that montage? It’s not the work that’s difficult. It’s the mental part. You’ve just got to believe, yadda yadda.
Horseshit. Folks, I really do believe that I want to be in better shape. I go to the gym. I work pretty hard. After an hour on the elliptical trainer, I start to feel like I’m gonna puke.
There’s no puking in montages. :)
It’s the same thing with writing. My “become a good writer” montage started about 16 years ago. It’s not over yet. And I’m still not what I’d consider good, having defined “good” as “better than I currently am”. And yes, there are days when I’m so disgusted with my own failures and inability to see the answer that I really do feel like hurling.
One thing I know, though, is that when the answer does come, it comes from my tenacity. From my skill set. From my insistence that the answer I currently have isn’t the best answer there is. It never ever ever comes from what Ted calls “sucking at the crack in the Cosmic Egg.”
Remember, when we imply that our writing comes from a Force Greater Than We, we are handing over the keys to our kingdom to every non-writer we meet. We should always talk about writing with non-writers the way computer programmers talk about creating applications. “Yeah, I can write a program that will make you happy. I’d explain how, but you wouldn’t understand. There’s too much to know. Too many specifics and tricks of the trade and arcane techniques that are above your head. If you want to do what I do, take a bunch of classes and go apprentice for a few years, pal. Using Microsoft Word ain’t the same as understanding how to create Microsoft Word.”
With that, I present a list of words I just don’t ever want to hear again in connection with writing, even though I know I will.
Energy. Soul. Cosmic. Healing. Inner. Transcendent. Flow. Magical. Mystical. Collective. Circle. Eternal. Essence. Divine. Ethereal. Organic. Embrace.
In place of those terms, I suggest the following.
Work. Difficult. Skilled. Studied. Technique. Advanced. Effort. Job.
Fellow traveller on the divine path to spiritual enlightenment, take some time to share the mindfood of your soul with me in our comment section. What do you think?
It’s sweeps week here at TAW, so in order to keep the traffic up, we’ll stick with our popular “credits” theme. There’s been some interesting chat over at WriterAction about the Tentative Notice of Writing Credits, that horrifying piece of mail that so often kick-starts the bloodbath known as WGA arbitration.
When a film has completed principal photography, the company must send each participating writer a copy of the final script along with their proposal for the writing credits. How does the company arrive at this proposal? Good question. On the one hand, I’d like to think that a credits expert well-versed in Schedule A of the MBA carefully analyzes all of the writers’ contributions, and then formulates a tentative award of credits per the Guild’s credit guidelines.
On the other hand, they could be jumbling names in a hat. My best guess is that it’s probably somewhere in between.
The larger point here is that it’s the studio that makes this initial determination. Not the WGA. Why the studio? Theoretically, they are the entity most familiar with all of the drafts. Furthermore, if they make a proposal with which the participants agree, there’s no need to burden the WGA with any work at all. Ultimately, however, the studio must make a proposal that is within the limitations of the MBA, and those limitations are actually more strict than the ones the WGA arbiters have. For instance, the studios can only propose that two writers share screenplay credit. WGA arbiters, however, can award screenplay credit to three writers.
Once we receive the TNoWC (which comes directly from the studios, although the WGA is cc’ed), we then have a bunch of options. We can:
- Do nothing. If the credits necessitate an automatic arbitration (e.g. a producer is seeking credit), then the Guild will initiate it. If they don’t, inaction means you consent to the studio’s proposal.
- Reach a separate agreement on credits with the other participating writers, which then becomes the final credits for the film (as long as the credits are MBA legal).
- Protest the tentative credits by contacting the Guild. This initiates an arbitration.
I’ll make a point that Ted is pretty adamant about, and I agree that it’s one worth making. While it sure seems that writers protesting credits are essentially attacking each other, the reality is that a writer is really challenging the studio’s actions.
One of the ideas floated is to publicize the TNoWC, so that writers can make sure that they’re not included on one that never made it to their mailbox. Personally, I’m against publicizing the notices for the same reason I’m against web sites publishing reviews of screenplays that are going into production: the information is tentative, but that subtle distinction often gets lost on folks in the press.
In our Committee On Credits Administration (Lord help me, I can’t remember the real name), we’re trying to come up with better ways to notify writers about tentative credits…and also make the entry into the credits process a bit more considerate of the emotions involved. The TNoWC is a very business-like document, and the WGA materials that shortly follow it are also very impersonal.
What can we do to make the very beginning of the credits process a bit more respectful of the intense emotions involved? Is there anything we can do institutionally to help make option #2 (participating writers determining their own credits) more popular or easy to achieve?
Arguing about end credits is a bit like debating whether a parachute or a glider would be the best way off the roof of a burning building…even though you have neither.
We can discuss the merits and drawbacks, but there’s always this sense that the membership won’t vote for them anyway. Regardless, this is an important debate to have, because it’s possible that the membership would vote for end credits, and their justification goes to the heart of the differing credits philosophies.
Currently, our credits system is designed to recognize authorship. The problem with our system is that in cases where the first script written is an original script (i.e. not based on underlying material), a subsequent writer must show that he wrote at least 50% of the final script to receive credit.
In short, you could write nearly half of a script, and not only receive no credit…but no residuals, no awards, no separated rights, no official acknowledgement from your peers. Nothing. Zippo. It’s like it never happened. Even worse (in my opinion), the work that you did do is now fully attributed to someone else. That’s the criminal part.
I’ve never been shy about my view of this situation. We currently award credits based on a socioeconomic scheme designed to reduce the firing of first writers and the hiring of subsequent writers. I consider that immoral. In my mind, writing credit ought to be for writing done. Contributions made. And that’s it.
Suffice it to say, I’m not the only one who thinks this way, but there are plenty of Guild members who disagree. And so, into the breach…end credits.
The idea of end credits is simply to add a list of participating writers in the back credits, somewhere in there between the grips and the gaffers. It’s a way of acknowledging that these writers worked on the movie. After all, as it’s often been pointed out, if you write almost half a movie you don’t get a credit, but if you work for a month at the craft services table, you do.
You’d think I’d be in favor of end credits.
I am…sort of…a little bit.
My basic view is that end credits will clearly diminish the value of the front credits, no matter what the specific form they take (Ted argues that “consulting writers” is the best phrasing, since that doesn’t necessarily imply that they made a contribution). The question is: how can we limit end credits in order to not unfairly diminish the contributions of the author(s) of the movie?
Remember, end credits are blanket. They don’t discriminate between the guy who wrote nearly half the movie and the guy who wrote one line of dialogue. If it’s a crime to suggest that someone who writes nearly half the movie isn’t one of the writers, it’s also a crime to introduce the notion that someone who wrote 99% of the movie may have only written a little over half. That is, in effect, what a blanket end credit could conceivably imply, and since we’re dealing with a public acknowledgement, we ought to consider that equally.
Here’s my stab at how end credits ought to be implemented.
You will receive an end credit if you are a participating writer not receiving a front credit, and:
- You were employed to write, at the very least, the equivalent of a polish.
- You were not employed as a participant on a “round table” or the equivalent.
- You clearly contributed at least two unique elements to the film as it appears on screen. Those elements can be any combination of: a specific scene, a specific primary or secondary character, a specific characterization of a primary or secondary character, or the equivalent of five standard script pages of dialogue.
Obviously, these changes would require membership approval as well as a negotiation for inclusion in the MBA. It’s a starting point. What do you think?
In it, he describes the convulsions our union goes through during negotiations. On the one hand, he says, there are the working writers who view the hinge-points (like residuals, etc.) philosophically.
I assume by “philosophically” he means dispassionately and rationally.
On the other hand, Mr. Long says there are the non-working writers—and they’re a bit more rabid. He writes:
Non-working writers, the Unemployeds, are a different, more querulous matter. These are writers who haven’t sold a script or drawn a writer’s paycheck in years, but remain passionately involved members of the guild and its most impossible to satisfy voting bloc. For some reason, years of unemployment do not lead to difficult personal decisions (“I must stop dreaming of success and riches. I must stop talking to my friends about my next big script sale. I must realize that my job at Blockbuster is not just ‘temporary’ or a ‘great place to people-watch and get material,’ but, instead, my true livelihood, and I will begin to treat it as such by arriving on time and in uniform, and not waste a customer’s time criticizing his rental choices.”) but, rather, lead to a stubborn and highly irrelevant obsession with the writer’s potential share of hypothetical ancillary revenue generated by a script that hasn’t been written, and if written won’t be sold by a writer who is not represented by an agent who won’t sign him because, and this is crucial, his scripts do not sell. Did I mention that this is the largest segment of the voting population of the WGA?
In my experience, Rob’s allegations are actually pretty commonplace, although they’re rarely articulated so well. What I find so amazing about this is that it’s the first time I’ve heard someone publicly put their name to it. It’s been a sort of secret, eye-rolling complaint whispered between writers who feel very comfortable with each other, but never said out loud in mixed company.
I’ll admit: these thoughts have certainly crossed my mind. In many ways, I was cured of them by my service to the Guild. It turns out that in reality, some of the most ardent opponents of strikes and olde-tyme labor union rhetoric are currently unemployed. Likewise, I can think of at least three multimillionaires who would be happy to see us all on a picket line right now.
There’s a larger issue at hand here. I think Rob gets a major part of it wrong: the fracture lines are not drawn along employability. He is right, though, about the other part.
Our Guild has two factions. And just as national politics has seen polarization over the years, I can sense it in our union as well.
A long time ago, I asked some writers to come up with names for the two main groups arguing about credit policies. I guess I’ll do the same again.
Is Rob right? Are we split in two? Is it along employed and unemployed lines?
Personally, I think the two groups are defined by the central belief systems they use when approaching negotiations. For me, the two predominant belief systems are Moral and Economic. The Moralists want us to get what we deserve, and striking is still labor’s best weapon to achieve that. The Economists want us to get what we can get, and striking is just another tactic to be number-crunched on a cost-benefit basis.
Maybe this is a false dichotomy, but I would certainly find myself in Economist camp (as I’m sure Rob would).
Moralists vs. Economists? You guys are writers…maybe you can do better. :) The larger question, though, is…is this healthy? Or is this union experiencing a nasty case of, well, disunion?
I’ve been familiar with John August’s site for some time, and as we happen to share an agent (now watch John’s industry stock tumble…”he shares an agent with who???”), I was able to call him to ask his advice on blogware a few months ago.
I learned two things from that conversation. First, John’s a great guy. Second, he knows a bucketload more about designing websites than I do.
So I hired a designer. :)
Regardless, he hasn’t cut my shortcutting self out of his life, and instead was kind enough to plug our new site to his readers. Salve, Augustians!
Here’s another screenblogger with a terrific site called Complications Ensue. We’re artful, he’s crafty…sounds like a meeting of the minds. You’ll find Alex’ site on permalist over in the sidebar. I should check out his book one of these days. Maybe even review it.
Alex, you may commence worrying. :)
Okay, okay, I’ll make it easier. TypeKey has been a pain in the butt for some, so I’m going to an open comment format.
There’s nothing in the way now. You may indulge your desire to comment with impunity. We’ll keep it like this as long as my comment spam blocker is working. The first hint of free Viagra and monkey porn, though, and I’ll have to put the drawbridge back up.
Over at Yankee Fog, Jacob’s written a great essay about some yutz who tried his hand at screenwriting. Seems he couldn’t get his calls returned. He actually had to resort to offering one of the studio execs a job. Didn’t make a difference. Paramount never did buy that treatment of his.
Oh well. He went on to become slightly important in a different field. Hint: He was President of the United States and his initials were FDR.
I’ll say no more. Don’t want to spoil it or nothin’.
Boy, I’m getting better at provocative titles, huh?
When WGA arbiters sit down to figure out who deserves credit for the screenplay of a movie, they’re not giving credit for Writer A’s draft or Writer B’s draft.
They’re giving credit for the screenplay. What’s the screenplay? The MBA, Schedule A, Paragraph 1 states:
The term “screenplay” means the final script (as represented on screen) with individual scenes and full dialogue, together with such prior treatment, basic adaptation, continuity, scenario and dialogue as shall be used in and represent substantial contributions to the final script.
All of that’s important stuff, but right now the key phrase is “as represented on screen”.
Of course the arbiters are given individual drafts written by the various participating writers, but they are also given the most important draft of all—the shooting script. The shooting script, or final script, is essentially the last compiled draft that was used during production. In theory and typically in practice, no one has written this script. It’s the frankenscript culled together by the production. On projects with only one or two writers, its relationship to individually written drafts is often clear. On projects with ten writers, it’s a thing-unto-itself.
So if no one specifically sat down and authored the final script, then who can we say is its author?
That’s for the arbiters to decide. Screenplay credit is not given for the scripts we write. It’s not given for our efforts or for our time. It’s not given for our struggles. It’s not given for our role in getting the movie greenlit.
It’s only given for our contributions to the final script—the 120 pages no one actually wrote as such, but someone very certainly authored.
I’m not a particularly controversial person, so you won’t see too many overtly unpopular essays on this site (“Puppies: Why They Should Be Beaten”), but maybe this one will get a few pulses racing.
If you’re a professional screenwriter and you’re asked to make a change that you think is awful, say “Yes.”
Always say yes.
Destroy the main character? “Yes!” Change that brilliant ending that brings everything full circle with a twist-and-a-half? “Sure!” If the producer or director has an idea that’s just god-awful, death-dealing, movie-wrecking, story-killing, your answer to the request should be a charming and pleasant “Okay!” Say it with pride. Alacrity, even.
Why? Because saying yes costs you nothing, and gains you much.
When I say, “yes,” I’m giving the following impression: “Dear employer or supervisor, I am surprisingly open to your suggestions. Even though you know that I’m better at this than you, I’m making you feel good by listening and taking you seriously. After all, it’s you who has the esteem problems regarding your own story sense. Not I. Besides, you might be right! And I’m not just saying that. Boy, I’m a productive employee with a good attitude!”
Good lord, what a suckup. There’s just one thing about that sycophantic monologue—it’s all true. Every last word.
Granted, when I first started writing I had a hard time dealing with what Dennis Palumbo calls “that sinking feeling”. The exec or director would make a truly terrible suggestion, and every ounce of my writerness was screaming for blood. Far from saying “yes,” I would instead concentrate on not-punching and not-cursing. Occasionally I’d work on not-flaying-alive and not-bludgeoning-you-with-your-own-femur-that-I-just-tore-out-of-your-leg-meat.
Emotionally rewarding for a brief moment, true, but hardly productive. Even worse, it’s noticeable. These things are always noticeable. Let’s face it—if we were better at acting, we’d act.
What I came to realize is that I wasn’t getting so mad because their ideas were bad. I was getting mad because I was afraid, and the fear was a result of my own lack of confidence. “What if they make me do this terrible idea?” was what I first thought the fear was about, but in time it became clear that the fear was more like, “What if I have to do this terrible idea because I cannot explain to them why it’s a terrible idea?”
I always say “yes,” because I believe I am the best story-teller in the room, so therefore I must fairly judge all ideas who appear in my court of story quality. I must dutifully examine why this person, a potential audience member like any other, might have thought this new idea would be better. I think about the ramifications. I think about the cost/benefit.
I’m the story expert. It’s what I’m supposed to do. We should not defend. We should evaluate. Defending is for the afraid. Evaluating is for the confident judge—a judge whose authority derives from his expertise.
Sometimes, I find pleasing ways to incorporate the suggestions; I haven’t pleased my employers as much as I’ve pleased myself, but their appreciation is a happy side-effect.
Sometimes, I determine after much thought that my first instinct (“This is a bad idea”) was correct. Then I come back to them—and here’s the real point of this whole damn thing—I tell them why.
They love this.
When I hired an interior decorater, I would occasionally make suggestions. Sometimes she’d do them. Sometimes she’d think for a while (that part’s crucial) and only then say, “No, I think it’s probably better if you did this, and here’s why.” It’s not the agreement that makes you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from your employee. It’s the informed disagreement.
In my experience, this is precisely how producers view things. When I say “yes,” I’m not agreeing to be slavish. I’m simply agreeing to try. If I determine that their suggestion is not to be done, I can explain why. When you remove that initial “no,” you remove 99% of the hostility and disfunction from the writer-employer relationship while ceding 0% of your authority and power. And it’s funny. Ever since I began saying “yes” a few years back, two interesting things have come to pass.
I haven’t had to write anything I didn’t believe in…
…and no one’s fired me.
We had a glitch where previewed comments looked like arse. It’s fixed. Line breaks will preview properly now. Sorry about that.
Q: After a brief spell in LA I moved to New York, where the WGA(W) has been sending me my Guild mail for years. I pay them all my dues and I also vote in their elections. I much prefer to be a member of WGA West than East, but was told recently that I am “automatically deemed” to have applied for a transfer by moving to Gotham. Must I join WGA(E)—even if I’d choose not to—and am I kicked out of West? Have they been sending me my mail by mistake?
A: Oy. Such is the mess created by East and west.
The WGAw and the WGAE have an identical section in their respective constitutions called “Affiliation” that governs these sort of membership issues.
The first rule of “who belongs where?” is easy. If you live west of the Mississippi, you’re WGAw. If you live east, you’re WGAE.
If that were the only rule, life would be simple. It ain’t.
The second important rule is as follows:
Any member of either Guild who shall take up and maintain residence in the geographic area over which the other Guild exercises jurisdiction for a period of three (3) months shall automatically be deemed to have requested transfer of membership to such other Guild at the end of such three-month period.
Easy enough. You move, you get switched. There are two corollaries. First, if you’re a screenwriter and you have to move east specifically for a screenwriting assignment, you don’t get switched.
Secondly, the Guilds haven’t really been doing this. It’s one of the things we’re going to have to get into with this new Board.
Technically, however, your situation leads to an automatic transfer of membership to the East.
Ah, but we’re not done. Here’s the next relevant rule (assuming you are a screenwriter rather than a TV writer), and it’s a doozy.
Notwithstanding the above subsection if a member of Writers Guild, East, shall be employed or sell literary material for a theatrical motion picture, he shall thereupon also become a member of Writers Guild, west. So long as said individual shall remain a member of Writers Guild, East, his dues shall be allocated in accordance with the provisions of Section 4 of this Article.
This is a big one. If you’re a screenwriter who lives in the East (and thus is a member of East), you must also be a member of West. This means that you must now send half your dues to West and half to East.
Alas, East and West have been arguing over this one for a long time. Essentially, East doesn’t like forking over half of the dues they collect from screenwriters living in the east. West has sort of let that slide for a while, but the current leadership of the WGA has been unanimous in their desire to enforce this piece of the constitution.
So here’s where you are. You’ve moved east, so after three months, you get automatically shunted into East, but you’re a screenwriter, so you’re also WGAw. Half your dues should go to East and half to WGAw.
BUT…we’re not done. :)
One last rule that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
A Current member of either Guild who wishes to transfer his/her membership to the other Guild shall apply to the Executive Director of the Guild of which he/ she is then a member for a transfer card.
Upon receipt of such request, the Executive Director shall prepare a card certifying the member’s status as a member of the Guild.
Upon presentation of such card to the Executive Director of the Guild to which such member seeks a transfer, he/she shall be assigned the same status in such Guild as he/she then holds in the Guild from which he/she has obtained the transfer card.
In short, if you want to just be in West, you apply. Your application must be accepted.
Final analysis: if you want to just be in West, simply call up WGAE and say, “I’m applying for a membership transfer to West.” Call up WGAw at the same time and let them know that you want to transfer. They may even help you with the transfer.
Hope that helped. If you want to read these constitutional passages for yourself, there’s a link in the left column under “Interesting” (an optimistic header, I know). Drop me an email if you need the name and number of a membership staffperson at WGAw to help you with your transfer.
Q: Am I expecting too much of my agent? If a spec is submitted, and nobody buys it, but it gathers compliments, is it wrong to expect him to update me on what exactly happened? I only know that reaction was somewhat positive from his assistant, even though nobody bought it.
As I might like to pitch to the ‘liked the writing but didn’t buy it’ types, am I being hopelessly needy to expect at least some update from my agent? I have heard nothing from him at all since the spec went out, months ago.
A: I’ll keep saying the following until I run short of breath (or get run out of town).
Agents are our employees.
That doesn’t mean we can’t work with them in partnership. I certainly do so with my current agents. Nonetheless, we employ agents to service our careers.
Returning calls is important. I generally allow that my representatives have 24 hours to get back to me. Taking longer than one business day means I’m simply not important enough to them. If I’m not important enough to them, they do not deserve to be my employees.
And I have fired agents before.
It’s common for some agents to avoid calling their clients with bad news. If this is the case with you, I suggest calling your reps and letting them know that you want to hear all news when it occurs. Assure them that, unlike some of their more troublesome clients, you are mature enough to have a discussion about your career without becoming emotional or engaging in recriminations.
Best course of action: call your agent and tell them exactly how you feel. Be dispassionate but firm. It’s in their interest to make you think their feelings are more important than yours.
Not true. You’re the boss. Manage your employees well, and they will serve you better.
The first time I stepped foot on a movie set, I was struck by the almost military-like division of labor. Everyone had a rank. Everyone had a job. If you were the gaffer, you were in charge of rigging the electrical to carry out the DP’s vision, which in turn was in accordance with the director’s vision, which in turn was being monitored by the producer, who in turn was being employed by the studio.
I, meanwhile, found myself wandering around like an orphan, hands in my pockets, feeling very much like I had no place on the set. No job.
Of course, we writers do have a job on the set; we just haven’t done a very good job of defining it. Here’s one vision for a screenwriting job description for the entirety of the filmmaking process (informed by a number of conversations with Ted).
The screenwriter’s job is to be the story expert.
Not artsy enough? Well, we call this site “artful” for a reason. Sets aren’t artsy. They’re vocational.
Naturally, our story expertise is most evident during the writing of the initial drafts of the script. My goal is, however, not to write a good script. My goal is to write a good movie. As such, my intention is to stay as involved as possible in the development, pre-production, production, post-production, testing, reshooting and marketing of the film.
And I’ve achieved that goal.
“That’s nice,” you might grumble. “You’ve obviously got a director and a producer who don’t care if you step on their toes.”
That’s not the case at all. In fact, an essential part of defining your job is making sure that you’re not unnecessarily interloping on someone else’s job. I’ve seen PA’s try and move C-stands. The grips don’t take too kindly to that.
Similarly, by defining myself as a story expert, I put forth that I am in charge of story supervision in the way the DP supervises lighting and the exposing of film. Note that the DP doesn’t demand sole authority. He works for the director, and must both bend to his will as well as translate his needs into light and film. I work for the director as well. My purpose on the set is to help caretake the story I have created. My implied contract with the director is this: “There will be times when you make non-story choices that happen to also affect the story of the film. I was hired for my expertise in telling and retelling the story of the film. Use me. Question me. When I bring up a story issue, listen to me the way you listen to the script supervisor when she bugs you about continuity. In return, if you tell me “no,” I’ll accept that.”
What I do not bring up are issues beyond the scope of story. I may have thought the dinner date scene should be at a TGI Friday’s type of place, but the production has put the scene in a small Thai restaurant. Not really story. I keep my mouth shut.
However, if a major story point is that the female romantic lead hates this restaurant because she used to be a waiter in a place just like it and frat guys would hit on her constantly, it’s within my story expertise to say, “Hey, if you’re still interested in preserving this beat, your choice of restaurant is clashing with it.”
It helps to make this objection prior to the building of the set, of course. One of my rules of thumb: we shouldn’t complain about built sets any more than a DP should complain about a cloudy day. If you’re stuck with it, offer ways to adjust the story so that its integrity is preserved. Okay, she wasn’t a waiter in a Friday’s. She had an apartment above a Chinese restaurant just like this one, and the smell finally drove her insane.
When we work as story experts, we demonstrate that our allegiance is to the story of the movie, not the story of our script.
Furthermore, as the story expert, I believe I offer a valuable service in the editing bay. Pace, cutting style and choice of takes aren’t particularly within the writer’s bailiwick. Narrative certainly is. Chronology is. The inclusion or exclusion of scenes, lines or even meaningful looks…all of these editorial choices can have serious impact on the story.
If I explain every editorial suggestion or critique in terms of story, then I continue to define myself as a professional who deserves to be in that room. I’m not conforming the film to my script. I’m protecting the story from other technicians who simply aren’t as story-insightful as I.
I know some of this is rankling to read. It’s easy to insist with righteous indignation that we created the whole damn thing out of sheer will and brilliance, and therefore we shouldn’t have to play games to protect our own creative expression. “Just do it the way I wrote it!”
Unfortunately, that’s the attitude that gets us kicked off sets, and that hurts both the writer and the movie. I’m no utopian; I don’t expect directors and producers to wake up one day and turn creative control of feature films over to the writers. Besides, we’re not the only ones who have to be artful in what we say. Directors are forever mincing words with actors. DP’s are always massaging the directors. Producers, of course, spend most of their waking lives wheedling diplomatically with the studios who are financing the films.
Film is collaborative. Everyone must work together, and the only way that can happen is if everyone knows who reports to whom, and who does what.
The writer’s work doesn’t end with the words “The End.” Our work ends at the premiere. We are the story experts, our talents are unique, and we all deserve the chance to do our job.
Over at Big Brain Boy, a fine blog about the future of entertainment technology, the cerebrum comments that:
In your future we don’t see much Pay-Per-View on your desktop.
I agree. Computers make for crappy movie viewing, and televisions continue their natural evolution towards home theater.
So why should the creative guilds be so concerned about residuals for movies downloaded over the internet?
The internet is a delivery system. Right now, you view the web via the internet on a computer. There may come a day when internet is used to deliver everything: phone, web, video, audio, smell-o-vision, you name it…to a variety of appliances (television, phone, fridge, cyborg house boy). For our economic purposes, it’s not the “what you watch it on” as much as it’s the “how you get what you watch”.
A: The U.S. Copyright Office says that, among other things, the following are not copyrightable:
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
So, can you go ahead and title your latest spec Star Wars? Not a chance.
Titles are protectable in two ways. First, if a title becomes associated with a commercially-exploited product (like a film), it can be trademarked. Trademark protection doesn’t mean you can’t use the phrase “Star Wars,” but it does mean you can’t use it to market your own product.
Beyond that, however, the most common form of title protection is through the MPAA’s title registration service. My understanding is that the MPAA is most concerned with avoiding marketplace confusion. This is why a movie can be released that has the same title as a somewhat obscure film, but never with the same title of a well-known film. Of course, MPAA title registration only services films released by MPAA member companies, but that’s essentially every commercial movie made.
MPAA title registration can be used to reserve titles for planned films as well. My first movie was originally entitled “Space Cadet”, but the MPAA informed Disney that no one less than George Lucas had registered that title with them. My partner and I had to change our title to “Rocket Man”, even though our film was in production, and his was not.
I’m still waiting for George Lucas’ “Space Cadet” to come out. Something tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath…
Anyway, I do not believe individuals can apply for MPAA title registration; the service is only available to its member companies. The only practical advice I can offer is to title your script however you’d like, as long as your title isn’t already associated with something well-known. If it turns out you have to change it during production, all I can say is that any production problem a nice problem to have.
For as long as I’ve been a working screenwriter (nearly a decade now), I’ve been hearing versions of the following argument: “Playwrights retain copyright! Playwrights can’t get fired! No one can rewrite them or change their words! Why aren’t we screenwriters treated like playwrights?”
And for nearly as long a time, I thought the answer was simply that the typical compensation and employment opportunities for screenwriters were much more substantial than those for playwrights.
Well, I was wrong. While the above is true, it’s not the reason we’re treated differently. No, the real reason goes to that good ole “c” word we like to bandy about here at The Artful Writer.
Yeah, it’s copyright.
It’s taken a bit more time than expected, but The Artful Writer is finally open to business.
And it’s free, free, freeeee….
The Artful Writer is published by Craig Mazin and Ted Elliott, but the title doesn’t refer specifically to us. We believe all writers can empower themselves by mucking ‘round in the non-creative realities of our profession—legal, economic, Guild-related, etc. Sure, we’ll present the occasional article on the craft of writing itself, but a love of craft doesn’t preclude a love of being crafty. Forewarned is forearmed, information is power, a stitch in time makes something something…
You get it.
While The Artful Writer is intended for professional TV and film writers, we welcome aspirants as well. Right now I’m writing most of the articles, but Ted will join in shortly. We’re both working on sequels to films (his sequel is much bigger), so articles will come along every couple of days or so.
All visitors may comment on any article (just click on “comments” at the bottom of each entry). You must register with TypeKey in order to comment. It’s a free service, and we only require it to avoid some of the spam problems other sites have experienced.
On the right hand side of our site you’ll find a list of our recent articles (I built up a good supply in advance of our opening). On the left hand side, some useful links. If you have any suggestions for links, send them along.
If you’re a WGA member with a union question, try the “Ask A Board Member” link.
Once again, welcome. Explore, enjoy and let us know what you think.
For as long as I’ve been a Guild member, our credit policies have been the single largest nexus of discontent among our membership.
Many years ago, the Guild won the right to determine the writing credits on films, and since that time, the policies have been debated and massaged like the U.S. Tax Code.
And still, no one seems very happy. Just like the U.S. Tax Code.
There are two main areas of credits policy. The first is the Great Quagmire—our credits guidelines. These guidelines are the rules by which our member arbiters determine who ought to get credit. Any changes in those rules must be ratified by the membership.
The second area is the administrative, or procedural aspect of credits. How are participants notified? How does Guild staff interact with them? What are the qualifications for arbiters? How do appeals work? Should arbiters work together or separately?
At Monday night’s Board Meeting, we created a new subcommittee of the Board that would only work to make recommendations about the administration of credits. We can’t touch the guidelines at all. If a recommendation requires membership approval, we’re not allowed to make it.
The committee is co-chaired by Ted Elliott and me, and it also includes Robert King, J.F. Lawton, Aaron Mendelsohn and Irma Kalish. That gives the committee a nice mix of first-writer advocates and subsequent-writer advocates. Better yet, those divisions are essentially irrelevant to a committee like this.
Our mandate is improve the process of credit arbitration in the hopes of reducing the level of emotional trauma that seems to go hand in hand with credits determination.
If you’re a WGA member, go ahead and use the comments function to suggest any ideas. Remember, we can’t touch the credits guidelines themselves. Stay tuned; I’ll have more updates on opportunities for you to be heard on this issue. Member input is crucial to this committee.
As part of the steady tightening of the IP noose around copyright pirates and P2P abusers, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Family Entertainment And Copyright Act.
Folks, we’re probably going to see one of these things enacted every couple of years. Senator Feinstein may pretend to be a liberal, but all politics is local, and corporate Hollywood has her in their pocket. Indeed, there wasn’t one single senator who felt big business didn’t deserve these latest new protections.
That’s good for those of us making a living in this industry.
Of course, if you’re the spokesman for these guys, you’re probably wondering why you’re still bothering to roll the boulder up the damn hill.
Members of P2P United and any responsible company support intellectual property laws and their enforcement,” Adam Eisgrau, exec director for P2P United, told Daily Variety. “However, this package seems to be another point on a very distressingly long line of actions that ratchet up enforcements and penalties at times out of proportion with the law. To camcord a movie is wrong, certainly, but the penalty (of three years in jail) and the entitlement of theater ushers and owners to physically detain people makes you have to ask whether the copyright industry is having more sway than it should over the legislative process.”
Distressingly long line of actions? In my opinion, this is merely the beginning.
Does the “copyright industry” (an interesting and apt phrase to describe Hollywood) hold more sway than it should? Oh, I don’t know about that. More sway than an organization dedicated to promoting software that is primarily used to circumvent intellectual property rights? Yeah. Just a touch.
Let’s see if any representatives in the House agree with Mr. Eisgrau. I doubt he’ll find many takers.