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Monday, October 18, 2021

My sense of empathy is being tested


We print fiction writers have a longstanding love/hate relationship with Hollywood. We love the insane amounts of money we can make from having our works adapted to become a successful film or television series. We hate the horrible things Hollywood screenwriters and industry executives do to our brainchildren in the process of turning them into visual media products. 

Over the course of my career I have known at least several dozen writers who have had their books or short stories adapted to become films, and of them all, the only one who was completely happy with the way the film turned out was the one who told me, “They gave me a check for a hundred thousand dollars and took my name off the credits. Their check cleared the bank, so I’m happy.”

Recently though comes this news from Hollywood. The WGA apparently is in crisis, as despite Federal law and lawsuit settlements to the contrary, there is still shameless age discrimination going on in Hollywood! It’s an outrage!

WGA West Career Longevity Committee Demands “Inclusion And Equity” For Older Writers

(“Yeah, tell me about it,” mutters the 40-year-old actress.)

Now, normally I wouldn’t pay any attention at all to what’s going on with the WGA—they are strange and alien people over there—but then this article showed up in my feed this morning:

How to Make Money and Thrive as an Older Screenwriter

It’s an article by a screenwriter, writing for screenwriters, discussing strategies for making money in the face of the systemic age discrimination in the film industry. Some of his suggestions made me laugh—e.g., “Take that original script you can’t sell and turn it into a novel”—yeah, right, you think there’s more money to be made in writing novels

But then this one caught my attention. Paraphrasing now:

Find an older piece of IP that you can option for little or no cost up front, and then get yourself attached to the project as a writer-producer or executive producer. Even if the film never gets made, you (meaning the screenwriter) by WGA rules must be paid a significant amount of cash plus the requisite WGA Health and Pension benefits [emphasis added] for writing the unproduced script.

Oh, boy. That one got my hackles up. I have been on the “original author” side of that transaction before, and what a low- or no-cost screenplay rights option or “shopping agreement” means is that the original author of the intellectual property in question makes nothing until the screenplay actually gets greenlighted and goes into production, or sometimes not even until after the film is finished and released. (And yes, films do get finished and then go into the can, to be released years later, or perhaps never. It happens more often than you think.)

Meanwhile, thanks to the WGA, the screenwriter who adapted the original writer’s IP to become a script most definitely does get paid for the work, at Guild rates, and with health and pension benefits as well.

Hmm. No wonder I’ve been seeing so much interest in my back catalog lately from people claiming to be in the film industry: interest that invariably evaporates as soon as I give them my agent’s name and contact info and tell them that I have absolutely no interest in signing a no-cost rights option or “shopping agreement.”  I will gladly pay you Thursday for a hamburger today. Yeah. Right. Sure.

I’m trying to be empathetic to their plight—after all, even Hollywood screenwriters were humans, once—but I can’t help but find the comments on the linked articles amusing. They break right along the age line. The older readers form a Greek chorus, singing, Yes, absolutely, this is exactly what we need! while the younger readers deliver the antiphon, Ah, shuddup, die, and get out of the way already, Boomer!   

Makes me want to get a big bucket of popcorn, sit back, and watch how this plays out.

—Bruce Bethke


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Mr. Naron said...

Isn't this how Bill Gates got rich?

~brb said...

Yeah, pretty much.