By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
EVERY YEAR, ONE OF THE MAJOR Hollywood talent agencies conducts a running tally of all studio jobs snagged by screenwriters. In 2005, there were 10 percent fewer hires than the year before. So far for 2006, there are 15 percent fewer. That’s a big drop in two years. “These jobs,” said an admittedly depressed literary agent, “just disappeared.” A manager joins the pity party and describes a litany of givebacks by his scribbling clients: free treatments, free rewrites, free polishes and/or free script doctoring — all done with the hollow hope that the studio will give these schmucks with Underwoods a paying gig sooner rather than never. As for those sparse scribes offered real pay for projects, they’re buckling under studio demands by cutting their usual and customary by 30 percent. “It’s the bewildering nature of the business right now that nobody has a quote. It’s a quote-free system,” an agent describes.
In a word, it stinks out there for screenwriters, worse even than the fetid stench of the usual shit flung at them in previous years. These aren’t wannabes, either. These are some of the top names in the biz. “I am fucking terrified,” a major scribe tells me about his year of not getting any work. “I can’t believe my career is ending like this.”
Laments a manager: “I have a giant screenwriter who’s doing everything on spec. Everybody is doing this. They’ve got to get into this mindset.”
This is the reality of the screenwriting trade right now, the antithesis of the ridiculously rosy picture that the Los Angeles Times paints week after week in its “Scriptland” column. When it debuted in September, I described the feature at my DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com as perhaps the single worst idea in the paper’s history, and certainly the single worst execution. Not only does this fatuous fanboy foolishness borrow its vapidity from the Writers Guild magazine and even Ain’t It Cool News (and that Web site’s for Waynes and Garths who haven’t left their parents’ basement since puberty), but it doesn’t bother to tell the truth. It thinks that writers are important in the Hollywood process when the 411 is that the Industry devalues writers much like the Republicans devalue illegal aliens: It’s the weak’s exploitation by the powerful.
Which is why I delighted in giving all the Hollywood moguls indigestion before they’d even taken a bite of their Thanksgiving meal by reporting on November 22 that Akiva Goldsman, who adapted Dan Brown’s worldwide best-seller The Da Vinci Code into a $755.6 mil hit pic, is receiving $4 million to hunt ’n’ peck the sequel for Sony Pictures and Imagine Entertainment.
Not only is that major moola, but this represents a new dollar high for a screenwriter hire — not to be confused with the spec-script sale record, set in 1994, when New Line shelled out $4 mil for Shane Black’s The Long Kiss Goodnight.
In-demand screenwriters these days get between $2 mil and $2.5 mil per project. In Goldsman’s case, the $4 mil isn’t even for an original screenplay, but an adaptation of Brown’s Da Vinci prequel, Angels & Demons, filled with the same Vatican intrigue, and not even a hard book to adapt at that. “This doesn’t strike me as obscene for a motion picture that made almost $800 million and a screenwriter who’s an Oscar winner,” an agent analyzes. “But it is only in the sense that the first movie was so bad that it’s obscene to pay someone to do that to you again.”
And, no, Goldsman (known as Keevee to his childhood friends in Brooklyn) isn’t getting a producer credit, so the pay is for straight scribbling. “That would be a lot for a pure writer’s credit,” one agent gushes. “It puts Akiva in the absolute top of his profession.”
Which resulted in this flaming from a commenter on Defamer: “Wrong, turkey. You could throw untold trillions of dollars at Hackiva (zing!) Goldsman every second for the rest of his life, and it would never, ever, ever make him a talented writer. Leave it to an agent to perfectly elucidate how positively ass-backwards his industry operates.”
On the WriterAction.com forum for WGA members only, the commentators (who must post under their real names, so they’re circumspect) seemed filled with glee. “He’s a fellow screenwriter — good for him!” one hailed. “I think it’s terrific. And about time some more star writers got a real piece of the pie,” applauded another, noting that until star writers start earning the same as star actors, $4 mil shouldn’t be considered major moola but rather “appropriate” moola.
But, privately, the industry is filled with bile at Goldsman’s bullion. Not just out of envy, but more pride; this is the same scribe whose script for Batman & Robin is considered one of the worst of the comic-books-turned-movies genre. Anger also is directed at Sony, which, to put it nicely, historically has been known to open its wallets a little wider for writers than most other studios, and, to put it cruelly, hysterically has been known to overpay for everyone and everything. “Bob Osher talks a tough game, but when Amy Pascal really wants something, she gets it,” one agent explains.