By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
I’m told the reason for the big score is that the studio wanted the 2008-slotted sequel, like, yesterday, not only because the first movie did so well, but also because every major is rushing projects or stockpiling scripts because of the expected studio-WGA confrontations and specter of a strike next year. But several managers and agents are pissed at Sony for doing this deal while simultaneously pleading poverty when it comes to funding what should be the normal development process. “You hear it from them year after year. They say they’re out of money by August and won’t get funded again until April. Bullshit, but they don’t care,” one agent bitterly recalled.
So right now Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind;I, Robot; Cinderella Man) has the best heat, along with fellow high-end screenwriters like Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Horse Whisperer, Ali, Munich), John August (Charlie’s Angels, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale), David Self (Thirteen Days, Road to Perdition), Bill Broyles (Cast Away, Planet of the Apes, Jarhead, Flags of Our Fathers), Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, Rush Hour 2 & 3), David Benioff (Troy), Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Bill Monahan (The Departed), Steve Zaillian (A Civil Action, Hannibal, Gangs of New York, All the King’s Men), and the “two Tees” from Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 & 3, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.
But coming up with a list like this is arduous, since few can agree on who’s getting the bread and who’s just toast. “When was the last time it was said about someone, ‘He’s the new Robert Towne?’?” a screenwriter tells me. “Maybe Paul Haggis is the new Robert Towne. But the Los Angeles Times should stop the bullshit writing about Charlie Kaufman. The man has yet to be involved in a movie that did the opening-night business of Happy Feet.”
Of course, the screenwriters themselves don’t dare go public with their angst: This is an industry where no one’s supposed to see them sweat. But, speaking anonymously, they insist that the problems that exist in their trade right now go beyond the usual explanation that, in this generational business, a cooling career is the inevitable result. “There’s always been a really small group of people who worked and got movies made. But the group feels smaller than ever,” one long-time successful scribe says. “That’s why I’m so depressed. There’s this feeling like the profession has passed us by. That we’d had a chance to be great writers, but didn’t get to practice our craft enough.”
This notion of just having three or four movies per career, and no more, is widespread; so is the feeling that repeaters like Goldsman are rare. “People can complain that Akiva is a terrible writer, and that Da Vinci Code is a piece of shit. But the larger truth is that things broke right for Akiva, and you can’t take that away from him,” one scenarist said. “A huge percentage of this screenwriting business finally just falls to luck.”
As for the giveaways bestowed on ungrateful studios, screenwriters claim they’re forced into forking over freebies. “You’ll get blacklisted if you don’t,” a scribe confessed. “Nobody complains. Because no agency will fight for any writer because they can’t run the risk of having themselves shut out of a studio with only five places to sell to.” And the WGA? “The guild just keeps ignoring it all.” Others are trying the indie route, but that’s more like a nightmare than a dream. Scribes are being pushed by managers and agents to put movies together with a director and a star and try to find financing. “But the reality is that, of all the finished films submitted to Sundance, maybe four got distribution deals. And, in the process, you’ve watched three years of your life get away as you fucking try to get a yes from Andy Garcia,” a screenwriter complains.
Most of the successful screenwriters came to Hollywood in their 20s, married and had kids in their 30s, and made movies and money in their 40s. Now, aged 50 and above, they’re on what’s commonly referred to as the “downward glide — where you sell the house, move somewhere else, and land gently. Because your career has come to its own end,” one screenwriter describes. “Akiva is 44 now. Wait, and it’ll happen to him too.”
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