13 November 2009

Darwinism in Tinseltown

"Well!" thought Alice to herself, "after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs!”

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of the entertainment industry these days is less a road trip in unchartered territories and more like a trip down the rabbit hole. Hollywood itself seems poised on the brink of a great upheaval usually reserved for a Roland Emmerich style apocalypse.

I was having coffee with a writer/producer last week, with a string of blockbuster credits that would turn the average scribe green with envy.

He took a long sip of his macchiato, and squinted at me. “You know what I would do, if I were a new screenwriter today?” he growled.

“No,” I said, leaning in to catch every pearl of wisdom cast straight towards me. “What?”

He took a long pause.

“I’d get the hell out of town, give it up and get a life.”

His pessimism does not come without reason. A-list writers are finding themselves swimming in the schools of the much smaller fish. There was a time when a pitch would seal them a deal; today, they are forced to write specs, pitch their completed scripts and slog it out with the rest of us – at a time when the spec sale is at a mind-boggling low.

Such a reversal in a career can cause a cataclysmic response to the artist who is much more used to being coddled than the rest of us. Many of them simply don’t know what to do. I had another conversation with another writer who bemoaned the fact that she was going to have to work on rewriting old specs. Why, I asked, don’t you just start something new?

“You mean start a whole new script?” she said, panic clearly present in her eyes. “It’s so much work, and I don’t get paid for it. What am I supposed to do?”

Ah. Let me direct you to an excerpt from an amusing little publication:

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”

~ Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

The times, they are a-changin’ my friend, and this is a time to evolve.

Last week, I interviewed scribe Jim Hemphill, and published this interview on the Blake Snyder website. Jim is a brilliant man, a kind soul … and a survivor. Like Lloyd Kaufman, he made his own damn movie - he took control of his career - and his life.

Generally speaking, two kinds of scripts are making their way into production – tent-pole epics and micro-budgets. Studios are not about to throw hundreds of millions of dollars towards an untested scribe; therefore, logic and the glut of affordable technology suggest that it’s time for writers to evolve, to stop dreaming the pipe dream of the big sale and the walk down the red carpet, to put up or shut up and make their own damned movies.

Don’t take my word for it – look at the focus of this year’s AFM Conference Schedule. Independent financing, independent filmmaking and DIY distribution – using the new technologies of video on demand, online streaming media, mobile devices, social networking and marketing.

While you're at it, take a look at CA's new(ish) tax incentives, giving indie filmmakers here even more reasons to shoot local. For once, it's cheap.

DVDs? Fuhgeddaboudit. They’re so 2009, as discussed on Monday’s edition of “The Business”. Pay close attention to the new distribution catch phrases, and how studios are already cashing in on the Brave New World. Plus, hello - landfill fodder?

So, what do you plan to do to survive the ever-changing landscape? Have you planted your feet on the so-called terra firma, loudly proclaimed that you will weather the storm, and clicked your heels thrice while dreaming of Kansas? Do you go the way of the Dodo … or you do you evolve?

Me? I’m making my own damn movie.

Now, you’ll understand my absence. Thanks for hanging on.