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.



Alvaro said...

Brilliant and inspirational. Evolve, she says. I'm not even in town and I'm already being asked to leave. :)

princess scribe said...

HRH will always have a place at the royal table for you, Sir Al of the Rod, wherever that might be.


Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

good post. However, they need to quit bitching and accept that this comes with the territory of being a screenwriter. If they don't like it, no one's forcing them to stay in L.A.

Dwacon® said...

Been trying to do that...

princess scribe said...

Kind Sir Dwacon ~

What has been stopping you?

princess scribe said...

Lovely Lady S ~

Ah, but change is hard, especially when one has been treated as a thoroughbred.

Besides, bitching is fun.

And you are right. The life of a writer is challenging at best; however, now one can see empowerment on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

It's so depressing that I oughta shoot myself. However, once I think about it, it's only depressing in a brand new qualitative way, but it's no more depressing in terms of quantity than it was before. Here's a thought...since making a living as a screenwriter is so tough, I think I'll make a living as an actor!

princess scribe said...

Dear Anonymous ~

Put the gun down.

That being said, if there is anyone lower on the totem pole than an actor, it is a writer.

Make your own magic, milady/lord. Post it on YouTube. Develop your skills, write/shoot an amazing tale and distribute it yourself. What won't you get? A huge title scrolled across the Arclight. What will you get? Money and empowerment. Satisfaction and creative control.

Two shorts which are currently causing me to rave. The first was shot, won a competition, then reshot. The second, all DIY:




AndiWritesAgain said...

You're kinda fierce! :)

princess scribe said...

Dearest Lady A ~

Fierce? You say?

Fiercely passionate. HRH wants writers to succeed. HRH would like to as well.

Ferocity is best used sparingly. You know this. After all, you have visited HRH's lair and partook of much brisket, laughter and love. :)

HRH fiercely believes in you, in all of you - and is darned if she will not shout her devotion loudly.

William M. Akers said...

You damn right.

I tell all my students that they should be writing something they can MAKE. Otherwise, what's the point?