Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Whole Writer's Co-op Thing

By now, we've all read about the co-op John Wells and several other writers formed and how it works. John August and Craig Mazin have good commentaries but I gotta tell you - and at the risk of sounding like the green rookie that I am - I still don't fully get the full impact of this. I've read everything I can on this but I need some Romper Room language.

My newbie roots are showing. A little help?

What I do understand -

I understand the basic premise and how the co-op affects these guys and the standard they could be setting for other A listers who may want to copy them. I understand the sacrifice they're making up front for the long run benefits and the example this sets for the profession of writing. But these are some of Hollywood's highest paid writers. So, yes, the likes of Ted Elliott and Craig Mazin and John August should take notice.

What I don't understand - Is this for A listers only?

Would this same concept work at all for Hollywood's not so coveted writers? Seems to me that this has almost nothing to do with anyone BUT A listers because --

(1) Craig Mazin says, if this idea spreads, it will put downward pressure on spec prices. It seems like that would only apply to the A listers. Doesn't downward pressure already exist everywhere else?

(2) The co-op acts as the film's producer? So, the studio doesn't bring in another producer at all? I'm assuming different co-ops will have different levels of voice and participation depending on the caliber and credentials of the writers in the co-op, wouldn't you think?

(3) Schulman said that if this model works, the co-op hopes other writers will emulate it. Will copycat co-ops work at all with non A-list writers? What really makes the co-op work, the material written by its participants or names of the scribes behind it? Since the material isn't written yet, isn't this first co-op's strength in its founding names?

I'm just asking questions and welcome any enlightenment. I really don't know anything so all help is appreciated. No tomatoes please.


Unk said...

It COULD work as long as the non A-List writers can write. If one can easily walk away from the material then no... Ain't gonna work for non A-Listers.

Unfortunately, there's not enough info in the article but rumors ABOUND about the details.

Time will tell... It's been tried before and failed.

I THINK I would rather form a prodco with some good writers instead... At least until I hear more about the Co-op.

Good post -- no tomatoes.


David Anaxagoras said...

I won't pretend to understand this deal either. But like you, I have questions. Like, if a studio can get four specs a year from A-list writers for beans, what do they need ME for?

Conversely, are studios ever going to be able to resist getting in a bidding war over a Hot Spec Script? It always seemed to me that so much of the economics of this business is based on the Fear of Missing Out.

Right now, I just want my million. Up front. I can't afford to wait for a bigger payday on the back end.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

It's been tried before, Unk? I was under the impression this was a first time thing.

Well, Dave, first I have to WRITE that hot spec script and I think I've got a bit of work to do before I'm there. Then I think I need to just make sure I title it "Piranha Mentality".

Robert Hogan said...

I talked about this a little bit on my blog, but let me elaborate on your questions. First off, the only people this deal is going to help for the foreseeable future are the writers in the co-op and Warner Bros. I don’t know what the exact dollars are in the deal, but for example say a writer in the co-op writes a spec script, Warner Bros is able to buy it for $200K instead of the writer’s usual $2.2 million. This saves Warner Bros a considerable amount of money if they end up not producing this script. And you can bet that out of the 18 scripts that will come out of this deal, only a couple will end up getting produced.

If the script does get produced, then the writer gets their full salary plus the advantage of first dollar gross participation, which means the writers have motivation to create a script that has high commercial appeal.

For us slobs outside of the gate, we won’t see any immediate effect from this deal, except the possible opportunity to see some films that are not adaptations, remakes or sequels. Now if this co-op is successful (and the precedent set by the Sony deal doesn’t look good) we could see this impacting the rest of the spec market. You will see a rise in spec scripts being purchased because the studio will be able to purchase specs much cheaper then acquiring rights to source material. The downside to this is the spec scripts will fetch far few dollars. The million dollar deals will disappear, and there would be very few mid to high six figure deals.

For us unknown writers who have the ability to write high quality scripts that are commercially marketable we could see an increase in opportunities to sell our scripts. I wouldn’t expect to see the first dollar gross as part of any first time sell contracts though. So, you will have more chances to sell your script but you will make far less money for it.

As far as the co-op acting as the film’s producers, that’s all done through John Wells’ company, which has a deal with Warner Bros. I’m sure the credits of these films will have John Wells’ company in the opening, and the name of the writer will most likely appear under the Produced by credits along with the typical other people (production company person, studio person, etc) that are customarily given this title. The producer role assumed by the writers is there for them to be more active in the development of the script, such as approving rewrites.

I’m not sure if Schulman’s comment was out of context or not, but I read it to mean that if the co-op’s practice of giving the writers more control over the development and production of their script works that other companies will emulate that approach.

I think it’s a good idea. I will be watching to see how this deal develops over the next few years.