Producers, writers face huge chasm

Special to The Times

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers Guild of America West met Monday to start contract negotiations, and reports from inside the AMPTP’s Encino conference room are that the melee fell well short of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Just the same, by late that day, after both parties had presented their proposals for a new minimum basic agreement to cover industry writers, the rancorous rhetoric was already in evidence:

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 19, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 19, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Writers Guild contract: The Scriptland column in Wednesday’s Calendar about Writers Guild of America contract negotiations made reference to “the WGA’s capitulation on a wimpy residuals formula for video in 1988.” This actually occurred during the 1985 contract negotiations. In 1988, the guild struck for 5 1/2 months over a proposed change in the residuals formula.

“Instead of helping us work toward solutions that would give us the flexibility we all need for the benefit of all,” said the AMPTP statement posted on its website, “the WGA demands would impose unreasonable costs and Draconian restrictions.”


“The conglomerates always try to paint us as unreasonable and bellicose,” said the parallel guild statement. “Our proposals simply try to ensure that writers keep up with the industry’s growth. That’s fair and reasonable.”

The two groups agreed to meet Tuesday with their respective members and allow the pitches to sink in (read: congeal into a bitter paste), and they reconvene at 10 this morning to log their official responses. (Both groups’ proposals are posted on their websites: and

It’s apparent to everyone that this is a critical watershed in the relationship between the union members and management that seems to be on a regular cycle of emerging technology that creates new revenue streams and a subsequent scramble to capitalize on its profitability. In this context, for every Writers Guild member apprehensive about a potential strike, there’s another member -- with memories (actually, more like nightmares) of the WGA’s capitulation on a wimpy residuals formula for video in 1988 still burning high -- worried that the Guild’s negotiating committee won’t push far enough.

Anonymous background chatter from both sides after the first day of confrontation lends weight to the conventional wisdom that the Bering Strait-sized gap between the two approaches to the industry’s future, particularly as it applies to residual formulas for reuse of content and compensation for new digital media delivery systems, will prompt an agreement to postpone substantive talks for a few months. The existing minimum basic agreement expires Oct. 31.

Like the lottery: Someone wins

It’s a worthy question: Why do so many people devote themselves to writing screenplays when the odds are so slim that they will find any sort of success in the film industry?

The most recent figures put the number of annually employed Hollywood feature writers at only 1,935, and yet even my 61-year-old mother-in-law is writing one (which will make for one agonizing column if she sells it -- stay tuned).


In his just-released DVD documentary, “Dreams on Spec,” TV writer-director-producer Daniel Snyder (“Brilliant But Cancelled”) tries to get at the answer. Starting in 2004, Snyder tracked the fortunes of three dedicated aspiring screenwriters as they struggled to get the industry’s attention. Into their stories he wove excerpts of interviews with successful screenwriters such as Carrie Fisher, James L. Brooks, Gary Ross and Nora Ephron. (You can pick up the movie at the Writers Store on Westwood.)

“The film is more about the process and the internal rewards of writing as much as about the financial rewards down the line,” Snyder says. “With the three writers that we profiled, certainly they were not just doing it for a paycheck or for glory. They were doing it because they had a story to tell. And I think that’s the explanation as to why there are so many people with screenplays out there.”

Snyder had an inspiring front row seat for one of the most celebrated screenwriter origin stories of modern times when he worked at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach for a few years in the late ‘80s.

Snyder shared shifts with a guy who was always excited about some meeting he had had with a producer or studio and who would perform dialogue from his latest spec.

For years nothing panned out, but the guy never lost his enthusiasm. The guy was Quentin Tarantino -- and you know the rest of the story.

“He was clearly talented,” says Snyder, who read Tarantino’s screenplays at the time, “and yet it took him years of pushing and pushing and pushing.”

Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to