Time to kiss and make up
Let the healing process begin. Like a wounded couple inching back together after a rough period and some grueling (but helpful) therapy, the town’s writers and their studio and network colleagues -- who genuinely like each other much of the time -- seem ready, eager even, to get back into the trenches together.
Now that a tipping point has been reached with a tentative agreement on the table that seems destined for ratification by Writers Guild members, everyone just wants to move forward. Focus on the positive. Get back to making entertainment. And money. That is, assuming that writers actually voted to lift the strike today (the tally was not completed by press time Tuesday).
Just before the strike began last November, this space aired the “worried but resolute” voices of writers on the edge of a grim unknown. As they head back into the mixed blessing that is “business as usual,” those voices, equally resolute, once again ring with notes of hope and ambition.
(“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Grand”)
“I’m hoping to go back into work on the television show [“Section Eight”] that we stopped doing when the strike started. I’m hoping that all the people who were working on that show can get their jobs back and we can try to go and make it. We were about to go into production on six episodes. Literally, we were trying to finish the script when the strike hit. It is a very weird circumstance to have stopped in the middle of writing something.
“It’ll be a little bit tricky [getting back into the writing groove], but you know what? Writing’s always difficult. I don’t say that like ‘poor me.’ I always find it hard to sit down and concentrate and write. As a writer, you get used to that -- taking some time where you haven’t written anything in a while and then you have to suddenly get back up and do it really, really quickly.”
(“Bring It On,” “Stick It”)
“I’ve been writing a book for Simon & Schuster for the last year, so I had that to stay focused on. That was a blessing. I’m just taking everything in stride. It’s been such a herky-jerky couple months that I want to wait and see how this unfolds. But in terms of my interactions with my attorneys and my agents, they’re like, ‘We’re gonna be swamped this week. Oh, it’s gonna be crazy.’ It feels like everybody’s anticipating some big push.
“I usually get anywhere from six to 20 scripts a week to look at to direct, rewrite to direct, rewrite, so that ground to a full halt. I’m hoping stuff kicks back up into production and that there’s more production rewrites, because it’ll be a good economic indicator, rather than a personal indicator. I just hope it is a good buoyant feeling for the economy. It started feeling a little grim the past couple weeks. That’s my biggest hope about the shift.”
(“Things We Lost in the Fire,” “21")
“There are going to be a lot of interesting things happening, not only from the writers’ side but from the studios’ side. Because not only are they going to have to reevaluate or revisit what they were interested in before the strike, and what to do with those things and how to fast-track them and where the movie stars stand, but then they’re going to get an influx of a lot of specs and work handed in that was done after the strike. They’re gonna be crazy. I think the studios are going to be just completely swamped.
“I have a lot of open projects that I was working on right before the strike that I need to resume now. For me, it’s not really that big of an issue. I’m just going back to work, and the meetings are going to start, and the pages are going to get written, and things are going to get handed in. It’s not really going to be any different. I’ve got a United Artists project called ‘Out of This World,’ which I’ve actually been back to work on for a few weeks because they signed [an interim agreement] early, so that’s been good.”
(“The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight”)
“I’m chomping at the bit to go back to work. It’s been a long one. I haven’t really let it all sink back in. I’m going back to ‘Interstellar,’ which is that project with Lynda Obst and Steven Spielberg. That’s what I was working on [when the strike hit]. There’s never a good time for these things, you know? Everybody got caught out a bit. It is tough -- you get out of practice. But I’ve got a backlog of pent up ideas that are ready to come out. Hopefully.
“For writers, it’s always that endless quest: What’s the next thing you’re gonna be working on? And the strike has been a total change of pace from that. I’m sure a lot of people -- and I’m no different -- were thinking about the next thing, but thinking about it in a vacuum. Once we go back to work, I’m not anticipating [taking] any time off any time soon.”
(“Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday”)
“I’ve been so proud to be a writer during the strike. I’ve really felt a great sense of community and belonging and felt we were doing something that was going to benefit so many people. That’s not something you feel a lot in the writing community because we’re all alone in our offices.
“I’m going to get to work on a new original, and I’m happy to know that I can go out there and pitch a movie and talk to the people I haven’t talked to in a long time. I think they’re gonna be happy to have us back too. Everybody’s just greatly relieved that it’s over. It’s been like a separation, but everybody still sort of likes each other, so now we can come back together. I think it will lead to more appreciation of both sides.
“And I’m really looking forward to new episodes of ‘The Office.’ ”
Bruce & Co. to the rescue
I had a conversation Monday with Oscar shaman Bruce Vilanch, who’s been writing material for the telecast for 20 years. Vilanch called in from Las Vegas to discuss pulling together a show that all of a sudden must go on again -- a mere 12 days from now.
Scriptland: What’s the battle plan?
We’ve unofficially started. We’re divvying up the show. We’re writing stuff as soon as they can confirm the bookings. That was a problem because nobody wanted to commit until they knew they were not going to have to cross a picket line. We try to match up the presenters with the categories, and that way we personalize what they say about them. Usually we have more of a head start, but we’re going to just have to do it a lot faster this time.
Will you have a bigger writing crew?
We don’t have a bigger crew. [Host] Jon [Stewart]'s got his crew in New York. There are three of us out here. I think Jon Macks and Buz Kohan will be doing it. We’ve all done it before, so we know what the requirements are.
Does that mean you’re technically doing scab writing now?
I suppose. But I think most of the show runners are too. I think they’re plotting the end of their seasons. At this point, I don’t think they’re going to haul us in there for trying to get a two-day jump on a show that is two weeks away.
Are you stressed, given that you’ve never had such little time before?
I’m relieved the strike is over. I’m sorry I have to go back to the treadmill from the picket line, because it’s not nearly as much fun and I’ll probably not lose any weight. However, there’s less time to play politics. And that’s what you do a lot at the Oscar show -- who’s gonna present what, and everybody has time to mull stuff. Now everyone’s going to have to pitch in and say, “OK, this is all being done on short notice,” so perhaps they’ll all be on their best behavior. Plus, they’re all going to be too busy trying to get into the Governor’s Ball because there’s no Vanity Fair party.
Will there be any strike-related humor worked into the show?
There might be. I certainly think that Jon will be doing that. I think he’ll be mining that vein -- it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Do you have a special mandate from Oscar show producer Gil Cates?
I believe the word was “fast.”
Any other restrictions on the show or differences in approach?
It’s the same show. We’re approaching it at warp speed, that’s the difference. And we all have to get up to speed on anything we haven’t been paying attention to. If you haven’t seen the movies, you’d better see them right away so you know who you’re talking about.
Are you up on everything?
Yeah, sure. What else do you do during a strike? I went to see every movie.
Have you written material already that you like?
Yeah. Actually, I filed it away. I thought, “If we ever get to do this show, this would be a funny joke” -- never expecting we were actually going to do the show.
So now I have to see if any of that stuff is actually funny.
Well, good luck.
Thanks. It’ll be much more fun than just a press conference. Even though that Golden Globes press conference was rollicking good fun.
Right, that sets you guys up to be even bigger heroes.
Exactly. Let’s hope.
Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.