Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Hollywood writers co-op

When news broke earlier this year of a new co-op of top-rated Hollywood screenwriters based at Warner Brothers, John August admitted to feeling slightly left out.

Now, as Jay A. Fernandez reports for The L.A. Times, he's part of another writers co-operative, this time based at 20th Century Fox.
The new Fox cooperative, called Writing Partners, includes equally heavy hitters: John August ("Big Fish"), Michael Brandt and Derek Haas ("3:10 to Yuma"), Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"), Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Craig Mazin ("Scary Movie 3"), Simon Kinberg ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith"), Stuart Beattie ("Collateral"), Tim Herlihy ("Happy Gilmore") and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley ("National Treasure"). August and Mazin have spearheaded the effort over the last few months, and after several entities showed interest, Fox Filmed Entertainment Co-chairman Tom Rothman signed off on the deal organized and negotiated by co-presidents of production, Emma Watts and Alex Young.

In what amounts to a first-look deal for the studio, each writer or writing pair in the group gets an upfront fee of $300,000 -- way below their normal quotes -- to write an original feature-length screenplay for Fox in the next four years.

The writer maintains creative control of the script and can make his or her own decisions about which studio notes he's willing to do and whether to allow another writer on board at the studio's or potential director's request. If the writer agrees, the project moves forward. If not, the writer can ultimately walk away with ownership of the script. But the incentive for both parties is to move the script toward production, in which case the writer gets his full standard fee and 2.5% first-dollar gross points on top of the quote.
You can read August's take on the arrangement on his blog, and Craig Mazin has blogged about it, too.

What's interesting, I think, is not that writers are seeking (and taking) more control over the production process, but they are doing it collectively. As Mazin points out, they're not intending to undermine the American Writers Guild (they're raising the ceiling for deals, he says, whereas the Guild establishes the floor) but they are showing that writers can have a great deal of power when they work together.

The film industry in this country isn't big enough for anything similar to happen over here, but could British TV writers follow the co-operative model? Several, such as Paul Abbott (Tightrope Pictures) and Tony Jordan (Red Planet Pictures), have set up their own production companies. Might writers' co-ops be an equally viable option?

1 comment:

  1. I could probably engage with the co-op model far more than I could run my own company. Hiring, firing, negotiating... I work better with all that stuff off my shoulders. If that's what I was good at, I'd have taken it on long ago.


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