This weekend brought two stories of interest to screenwriters, particularly those of the Hollywood bent.

The first was Rachel Abramowitz’s article in the LA Times about the recent batch of screenwriters-turned-directors, which included bits about Scott Frank, Mike White, and Charlie Kaufman, among others. I spoke to her about The Nines:

“Most of what I do never makes it to the screen,” he says, voicing a common lament. “I feel all this responsibility to those characters and these stories. They’re half alive. They’re trapped in 12-point Courier.”

“The Nines,” he says, deals with “the responsibility of a creator to his creations. You can look at it from a religious point of view. If you create this whole universe, are you responsible for making sure it sticks around?”

The second story comes from today’s Variety, in which Michael Fleming breaks the news of a new “Writer’s Co-Op” formed by writer/producer John Wells and others.

I’ve read the article three times, and many of the details aren’t clear. But here’s the basics: Nineteen established screenwriters are agreeing to cut their up-front fees in exchange for first-dollar gross on the projects that get made. In addition, the screenwriters would have additional controls over their material. The deal is set up at Warners; it’s unclear whether any other studios would match the terms.

Will it work? I hope so. While the Writers Guild plays a crucial role in enforcing minimum standards for payments and practices, I’ve long felt there was room for improvement at the top end of the feature screenwriting continuum. By banding together, big-name scribes can get more leverage.

Which leads to the awkward issue of which names are on that list of 19. Mine isn’t; I wasn’t asked.1 Readers might remember a similar-sounding agreement at Sony/Columbia several years back. I was part of that, and despite making several movies for the studio during the time, found that it never amounted to much.2 Many of the writers who were part of the Sony deal are participants in this new venture, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

  1. Insert whichever “wouldn’t join a club that would have me” rationalization you’d like. Did I feel a little slighted? Sure. Did the realization that other big names weren’t on the list comfort me? Yes. Is it awkward admitting this? Certainly.
  2. Word around the virtual water-cooler is that David Koepp likely made some money through the Sony deal, because his original Spider-Man grossed so much that the deal’s profit definition must have kicked in. For whatever reason, he’s not part of the Writers Co-Op deal.