What’s new in jaWiki

[wiki logo]Last week, I opened up jaWiki, which to my relief and surprise hasn’t ass-ploded into a jagged minefield of broken links and PHP fragments.

The total number of articles has grown from 91 at launch to 121, largely driven by reader contributions.

Notable new entries include:

That last one is a surprise; I like surprises. I’m happy to see articles that provide information on aspects of screenwriter-dom that I know little about. To that extent, I’ve created [[stub]] entries that I hope readers can expand upon.

There are also a lot of articles in the archive which could use some dusting-off and wikify-ing. Some possibilities include:

Again, jaWiki is an experiment. My hope is that it evolves into something useful and compelling. Time is the best test of theory.

High net-worth individuals

I’ve encounted this euphemism for “rich people” at least five times this week. It’s not exactly new; I’ve heard it occasionally for the last few years. But I don’t know where it came from, or how long it’s been gaining traction around the memosphere.

This morning’s appearance came in a Variety article about Radar’s Ted Field acquiring roughly $600 million in financing:

The financial partners in Radar’s fund are a combination of equity financiers and high net-worth individuals, including JP Morgan & Co., D.E. Shaw & Co., Kevin Flynn, the Rothman family, Cardinal Growth, GE Capital, US Bank, CIT and Mercantile Bank.

Kevin Flynn is an individual. The Rothman family presumably counts — though technically, they’re not an individual. You or I would just call them rich, wealthy or loaded. So why doesn’t Variety?

My theory is that super-rich people are actually a bit embarrassed by their vast wealth. “High net-worth individual” is a way of obfuscating and distracting from the dollar signs. Don’t judge me; I have a condition. It’s scientific. It’s treatable: “Oh, I’m not rich. I just have a high net worth.”

To refer back to the old-school SAT analogies:

wealth:: high net worth

My friend Chuck is a VP at a bank that specializes in high net-worth individuals. (Which, to be fair, makes a lot more sense than banking for the poor and indigent.) When I ask him about his job, Chuck uses the HNWI term a lot, generally to protect the anonymity of his clients. Hearing him talk about it, one realizes that vast wealth is like a supertanker; it’s actually kind of a pain in the ass to move it around.

The only time it gets awkward with Chuck is when he refers to, “high net-worth individuals such as yourself.” I can never tell if he’s being generous or deluded. My net worth is high compared with, say, a Kentucky coal miner. But I’m not looking for places to park $600 million. “High” is clearly a relative term.

Which leads to my second hunch: “high net-worth individual” was coined because there’s a vast realm between millionaires and billionaires, and you need something to call these people.

The film industry increasingly calls them partners, because they’re bankrolling many of the super-budgeted movies filling our megaplexes. But I wonder if we’ve lost something by reducing our tycoons and barons to mere high net-worth individuals. Great wealth is supposed to invoke romance, intrigue and familial drama, not spreadsheets and hedge funds. Just by giving it a new term, they’ve taken away half the reason to be rich.

Is the Slamdance script competition a bad idea?

questionmarkI am a writer who has multiple scripts entered in the Slamdance Horror Script Competition.

Recently, Slamdance announced the new Grand Prize: $10,000 and acquisition of all rights and title by an independent production company. In said acquisition, the production company plans to produce a feature motion picture from the grand-prize winning script.

The winner will be paid five percent of the film’s minimum budget, which is $200,000.

So here’s my first question: Shouldn’t the writer be paid 10% of the film’s budget according to WGA standards?

As a writer who has primarily entered the competition with the hope of placing in the competition so I can attract queries from agents, I am a bit puzzled by this new Grand Prize. If a script is good enough to rise to the top of a competition like this, and if the writer is lucky enough to land a good agent, wouldn’t it be within the writer’s interest to look for a better deal?

Not to mention that upon accepting the Grand Prize and putting pen to paper, the writer is signing all rights of the script to the powers that be.

Would it be foolish for someone to decline the Grand Prize and take his or her chances with attracting an agent who might be able to find a better deal?

— Terrell
Newnan, Georgia

Yes, it would be foolish. If you win, you should take the prize money and the additional $10,000. (I’m assuming that the 10% of the budget comes on top of the prize money, but either way, take the deal.)

Why am I suggesting you blindly take whatever’s offered, when just two days ago I advised another reader to quickly get another lawyer? Because you live in Georgia. You’re treating the Slamdance competition as a sort of become-a-screenwriter lottery. The first, unspoken rule of lotteries is “always take the money.”

Could winning the competition help get you started as an honest-to-goodness screenwriter? Sure. But getting a movie made would be a much, much bigger help. Lots of writers win competitions but never get beyond that point. However, if you get a movie made — if you get a movie set up — you suddenly become an actual, working screenwriter. And the process of finding agents, managers and future work becomes much easier.

Now that your main question is resolved, let’s correct one fundamental misunderstanding:

Shouldn’t the writer be paid 10% of the film’s budget according to WGA standards?

Yes, in Fantasyland. There’s no WGA rule or standard. All there is is WGA scale, which indicates the minimum a writer can be paid for movies of a certain budget. These are flat figures, not percentages. (You can download a .pdf of the rates here.)

I’ve never been paid anything close to 10% of a film’s budget. My first feature, Go, cost roughly $6 million. I was paid $70,000. That’s half a million dollars less than I “should” have gotten.

For The Movie, I was paid low-budget scale — $35,782, plus a $5,000 script publication fee. (If we’d qualified for the WGA Indie rates, we could have brought that down to zero.)

And as a writer who’s written several very expensive movies, let me tell you, I’d love to be cashing $20 million checks. But it doesn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong, a screenwriter can make plenty of money. But dollar signs shouldn’t be a driving force in choosing it as a career, no matter what level you’re talking about.

Introducing jaWiki

[wiki logo]When I redesigned the site in February, the major goal was to allow better access to the archive information. Unlike most blogs, the bulk of the content on johnaugust.com is equally relevant today or four years from today — unlike celebrity marriages, the answers to screenwriting questions pretty much hold solid.

Although I think it’s worked out pretty well, the Big Fat Footer wasn’t my original plan.

I wanted to harness the power of the hive mind to create a user-organized repository of screenwriting-relating articles. See, I’m only one guy. A pretty busy guy at that. I’ll never be able to go back through and update old entries, fixing broken links and outdated references. But my readers? They’re screenwriters, with an overwhelming need to procrastinate. Some of them would likely jump at the chance.

Perhaps the answer was a wiki.

So I installed Mediawiki, the same software which drives Wikipedia. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?) Guess what: It’s complicated. Even as we added articles1, I started to dread the eventual launch. The software was so complex, and such a target for ne’er-do-wells, that I finally shelved it until the vaguely-defined timespace of “after The Movie.”

The wiki has been quietly sitting there, one slash away, for months. And now, finally, I’m ready to give it a go.

I’d slap a red “Beta” logo on it if it weren’t so Web Two-Point-Cheesy. But really, it’s beta. It could completely crash at any moment. The underlying software (not Mediawiki, btw) has many fans, but also many issues, and was honestly chosen for the ease with which articles could get yanked out of it should something more promising come along.

Right now, there’s almost no restriction on who can create or edit an entry. I’m holding on to the “delete” power for now, though I’d love to share that with some dedicated wikiers. You can create a profile for yourself by choosing “Login” and “Register.” By logging in, the community can see who is doing good work.

Early adopters, have at it. I urge you to look at it as I do — an experiment. It might be great; it might be a Really Bad Idea. But it might be worth your time. Have at it here.

  1. Chad Creasey and Howard Rabinowitz deserve props for getting a “critical mass” of articles written. Mucho thanks to the two of them.

Help! I’m getting screwed on my own series

[questionmark]A year and a half ago I pitched a scripted series to a cable network and it was optioned for development.

I was contracted for and completed a series bible, and script (plus polish). Based on programming issues they were having, they decided they wanted to change the direction and tone of the series. So I was contracted for and wrote another script (plus polish) under the new creative. All of this was without a series deal in place. I worked only with contracts for the scripts. Those contracts stated “good faith” negotiations if/when they decided to go to pilot/series. Terminating me from project reverts rights to me.

They loved it, they said. A surefire hit, they said. Let’s find a showrunner, they said.

Perhaps I should have begun to sweat right then and there. But I was excited about a showrunner, especially since they were reaching out to high caliber people. Every showrunner (supposedly) said the same thing. “This is a franchise.”

I was asked to choose one of the suggested names and was excited by the options. They told us they were skipping the pilot — going straight to series.

And then came the series negotiations, and the hell I am currently in. The money offered is despicable. (As this is cable, I use peer standards, not even industry. And it was worse than bad.) My highly reputable lawyer is disrespectful and rude to me and promised numbers that he didn’t run by me first. And all credits (Creator and Producer) are subject to either WGA or CAVCO. They will not lock for life, only one cycle. The ONLY thing guaranteed is 2 out of 12 episodes written. They have made it clear that the high profile showrunner is the priority.

Is there any way to salvage this situation? How does one determine when to walk away? I am well aware of how many people would do anything to get their ideas on screen. Without a guarantee of credits or money, is it worth it?

Full rights do revert back to me, but not for approximately 2 years.

— M
Los Angeles

Get a new lawyer. Fast.

You’ll have no trouble finding one. Assuming you have an agent/manager, get them on the hunt. If you don’t, start calling the major entertainment law firms (they’re all in Beverly Hills or Century City) and say this:

“Hi. My name is Mary Writer, I have a series commitment over at Comedy Central (or wherever). I’m looking for a new attorney to close the deal.”

You’ll get someone. Trust me.

Are you in jeopardy of getting pushed off the show you created? Absolutely. But the Big Showrunner is no doubt WGA, which means “created by” credit will be handled by the WGA. Which means you’re almost certainly going to get credit. Ask Jeffrey Lieber from Lost.

Now, stop reading and start dialing. You need a better attorney, stat.

Final Draft serves left-overs

This afternoon, I opened up a recently-created Final Draft script in TextMate, to see how easily I could pull out the text. As one would expect, there was a lot of incomprehensible goobledygook. But there was also a surprising amount of detritus left over from previous projects — notably Big Fish.

It’s a little troubling that words and phrases from projects more than five years old are still showing up in new script files. My hunch is that it has something to do with the spell-checker, since these are unusual words (or August-isms) that the program might have flagged.

I’ve cleaned up the formatting, but these are the words:

  2. Mmm
  3. Enchanté
  4. Buick
  5. Jesus-down-at-the-carwash
  6. Pinnochio?
  7. Frankensteinian
  8. lawnmowers
  9. nightstand
  10. WHIRR
  11. co-signed
  12. Gainsville
  13. handbrake
  14. Rockwell-esque
  16. AP
  17. payphone
  18. Hmm
  19. notepad
  20. Oldsmobile
  21. Calloway
  24. Grampa’s
  25. Grampa?
  26. thataway
  27. Chevrolet
  28. Chevy
  29. missus
  30. Soggybottoms
  31. Winslow
  32. ya!
  33. Atari
  34. Hawkin’s
  35. uncatchable
  36. UNIV
  37. ça va?
  38. funeral-goers
  39. rainsoaked
  40. Allo oui?
  41. Crap
  42. Uh-huh
  43. chemo
  44. babysitting
  45. treehouse
  47. gonna
  48. crap
  49. twisty croc
  50. hafta
  51. wanna!
  52. Gimme
  53. unamused
  54. McHibbon
  55. IV
  56. ‘ssmooshing
  57. Johansen
  59. POV
  60. ‘im!
  62. ‘Cuz
  63. gotta
  64. improvin’
  65. hun’erd
  67. checkstands
  68. WHIRRS
  69. Grampspopsicle
  71. Soggybottom
  72. shit
  73. Hickville
  74. antsier
  75. Cadillac
  76. Samford
  77. babysit
  78. Skynard-loving
  79. pissed
  80. Unfazed
  81. ass-whupping
  83. unshittable
  84. AHH! OHH!
  85. USO
  86. vampy

What’s more, this entire list showed up twice. Good job, Final Draft.