This week, John Wells and Warner Bros. announced a joint venture to give more creative freedom and control to writers â€“ arguably amongst the most underappreciated creative voices in Hollywood. The project will be called the Writers Co-Op and will be housed at John Wells Prods. on the Warners lot and have a first-look deal with Warner Bros, meaning basically that Warners gets first dibs at all projects that come out of the production house.
Okay, big deal. So what, right? Well, with this step, several major writers in Hollywood are re-vamping the current business model which, letâ€™s be honest, has some flaws if youâ€™re a writer. The main complaint of most writers is that they lose creative control over their work â€“ which is quite a sacrifice. Part of this happens because writers, unless they are directing and producing as well, get paid upfront, before production, and then are left out of the picture until credits.
With this deal, writers will sacrifice the big money upfront and in return get gross participation â€“ a sort of profit sharing. Most importantly, by sacrificing the guaranteed payday, writers are being promised a voice in how the film is made â€“ which to many writers could be a dream come true.
Now, this strategy is not without faults. First of all, thereâ€™s some risk involved, which may not be as easy to take for smaller, less wealthy writers who need that big paycheck to live while theyâ€™re writing, and canâ€™t afford to wait until the movie is made (if it ever is). Of course, the Writers Co-Op just established has brought together 19 of the biggest writers, so at the moment that seems like a nonissue.
Also, though, itâ€™s yet to be seen how much of a voice the writers get in production. Sometimes too many cooks in the kitchen makes a mess, and it will be interesting to see how producers organize the development process, and how much creative imput they really give these writers. Also in this model, it may be a lesser issue since writers like Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and David Benioff (Troy) tend to garner a lot of respect in the development room anyway. Also, it appears as though the Writers Co-Op will act as producers, although the details seem a little hazy.
Still, as we sit on the verge of a possible writerâ€™s strike later this year (thereâ€™s been a lot of buzzing), deals like this seem promising. To Daily Variety, Wells commented â€œThis undertaking champions the writerâ€™s voice, as well as affords artists to reap a more substantial reward from their work in exchange for assuming more upfront risk.â€ Indeed, for the successful writer who makes the successful movie, the potential for reward is huge â€“ not only will they have a product they feel is theirs, but a big box office hit means a much bigger paycheck than had previously been possible.
I know a lot of you are writers â€“ what do you think about it? Do you think this is a step towards change across the business, and the way in which writers are perceived and rewarded, or do you think this will be yet another well-intentioned but ultimately doomed experiment?
Alex M., Movie Correspondent
Alex’s column, Sunset Boulevard, published every Friday to Gather Essentials: Movies, is a weekly summary of the movie industry’s biggest stories.
Alex is a film school grad working at a production company in Hollywood. She’s been passionate about movies since she knew what they were and always has an opinion (for better or worse).
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