Scriptwriters pursue their screen dreams
Tapping technology, aspiring writers hope to break into the entertainment industry, but competition is fierce as thousands join the race.
Newly minted film school graduate Nick Naney envisions the moment "someone" asks about his screenplay, reads it, and wants to produce it. "It could happen," he says from his parents' home in Long Island where he lives while he starts his career.Skip to next paragraph
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Across the country, San Francisco Bay Area screenwriting hopefuls, Rick Popko and Dan West (they now have one microbudget film under their belt with another on the way), have been turned down by agents, studios, and producers. But someone at the Weinstein Company just asked for two copies of their first film, so they are "cautiously optimistic."
Fellow Californian Heath Davis Havlick continues her day job as a media relations specialist while she awaits word from the Welsh countryside, where her first screenplay to be sold "is supposed to go into production soon." The final piece of the picture, says Ms. Havlick, is for the remaining monies due to come in "anytime now," according to the director who has told the anxious newcomer that the film's budget is nearly complete and that once the final funding arrives, she will get a paycheck and the film will begin production.
All of these Hollywood hopefuls share the same "screen dream," a writing career in the entertainment industry. But, as they acknowledge, they're up against fearsome odds. The big studios are shrinking – Paramount just announced the closure of its boutique film division Vantage, Warner recently shuttered its art house divisions Picturehouse and Warner Independent, and New Line axed nearly 90 percent of its staff.
Industry insiders such as agents, producers, and studio executives, as well as 30-year veterans, all admit it may be the toughest time in the industry's history to be starting out. The sheer number of new hopefuls is just the beginning of the story – Sundance Film Festival, the grandpa of the independent filmfests, received 200 films in its first year. This past year, it was deluged with more than 8,000 entries. The 10-year-old online screenwriting website, scriptapalooza.com, has gone from 600 entries to more than 4,500 this year.
However, for some of the same reasons that the industry cup is overflowing with "newbies" – cheap technology in the hands of young filmmakers, the proliferation of new outlets from multiple cable channels to new digital avenues on the Internet – it is also ripe with opportunity for the newcomer, most industry professionals agree.
"It's an exciting time," says Sandy Grushow, former chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, who heads up filmaka-.com, a website devoted to finding and developing new talent. "It's probably a harder time than ever. Whoever wants to be in this business is really going to have to work hard and want it, but the opportunities are there."
If there is a single word that dominates advice from industry veterans, it is homework. "This is the last business with no credentials required to say you are part of it," says Larry Meistrich, CEO of Nehst Studios. He says his own Cinderella story (his first film, the $25,000 "Laws of Gravity," beat out "Unforgiven" at the Berlin Film Festival 20 years ago and launched his career) is no longer possible. "It's a business, and today, nobody cares about the romance of the plucky new kid in town with his film made for nothing. Films cost a lot to produce," he points out.