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.
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Most newcomers have little sense of the hard realities of film production. For instance, he says with a wry laugh, just to get a rating on a film, without which no theater will take it, costs $8,500. Newcomers have stars in their eyes about striking it rich in Hollywood, says Mr. Meistrich. "This is big business." The proliferation of entertainment programming that induces the illusion of access to the inner workings of Hollywood has perpetuated the notion that anyone can get access to the top echelons. "This is simply not true," he adds. "I'm not going to take your script at one of those seminars I participate in," he says, and "neither is the guy from any of the other studios."Skip to next paragraph
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Stone cold rejection is nothing new to Mr. Popko and Mr. West, who say their story even has an added twist. The duo attended high school with Sofia Coppola, daughter of the famed filmmaker, who took the team's first script under his wing. But, they say ruefully, "It all went nowhere, and so we actually started at the top and just went down from there." All the agents they contacted informed them that nobody in town would read unsolicited material for fear of lawsuits over idea theft. And since studios wouldn't take material without a referral, they found themselves in the classic Hollywood bind: "We can't get in without contacts, but can't get contacts without getting in," says Popko. They opted to take the entrepreneurial route, a hardscrabble one. They made their own movie on a shoestring budget and found a small company that would distribute it in DVD rental stores, such as Blockbuster. But they have been fighting with their current distributor over payments and performance.
Increasingly, technology is seen as the white horse riding to the rescue of many newcomers' screen dreams. There are some 400 screenwriting competition websites alone, many of which promise access to production companies and, in some cases, career guidance and even management. Mr. Grushow's filmaka.com is one such site, as is Edelman Studios (Edelman.com/studios), a recently launched destination that aims to exploit the interactivity of the Internet. The brainchild of ad mavens Andy Marks and his partner, David Freeman, the idea is to present a writing "assignment" that members, who pay to join, can tackle to show their writing skill. The "jobs" are geared toward commercial interests such as Burger King and Unilever, two of the company's clients. The end product is wide open, says Mr. Marks. "It could run the gamut from a feature film that the company might sponsor if they see it fits their target audience, all the way down to a film short."
But the online world is a numbers game, as well, says first-time screenwriter Ron Rogers, who joined two sites (inktip.com and scriptpimp.com), at $100 a pop, only to find that nothing came of it. He and his writing partner have finally taken matters into their own hands, producing a 10-minute trailer of their film "The Feud," which he hopes to shop around. He managed to cut costs on the production because, he says, "everyone on the team, from the actors to the editors and cameraman, all want something to use to show off their skills as well."
Not everyone is soured on the old model. Industry veteran Blake Snyder says there is a window of opportunity for the newcomer right now. After a bruising, three-month writers' strike that ended in February, studios are hungry for new material, snapping up 10 scripts a week, versus one a year ago, says Mr. Snyder.
But even that window is an illusion, says Stacey Parks, founder of the online Film Distribution community, FilmSpecific.com, who points out that most of the "spec" scripts are from seasoned writers who used the time off during the strike to work on long-neglected projects. Even the veterans are realizing they can no longer simply wait for scripts to sell.
"If you aren't willing to become an entrepreneur in this new era," says Ms. Parks, "you probably aren't going to have a career as a screenwriter or anything else in Hollywood."