More Hollywood writers do end-run around studio system
The strike is over, but some top writers are still exploring ways to turn the Internet into a new business model.
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"I believe by the end of this decade, it will be commonplace to find content on the Web produced specifically for the Web by A-list Hollywood talent," says Gus Tai, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.Skip to next paragraph
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Don't look for Oscar-caliber, yet
Full-blown, multimillion-dollar dramatic serials and scripted comedies – or high-gloss original movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean" – may be a little way off, experts say. But a number of more modest early efforts from Hollywood writers are already appearing on websites such as Icebox.com. Budget fare – some of it sexually explicit – also can be seen on seven series now running on a site called 60Frames.
"It's definitely true that writers are looking for alternative ways to work," says Tal Vigderson, managing director of Icebox, which was created by top network TV show runners such as Howard Gordon ("24"), Rob LaZebnik ("The Simpsons"), and Jonathan Collier ("King of the Hill," "Monk") – all of whom have expressed frustration in working with network TV. The site has had as many as 100 writers creating original content including critically beloved scribes such as HBO's Larry David ("Curb your Enthusiasm").
Many of the writers working with Icebox say they've left TV because what ends up on the air bears little resemblance to what they conceived. "Writers like us because they see their creation done the way they wanted it done," says Mr. Vigderson.
As interest rises, efforts to help define and navigate the new terrain are also proliferating. Founders Media Group, a financial partnership devoted to the development of online content, is forming companies with writers and creators to zero in on different niche audiences.
Virtual Artists Co. – founded by screenwriter Aaron Mendelsohn ("Air Bud") – has at least 20 entertainment and software writers investing about $10,000 each to fund projects that include short films and feature-length movies. Investors also include Susannah Grant, who wrote "Erin Brockovich," and Warren Leight, who has run shows such as "Law and Order: Criminal Intent."
And in two weeks, Smuts will take over UnitedHollywood.com – a strike blog site that became a clearinghouse for producers, directors, writers, and other talent to investigate new distribution models and economic, advertising, licensing, and creative outlets.
"It's an open question how all this is going to work," says Smuts. "We still need to understand a lot of things, but we have to learn by doing it and having those who are trying share what they've learned."
• Monitor intern Alison Tully contributed to this report.