Strategies for the industry contraction.

I was back in Los Angeles for the first time in eight months. My first priority was to sit and talk with my agents. This is what we discussed.

Strategies for the industry contraction.
Fresh Kills opens June 14th.

The Story and Plot Weekly Email is published every Tuesday morning. Don't miss another one.

The state of the industry.

It’s an odd time in Hollywood right now. Production has plummeted. 

I am not in constant production like some, so I have been pretty insulated from it. But others who have cameras rolling more often than I have all seemed to indicate this is the worst it’s been in their careers.

Since some of them go back to the early 80s, this is a sobering thought.

There are countless reasons for this, but here are two big ones:

The IATSE strike is not off the table

It looks less scary now, as many other local unions have made their own deals. People are optimistic, but it’s still possible.

Bad business decisions from corporate. 

Studios expanded into streaming too quickly, and it’s just not a sustainable model. Which is why you see ads now in most services.

The theatrical run of features has taken a hit. The window before home video has shrunk, younger audiences have finally grown more picky, and studios have been overly reliant on the $150 million blockbuster.

The studios tried to pass off some of their losses onto the creative side, so we had a WGA and SAG strike.

We managed to fight that off a bit, but the losses remain.

So now production suffers.

Knowing this, what does a professional screenwriter do in this environment?

Strategizing with my agents.

Last week, I was back in Los Angeles for the first time in eight months. My first priority was to sit and talk with my agents.

This is what we discussed.

I need a new project.

I have a couple of projects moving closer to production. MOST WANTED has a shot at being a high-profile project. We want to be able to follow that up with something new to exploit any momentum.

My personal life has been turbulent the last few months with multiple family challenges, and I have not been writing much. 

While my agents have been understanding, I still feel pressure to finish a rewrite of a spec that has been waiting for my attention.

Plus, I’m always happier when I’m working on something.

“What else ya got?” is eventually asked in every meeting.

It’s good to have an answer.

Stay away from television.

TV is rough right now. Although I am mostly a feature writer, I have been developing several TV projects with producers. 

The reps want me to put those on hold.

The bulk of contraction is in TV. The industry has an infrastructure for about 600 scripted shows, and they're likely well below 400 now.

That means many television writers are out of work, and established showrunners are struggling to get shows on the air.

It's never been more competitive.

Unless it’s a slam dunk, better to dedicate resources elsewhere.

None of my projects are slam dunks.

Writing different genres is fine.

Over the years, I’ve sold a character drama, horror, thrillers, action, and action-comedies. I have also written (but not sold) romantic comedies and want to write another one soon. 

This takes supportive reps. Fortunately, they still don’t see this as an issue as long as I keep writing relatively commercial films (The character drama I sold to WB predates them.)

They did warn me that if MOST WANTED is well received, I may be in the action comedy business for a while.

That would be a fine problem to have.

Budget is a factor.

This sounds obvious, but being told to keep a feature under $20 million is new to me. For a long time, the conventional wisdom was under five million or shoot for a big studio budget for the big spec sale.

$20 million was challenging to get made, and $60 million was nearly impossible.

Streaming has saved the mid-budget film. Netflix has a genre division with budgets of $20-$80 million. 

Interestingly, the director of MOST WANTED noted $30 million as the budget line that if he stays under, the studio will mostly leave him alone!

The first budget of MOST WANTED? $55 million. Much higher than any of us wanted.

I suspect rewrites are coming.

Focus on producers.

Producers are working harder than buyers right now. They have to. There isn’t a tougher job in the business than the independent producer. They rarely get paid before the movie gets made, and that’s an incentive.

With development and packaging falling further and further down the ladder, you need someone on your team willing to push and pull your project to the finish line.

It's usually a medium-level producer who is willing to do this. Bigger producers aren't looking to work that hard until a project is further along. 

Unsurprisingly, one of the medium-level producer's jobs is to get the project to a point where the chances of success are significantly better and then team up with a bigger producer to get the film over the hump!

My takeaways.

  1. Prepare for things to be slow for a while. 
  2. Control what you can control. Right now, that means it's time to get back to work and finish the new spec.
  3. No one is going to come save me. It's up to me to drive projects forward and to find partners to help me do it.
  4. Those television projects I was working on? Can I convince those producers that we would succeed more with them as features? If not, probably best to spend my time on other projects.
  5. Do I have any older projects that I still believe in that could be revived with any producers I am friendly with?

FRESH KILLS opens June 14th.

Friend of Story and Plot Jennifer Esposito's film FRESH KILLS opens nationwide on June 14th. 

It's a specialty release, so finding it near you may take some effort, but it will be worth it.

​This Fandango page might help​.

FRESH KILLS is genuine independent movie-making. 

Jennifer wrote and directed it and invested her own money, without any assurance it would ever be seen, let alone turn a profit.

It played dozens of festivals last year to universal praise and now gets a nationwide release.

I am ridiculously excited to see it.

​Here is the trailer​.

For anyone in Houston, I'll let you know what theater and showtime I'll be seeing the film on June 14th. Come join me!

That's a wrap for this week!

Thanks again for being a part of this.



The Story and Plot Weekly Email is published every Tuesday morning. Don't miss another one!

Tom Vaughan Tom Vaughan
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