never been a bitch so I don't act bitchy

Friday, September 12, 2003

Word of the Day: Attrition

def. "A rubbing away or wearing down by friction." "A gradual diminution in number or strength because of constant stress." "A gradual, natural reduction in membership or personnel, as through retirement, resignation, or death."

So of course John Ritter and Johnny Cash died. ("He Cashed in." "He did one final pratfall." I've seen both terrible jokes made already today. Be ashamed of yourselves.) It's very sad. But others who have a more personal connection to both have already said it better. So I will not try.

Instead, I will talk about the phone call I received this morning from my agent and manager!

A screenwriter writes scripts at home, hoping to sell them to someone. This is what the lottery mentality of screenwriting -- as sold in constant spam, in ubiquitious screenplay competitions, in magazine articles -- teaches us that screenwriting is.

The true employ of a screenwriter, however, is mostly the following: you take a meeting with a producer. They have an idea/article/book/script they're not happy with, and they ask you do "develop" it with them. (Or they ask many writers to develop it with them -- and the best man wins out, after all do work on it.) So what "develop" really means is "do free work." The reason for doing this instead of writing a script by yourself at home is because generally, producers (the LITTLE GUYS with NO MONEY) have pre-checked the idea with the studio (the BIG GUYS with MONEY) plus they're more invested since it's their idea or they've already developed the unsatisfactory script with another writer. With a spec script, the producer(s) may just be taking it into the studio without having any true passion for it and without any notion of whether or not it's something the studio wants to buy.

Indeed, many top screenwriters never ever write original scripts. Why write something for no money when you can rewrite something for a big six figure payday? goes the theory.

The downside of all this for the writer is as follows: you take a meeting, you make an outline, you get notes, you do another outline... all of which is time consuming, and none of which you get paid for until they deem the project ready to bring it into the studio. And since the business loves nothing more than to speak in Baseball Metaphors, this is called "Getting Up To The Plate." You get up to the Plate of the conference rooms of a studio, and you give them your Pitch (see, again, with the baseball).

But the real downside is that you usually don't even get up to the plate.


Well, developement is molasses slow, and the long time standing on the on deck circle, gives rise to tons of stuff going wrong. I've had everything happen to me from they hire another writer, to I get another job and no longer have time for that, to the head of the production company suddenly decides it's not a project they want to take into the studio at all, to another project gets set up somewhere else that's too similar. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But today. What happened today is pretty special.

About six months, company X liked a script of mine and wanted a meeting. They brought up a general idea that they thought I'd be good for "developing." I liked it. They brought it to another production company, company Y -- an even bigger company. They liked the idea too and already knew me, and so we were all going to work on it together. So I wrote an outline. They gave notes. I wrote another outline. They gave more notes... On and on for 8 drafts. Meetings and outlines and phone calls and outlines and notes. A bit excessive in this case, but nothing too far out of the norm. Then the summer hit and no one works in August and so we chose to wait before going to the Studio -- a studio that already was looking for something like this, a studio where company Y has their deal. Perfect! Everything was good to go.

Then company X started to collapse.

Or at least the people I was working for chose to leave. Something. So we had to wait to find out where those people were going to "land" before proceeding... Fine. No problem.

But then this morning word came down that company Y was losing their studio deal.

Oh yeah, also, the studio executive who would have bought this, probably getting fired.


In the course of working on this idea, ALL FIVE PEOPLE involved, from THREE COMPANIES, all switching/losing jobs. That my friends, is some fucking attrition.

(So what happens to the idea? Well, in theory since I wrote the whole 15 page outline, it's mine to do something with. But my manners force me to wait until company X guy who came to me with the idea lands somewhere, and get him involved again. So in reality, probably nothing will happen to it. It'll probably go on my shelf of 10 other projects I helped develop with people, only to die slow... sad... tree-in-the-forest... deaths.)


Tonight we're going to see a friend guest star on The Ortegas. An NBC sitcom staring Cheech.

I hope he's over Chong going to jail by taping time.


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