Greetings from Chicago where I’m on the road with the Mariners. Calling tonight’s game on 710 ESPN in Seattle, the M's Radio Network, and MLB.COM. But before that, how about some Friday Questions Chicago Style (even though I have no idea what that means)?
To start off, here’s Paul in Chicago:
Writers Ed Solomon & Chris Matheson, who have written some big feature films, are writing the 3rd Bill & Ted movie...apparently on spec. My question for you: is it the economy that creates a situation where established writers will write a full movie screenplay on spec?
Would YOU, Mr. Established Writer, write a movie script on spec?
I have written several movies on spec. Sold two. I never consider myself too established or important that I can’t write something on spec.
Writing screenplays on speculation has its advantages. You have the freedom to write what you want. You’re not forced to take studio or producer notes. That’s a BIG advantage. And you can make a lot more money if you sell your spec, especially if several studios are interested and a bidding war results. That’s when there are articles about you in the LA TIMES Calendar section and young writers justifiably despise you.
Writing on spec is becoming more and more prevalent because studios are developing fewer scripts in house. It’s much harder to sell a pitch these days. And the only writers who are invited to pitch are on the A list or Lena Dunham.
Now the downside to writing screenplays on spec: If you don’t sell it (and most don’t), you’ve put in a lot of work and probably invested six months or more and for your trouble and passion you get back exactly squat.
And nowadays your agent goes out with the script and if it doesn’t sell in like three days it’s DEAD. That’s not how it used to be. There were more producers and it’s the old story – you just have to sell it to one. So even if 40 producers passed, if one said yes you were off to the races. But now info travels almost instantly around town. So if a producer at Warners passes, five minutes later a hundred other producers get that information. A few of those come in and producers figure “if they didn’t respond to it then I’m sure neither will I.” They either don’t bother reading or read with an expectation that it’s not very good. And agents are reluctant to send out material that has been exposed.
In a sense, one influential producer who doesn’t respond to your script can kill it for the whole town. One guy.
So clearly, you write as your own risk. But like I said, most screenwriters no longer have a choice these days.
Kevin has a two-part question:
What would it take to get you to write for or show run a sitcom again?
An idea I was burning to do, or a Brinks truck pulling up to my house. I’ve eaten too much take out Chinese food.
Follow up question: Have you ever thought of writing on a Hour long drama say "Justified"?
If someone were willing to help me with the legalese I would love to write a GOOD WIFE or SUITS. And MY SO CALLED LIFE isn’t still on the air, is it? I could sooo write that show.
Would Fawlty Towers have stood any chance whatsoever of being made by US TV? Either back in 1974 or today?
It was adapted in the U.S. Several times. One with John Larroquette and the other with (wait for it…) Bea Arthur. Both attempts bombed horribly.
I think the key to FAWLTY TOWERS was John Cleese. Without John, you have well-crafted scripts but no real show. Also, that British sensitivity, the constant civility even in the most trying times. Americans don’t react that way. We should. We’d be funnier.
And finally, we go to Washington D.C. and Robert’s question:
Was there any particular reason that all the barflies in cheers, i.e. had their real name as their characters first name?
It was easier, plain and simple. We only gave them a line or two and never had to worry who played who. Unless the actor’s real name was Sam or Norm or Cliff, in which case he was assigned a different name.
Thanks for the great questions. What's yours? Leave it in the comments section.