Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th Questions

Hopefully they’ll bring you good luck.

Tom in Vegas starts us off:

For those of us not in the business, what exactly is a "Spec Script?”

Tom, it’s a script that is written on speculation. In other words, no one is paying you to write it. It generally is a sample script of an existing show.

At one time producers only wanted specs of existing shows. Then the trend turned towards spec pilots. Now I’m getting the sense it’s slowly coming back the other way.

If I’m a showrunner I want to see that the writer can write in the style and voice of an existing show. He or she may have a fresh voice in pilots but I’m not looking for a fresh voice. I’m looking for someone who can adapt to my show.

Along those same line, Mike Bloodworth has a question.

I've been told that when one is trying to get on a staff he or she should not submit a script for that show, but samples of other shows they've written to demonstrate their skill, I guess this is to avoid the old, "Hey! You stole my idea!" accusation. Is this true? Or was I given bad information.

That’s one concern although if it’s submitted by an agent there’s an understanding that the writer won’t sue. I’ve talked about this before. Spec scripts will come in that are coincidentally similar to stories already in development.

Even on a general level. Their script may be Klinger falls in love with a hooker and a script already out to a writer could be the story Klinger falls in love with the general’s daughter.

Typically writers have a tough time winning these types of lawsuits. And they do it at their own risk because no one will hire them afterwards. So you damn well better win. (And some have and have ridden happily off into the sunset.)

The real concern for writers is that the showrunner and staff of that show know it so well that any tiny infraction you make will be flagged. The thought is you’re leading with your chin.

However, I don’t subscribe to this. I would MUCH rather a writer do a spec of my show. I don’t expect him to know all the ins and outs. But can he write my characters? Are his jokes funny and in the style of the show? Even if the story has flaws, is it the type of stories we tell in an approximation of the way we tell it?

I’ve been burned in the past by good spec scripts for one show and a lousy draft for mine.

From JAS:

Friday Question: I saw an article today about Adele Lim quitting the Crazy Rich Asians sequel because she was being paid 1/10 what her (white) co-screenwriter was being paid. Warner Bros. put out a statement that compensation is based on experience, etc. However, Lim seems to have a ton more experience than her co-screenwriter. The difference is that she's written a lot of TV, while her co-screenwriter's (very few) credits are on features.

As someone who has written for both TV and features, can you give an insider's take on this situation? Is it pure racism/sexism? Or is there really that much of a disparity between how Hollywood values experienced television writers versus more inexperienced feature writers? Do you think you would have made more on the movies you've written if you didn't a television resume?

I would be so far out of line to speculate whether there’s racism or sexism. But it is true that the more experience you have the more money you can generally command.

When negotiating with agents, the first thing the business affairs person will ask is what were her “quotes?” In other words, what was she paid on the last assignment? The goal is to work your way up the ladder to a high quote because it’s easier for the agent to get that price again or better it.

But at the end of the day it’s up to the studio to determine how much this writer is worth it to them. Can they lowball a writer knowing it might insult him and he could break off negotiations? If they don’t give a shit that he walks then yes. But if they need the deal to be done they won’t start with a bullshit number. The writer’s quote is the bottom line. And here again the studio has a decision. Do they want this writer enough that they’re willing to match or beat the quote?

So was racism or sexism in the equation? I have absolutely no idea. But I know this: IF a studio has a chance to screw you, pay you less money than your co-writer assuming he’ll never find out, they’ll do it every single time. Regardless of race, sex, age, experience, blood type. 

And finally, from Liggie:

A baseball question. I've heard MLB would like to expand from 30 to 32 teams, to consist of two leagues with four divisions of four teams each a la the NFL. Which cities would you like to put these hypothetical two teams, and in which league? (Assuming they can get a stadium built, of course.)

Montreal and Charlotte, North Carolina.

What’s your Friday Question?


Dhruv said...

I did ask a similar question on Tuesday. Thanks for the reply.

Bob Paris said...

How could Adele Lim have "quit" the Crazy Rich Asians sequel when she was negotiating and never hired. Terrible choice of words and unduly pejorative.

Vrej said...

Thanks for your support of baseball's return to Montreal. It's closer than ever now, we just gotta round third and come on home!

Pat Reeder said...

I have an old recording of Mel Blanc speaking to an advising industry group about his commercial work. He said, "'Spec' is when you create something for the client for free in hopes that you will eventually get paid for it. It is also a small piece of dirt."

E. Yarber said...

I guess you had more room for similarity when getting spec scripts for a series, given that even the established writing staff was capable of repeating episode premises over the course of several seasons. My experience has been in feature films, where I had signed non-disclosure forms, the writer had signed a release, and the studio had generally sealed off any possibility of later legal problems as tightly as that facility in THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. And of course a lot of material we got was in book galleys, so that stuff had its own independent life.

Sometimes people asked me if I was ever tempted to steal any ideas in the scripts I vetted. Honestly, taking from the majority of the stuff submitted would have been more like dumpster diving than stealing. The biggest problem was that most aspiring writers tended to clearly swipe their material from established movies in the first place, so pulling concepts from them would be like Xeroxing a Xerox.

You also have to remember that the studios would be highly unlikely to mount an original by an unknown when they could put the same writer on a property that they already owned. Once in a while they might go with an interesting outside scenario, but the chances of that would be between one in a thousand or half million. New ideas were more likely to come up from self-financed projects that got visibility at festivals. You'd basically be lucky beyond all imagining if your heartfelt screenplay TEARS IN THE BALLROOM led to an offer to write ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET PENNYWISE.

Mike Bloodworth said...

As always, thanks for answering my question.

To show you how little I know about baseball I didn't even realize that the EXPOS were no longer a team.
If Montreal gets another team (including the Devil Rays) they should be forced to exempt their stadium from Quebec's French signage laws. That'll show 'em!

P.S. How about this for a story idea, Klinger falls in love with a hooker who is also the general's daughter. And she's a spy for the North Koreans. Now that's comedy.

stephen catron said...

Charlotte, NC seems reasonable, but Montreal? I would think Buffalo, who has a well supported minor league club would be a better fit.

Malcolm Meriweather said...

Mel Blanc's comment(s) show that he was funnier, by miles, than the ad agencies that come up with the Geico, Liberty Mutual and Progressive car insurance commercials. How anyone could laugh at those ads is beyond me. They are just stupid, plain and simple.

Cap'n Bob said...

Montreal had a team and lost it. Charlotte isn't a bad choice. My thought is that any new team should be in a place where the weather isn't a big factor.

The joke around here is that Portland, Oregon, can't have a pro baseball team because then Seattle will want one.

thirteen said...

There's a famous story in Star Trek fandom about the guy who approached writer David Gerrold at a convention in the early '70s and suggested a story about a creature that ate tribbles, the furry little critters Gerrold invented for the Shatner-led series. The following weekend, the Saturday-morning animated Trek series featured Gerrold's episode about a creature that ate tribbles. The fan quickly contacted Gerrold and demanded his "half." This is the kind of nonsense writers on fannish projects deal with routinely.

Edward said...

At what point does a writer or actor take a significantly increased offer to (1) keep working and (2) increase their "quote" for future work even though the fee offered is be less than what the person believes they deserve? What is the upside of zero? Is Lim's negotiating position for future film assignments assisted by calling the producers sexist/racists on the Internet? How did that work out for the Hawaii 5-0 cast that left a few years ago?

By Ken Levine said...


Buffalo won't happen because Toronto won't let it.

Jeff Boice said...

One of my baseball fantasies would be for Portland to get a MLB team, then realign the leagues to recreate the old Pacific Coast League of the 40's and early 50'- with Arizona standing in for Sacramento.

Rays profile said...

Montreal is a larger market and supported the Expos until the 90s player strike kept a good team from being in the playoffs.Buffalo is too close to Toronto.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I thought the Expos left Montreal because there was not enough fan support. At the time, I developed a theory about the incompatibility of baseball and French culture (many great Dominican players but none from Haiti, for instance; no major league club in New Orleans). Maybe specious, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Friday question: The September 16 New Yorker has a hair-raising article by Michael Schulman about fandom in the time of the internet. Online anonymity has led to all kinds of abuses. Did you ever have a bad interaction with a fan? I mean, I felt bad for days after Henry Blake's plane went down, but I can't imagine making death threats against the writers or show runner. Today they might have to enter witness protection.

Mike Doran said...

Ken and all:

Thank you once again for making me feel good about giving up following Major League Baseball back at the turn of this century.

The proposed set-up of 32 teams, subdivided into two leagues of four 4-team blocs each, defines the term "lost in the shuffle" better than just about anything.

Just trying to make a schedule out of this will require a page-one rewrite of so many of the rules.
Why would Baseball want to emulate the NBA model: i.e., a one-month season followed by six months of playoffs?

Sometimes - rarely - I start to miss my White Sox, but that's getting less and less as time goes by.

Anonymous said...

Article originally from Fast Company that Firefox thought I should read.
It hits on a lot of the comments you have made in the last couple of years.

Just wondered if you saw it and if you had any further comments.

maxdebryn said...

Friday question: when Alan Alda starting writing/directing/creative consulting on M*A*S*H, was there ever any jealousy/hurt feelings from the rest of the cast, or other writers ?