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Monday, May 30, 2005

John August writes, "Building relationships with people who love your writing is much more important than a six-figure sale."

I have to disagree. I spent years in LA going to meetings with very nice development execs after each of my specs went out. And they were good, fine, fun meetings, at the right companies (Blue Tulip, Trilogy, Sandollar, Great Oaks, Dreamworks, Spring Creek, Bubble Factory, Douglas Reuther, Capella, 1492, Propaganda, Mandalay, etc.), and I often left feeling that they liked me, and I can't tell you how many times I heard that they loved my writing.

But I never sold a spec. Not complaining about that -- some of them got close, and some of them had bad hooks, and some had bad timing, and so on. But because I hadn't sold a spec, I was not on the List. My agents repeatedly told me I needed a spec sale to get anywhere in the feature writing business, and so did other writers.

So ... a six figure sale, unfortunately, is the winning lottery ticket, not because of the six figures, because a few hundred grand doesn't go very far in LA, but because it validates you. I met some very nice not particularly talented writers who stayed employed because of their one big spec sale.

And that, boys and girls, is one big reason I'm writing TV now...

UPDATE: Now the funny thing is, after reading John August's response to my comment, I realized that I implied I never got hired to write anything while I was in LA. And when I wrote the comment, that's what I had in mind. Actually, if you add them all up, I probably did about a dozen commissioned scripts and rewrites. Just, none of them were WGA jobs. All were for "independent" producers (by which of course we mean that they were "independent" of having any money.) So somehow, they didn't count.


On the other hand, for the legit development people, none of those gigs did count, in the sense that having a credit on a Gary Busey movie did not put me in the real running to rewrite the next studio zombie horror video game adaptation, even if my spec did get me the meeting on it.


I'm on the "pulp" end of the biz, Alex and I have to disagree with your assessment.
Specs aren't currency in the D2DVD business unless it's as a sample. With a few exceptions, D2DVD companies don't buy specs - they want to have ownership. They look at specs as calling cards, so that they can hire you to write "their" movie (the one their marketing and sales departments say will sell). They want somebody's who's good and can deliver on time, and has production knowledge so they know to write for the budget. It's all about eliminating headaches for them by delivering a good story to go with a good sellable concept.

My spec, THE KNIGHTMARE, and my relationships with my current employers are what got me my current gig, writing a horror feature for them. They liked my writing and hired me to make their concept a "cool and scary" script they can produce.

D2DVD companies do look at whether you've sold before, but what's more important is whether or not they know you, and whether or not you can write and make their concept work.

Nobody hires a stranger...

By Blogger Cunningham, at 1:40 PM  

No offense at all, Bill, but I have zero desire to write direct to DVD features. You're arguing apples and oranges.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:29 PM  

He's not arguing apples and oranges. He's getting payed to write and build his skills, and if he wants, he can use this experience and flip it into a film career.

Which is better than working at starbucks and trying to flip THAT into a film career.

Paul Haggis used to write the worst years of FACTS OF LIFE.

Congratulations to everybody who is getting work, and good luck in taking it to the next level.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:27 PM  

Thanks for the leap to my defense Jutratest!

Anon - maybe it is apples and oranges, but you have to admit that they're all in the same fruit basket:

DVD Premieres (DVDP's) are the darling of the rental market and usually bring in 3x the cost for a rentailer.

Studios make 60-70% of their total revenue off of DVD. I do not know the portion that comes from DVDP's, but it has to be considerable for them to keep making them.

The Sandlot 2 is a DVDP and has sold 600,000 units and is renting comparable to a "$50M theatrical grosser" according to an article in Video Business (

Fox has Doctor Dolittle 3 in development as a DVDP.

Gary Scott Thompson (Las Vegas) has written two K-9 DVDP movies and Timecop 2 as well as Fast and the Furious. He wrote one of those K-9 sequels AFTER Fast/Furious. The crossover came about because Universal knew his work.

Mike Werb and his writing partner wrote the DVDP's (actually Video Premiere) Darkman 2,3 then went on to Face Off.

Ron Mita & Jim McClain wrote SWAT and then wrote the DVDP Sniper 2. In comparing revenue earned balanced by actual writing time, Mita & McClain said they earned about the same amount per hour.

If you're up for writing a cable TV movie - you're in the same ballpark as a studio DVDP. Both are covered under the MBA.

I've gone from writing movies made for $100 - 150K to writing movies that will be made for a couple million.

If you don't want to write DVDP, that's completely fine. I'm saying that they are not necessarily the dumping ground you imply they are. There IS crossover between features, DVDP, and TV, and they are dependant on relationships and a good spec, not a spec sale.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 10:41 PM  

I accidentally posted as anonymous earlier. Bill, I meant you're arguing apples and oranges about the degree of difficulty selling spec material to D2DVD companies compared to major Hollywood studios. I didn't mean to offend anyone's career, but there is no way you can argue with a straight face the type of material that sells to these companies is on par with studio material. That's not saying a crossover isn't possible, or that one can lead to the other. But Alex is absolutely right, having your name on the latest Steven Segal D2DVD is not going to raise eyebrows with Mr or Mrs VP of Production at Universal.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:07 AM  

I'm not sure I agree completely with what Gary's implying. I don't think it's easier to write D2DVD. Look at Bill's excellent post on what makes a good D2DVD. MUCH harder than nailing the $3-5 million indie art picture film, which you have pretty much unlimited scenery and actors so long as it's all people talking in room and in wide open spaces. That's one reason I'm not tempted to write D2DVD. Too damn hard.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:26 AM  

Gary, we're not talking about the difficulties of a spec sale. We're talking about whether or not a spec sale is more important than a sample and a relationship.
I was comparing my end of the biz and experience to Alex's end, and theatrical features. These days, it's hard as hell to sell a spec ANYWHERE. PERIOD.

If you have written a spec and know people in the home entertainment division of the studio then you have an "in" there in the D2DVD market. That relationship can lead to further studio assignments, and ISN'T based on a spec sale. Studios have different divisions but they are all interested in making money. If you make money for one division, they will look at you for other divisions. The crossover IS there. The fact I was able to name three instances where the crossover did occur indicates it's not a fluke. We're not arguing that.

You seem to equate D2DVD films with Seagal which is VERY inaccurate. Seagal films are independently financed films that are sold to the US market for cable and DVD. They are acquisitions. In some territories overseas they play theatrically.

But the fact is that there are all sorts of films that premiere on DVD and cable - not just action films. To limit yourself by saying, "I'm not going to write a D2DVD film", means you are limiting your network of contacts (and thus your potential income) considerably. Actually, the most lucrative films in the DVD market are children's or family films. Especially animated projects.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 8:40 AM  

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