Once considered the tail-ender showbiz trade mag in terms of both reporting and readership, THR’s sophisticated and knowledgeable web presence has made it the leader these days, so we’re always glad to see them helping writers this way:
by Stephen Galloway
A few weeks after Manny Fonseca arrived in Los Angeles in the early part of this decade, having left his native Michigan with the hope of becoming a Hollywood writer or executive, the then 30-year-old was at a party when a producer asked if he’d “like to make a hundred bucks.” Sure, he replied. What would he have to do?
The answer was to show up the next day at a “pitch fest,” one of dozens of such gatherings each year in which hopefuls pay hundreds of dollars to serve up their story ideas to agents and executives who, in theory, will buy them if they’re good. Fonseca would be there as one of the buyers, which struck him as strange — not only was he not an executive, he didn’t even have a proper job: he had been interning with producers Arnold Kopelson and Irwin Winkler.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” says Fonseca (now a screenwriter whose work has yet to be produced), who was soon invited to other such watering holes on behalf of Kopelson Entertainment. “There were writers that I knew by name because they would literally go to every single pitch fest. There were a couple of people that drove around in their RV. It was like following the Grateful Dead for two or three years straight.”
Pitch fests are part of a multimillion-dollar industry that thrives in a dark corner of the mainstream entertainment business, catering to thousands (and possibly hundreds of thousands) of would-be screenwriters, most of them clueless about how to get their projects made. There are writing festivals, competitions, workshops, websites, extension classes, seminars, script analysts, coaches and a Writers Store in Burbank (which offers software, books and a “do-it-yourself MFA”), not to mention rapacious producers and hungry managers, all making money from putative scribes often oblivious to Hollywood reality.
“What I learned — and I know it because I was the one being sent to these things — is you’re sitting there with no power,” says one literary agent. “As an assistant at an agency, you’re not allowed to sign people, and most of the time you’re talking to amateur writers who shouldn’t be repped….”
The good news here is that they did the survey and published the results.
The bad news is those results:
by Rachel Monpeller
A month after WGA East released the findings of a sexual harassment survey given to its members, its sister union, WGA West, has published the results of its own survey. Unfortunately, the West Coast’s women writers are navigating just as toxic a workplace as their East Coast counterparts. As Deadline reports, the WGA West survey concluded that 64 percent of female writers have been subjected to sexual harassment on the job, and “a significant amount of the harassment writers experience occurs in the writers’ room.”
The WGA West survey was conducted in February, but the results are only being made public now. More than 2,000 people, or about one-fifth of the union’s active membership, responded.
The survey found that 11 percent of male writers have encountered workplace sexual harassment and “many more writers have witnessed harassment” while at work.
Many of the survey’s participants cited the 2006 “Friends” sexual harassment verdict in their responses. The case saw a female writer on the series claim crude writers’ room jokes counted as sexual harassment. The California Supreme Court disagreed in a unanimous decision: State law “does not outlaw sexually coarse and vulgar language or conduct that merely offends.”
According to WGA West, the “Friends” case “is mistakenly used to justify inappropriate behavior in the workplace” in today’s writers’ rooms. The decision “acknowledges that the creative environment of a writers’ room may come with crude talk,” the guild clarified. “However, the decision does not permit such talk to be aimed at an individual in the room. Indeed, it acknowledges that objectionable talk may, in some circumstances, be enough to create a hostile work environment….”
Yes, it’s true. The writers (us) and our agents – specifically the TV series packaging agencies (them) are drawing a couple of lines in the sand. And – and this is an even bigger “yes” – at the moment those lines are way far apart.
by David Robb
The Association of Talent Agents has reached out to the WGA with an offer to sit down for informal talks in advance of negotiations for a new franchise agreement that governs how agencies represent writers. It’s the first conciliatory move by either side since April, when the WGA East and West gave the ATA a 12-month notice to terminate their existing agreement, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement.
In a letter to the heads of both unions, ATA executive director Karen Stuart said: “The ATA and its member agencies have been your partner in championing writers and their careers for more than 60 years. We are proud of the relationship we have enjoyed with the WGA and proud of our agencies’ record of success in representing their clients — your members. Every day, our agencies are on the front lines fighting for writers’ needs: opportunity, creative freedom and, of course, fair compensation.”
In its proposals for a new agreement, the WGA seeks to completely reshape the talent agency business, putting an end to packaging – which the guilds see as rife with conflicts of interest – ending commissions on scale and stopping the agencies’ nascent ventures into film and television production.
“Media consolidation and other seismic changes in the development, production and distribution ecosystem have significantly altered the landscape writers – both new and established – face every day,” Stuart said in her letter. “As the writer’s role is central and indispensable, we know that it is of utmost importance to the WGA that writers continue to be able to create freely, access the most advantageous opportunities and maximize their compensation; the agencies that represent writers, day in and day out, fully share those beliefs….