The (Hollywood) Hope Machine

Powerful stuff from two powerful writers. TVWriter™ doffs our hat to Amanda of The Aspiring TV Writer & Screenwriter Blog and her inspiration screenwriter John Gary:

rube-goldberg-war-machine-2by Amanda

Last night, screenwriter John Gary took to Twitter to warn aspiring writers about “The Hope Machine,” an attitude and industry of people claiming that making a living at feature writing is simple, lucrative and/or commonly achieved. Some highlights:

Story time: 2012. A close friend closed a deal on a script. She and I kept in close touch throughout the highs and lows of negotiations. I knew *exactly* how much she was getting upon close of the deal, and it wasn’t much. 10k for a 12 month option. There was a guaranteed rewrite step for nearly WGA minimum – about $35k – and she stood to make a lot more money if the movie ever got made. But the trades? “Mid six against low seven sale in competitive bidding!” Complete and total bullshit. And yet, even though I knew EXPLICITLY the terms of the deal… when I saw the articles in the trades, my heart leapt. WOW.

And that, my friends… is the Hope Machine.

I have been doing this for a long time. I have many many screenwriter friends. I worked for an agency for more than ten years. I have witnessed the sausage being made, beaks and hooves and intestines and all – and yet – I still eat the Bratwurst. Reporters want stories, interesting ones. Agents and managers want deals they broker to be seen in the best possible light. Everyone knows exactly what’s going on – the reporters, agents and studios know the truth is often not quite as great as what’s written. But here’s who *doesn’t* know the truth, and hears about the big ‘sales’ and whose heart leaps: the amateur, the young pro, the struggler. Of course you want it to be true. I knew EXACTLY what was going on, and yet I STILL GOT EXCITED when I read “competitive bidding!”

That is the Hope Machine.

It is incumbent upon you to educate yourself about the business you are seeking to enter. The reporters and agents have their own agendas. They will not change. Do not expect them to. It’s up to you to change.

So that’s what’s up with larger outlets – trade publications. What about smaller ones? Websites that specialize in spec info? If you have to pay a fee to access a website’s information, that website needs you to renew. They benefit from your desire for news. So everything they report gets amped up, accentuated. Everything is a capital-s “Sale,” even if it’s an option or even just an attachment. Contests need you to enter in order to keep on. If a contest winner signs with a manager or a producer boards a script, they’ll promote that. But you know by now that a producer attachment doesn’t mean money changing hands. It doesn’t mean that writer can write every day. But it feels that way, doesn’t it? It feels like forward progress.

Not everyone who is part of the Hope Machine wants to be part of it. Many bloggers and podcasters and tweeters talk about screenwriting — and from their perspective, it sounds like a real, viable job that is achievable. It is achievable – like the NFL is achievable. More people played in the NFL last year than WGA members were paid money to work in features. NFL players: 1696. Feature writers with WGA contracts: 1537. Were there lots of non-WGA contracts? Sure. How much money were they for? Mostly less than you make a month. Often when someone says “sale” they really mean “deal which starts as an option.”

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One thought on “The (Hollywood) Hope Machine”

  1. It’s not enough to combat the Hope Machine by writing to Fade Out even if no one ever sees it. When you write a novel, you have a novel, and someone can read it, even if it’s only one person. When you write something with Fade Out at the end, it’s meant to be filmed and viewed, and if that doesn’t happen, you’ve failed. It’s ok though, to write those Fade Outs for 5 or 10 or 20 years if you have to, and never get them filmed, as long as your ultimate goal is to get one done and seen, even if it’s only by one person. I understand the myth of hope, I do, but don’t write film & television just to write; it’s not the right medium for that. Write to have it filmed and watched. If you end up and it never is, at least your purpose was correct, and you haven’t failed, ever.

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