November 13


CAN I PITCH OR WRITE DURING THE STRIKE? (Classic Post)

The Thinking Writer received these two questions…

Simon from Chicago asks:

can wga writers write for independent features while the strike is on (as long as indie co is not signatory)?

David from Carlsbad asks:

I recently attended the Screenwriting Expo in L.A. and pitched several of my scripts successfully with positive feedback and requests to have my contact information – WGA Strike – Silence!

I, of course, support the strike and the WGA and would like to think that my barren e-mail is due to the freeze. How useless was pitching right before the strike and can I now assume that my face and loglines will be forever forgotten?

To answer your questions, I have consulted with a senior agent at a major agency (who prefers to remain anonymous) and the WGA Strike Rules. Before I answer, the usual disclaimer.

Nothing contained on this blog should be considered legal advice. These are just thoughts on a blog.

As for Simon’s question, whether a WGA member can write on a non-WGA production during the strike, the WGA Strike Rules preamble states:

The basic principle behind these Rules is very simple: you (and your agent or other representative on your behalf) may not pitch to or negotiate with a struck company, and you may not provide writing services, sell or option literary material to a struck company.

The important phrase is “struck company.” Presumably, small independent companies that are not WGA signatories are not “struck companies” and, therefore, the WGA Strike Rules do not prohibit you from providing services to these companies. Two caveats: (i) make sure the company is not a “struck company”, and (ii) the WGA may have other rules that limit what services a member can provide to non-signatories regardless of any strike. You do not want to violate those rules. You should check with the guild to find out. For WGA West, you can contact:

Erika Zucker
Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.
7000 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Telephone: (323) 782-4521

UPDATE: The WGAw has a list of “struck companies” here.
As for the second question, whether a non-WGA writer can pitch material to a WGA signatory during the strike and whether the company will follow up on previous pitches, WGA Strike Rule 13 provides as follows:
Rules Pertaining To Non Members

The Guild does not have the authority to discipline non members for strike breaking and/or scab writing. However, the Guild can and will bar that writer from future Guild membership.

This policy has been strictly enforced in the past and has resulted in convincing many would be strike breakers to refrain from seriously harming the Guild and its members during a strike. Therefore, it is important for you to report to the Guild the name of any non member whom you believe has performed any writing services for a struck company and as much information as possible about the non member’s services.
According to the agent I consulted, struck companies are not likely to follow up on pitches during the strike.  More importantly, you do not want to jeopardize your own future by pursuing writing assignments during the strike.  The best you can do is to drop your company contact a note indicating that you hope to follow up on your pitch when the strike is over.
I hope these answers are helpful.

June 24


SPECS, GRANTS & TRUST FUND BABIES (Classic Post)

Tavis from Portland has a lot to say about a number of challenges to breaking in. He says:

Everyone knows of the main catch-22 concerning screenwriting and agents. You can’t get one until you sell a spec, but to sell a spec you need an agent.

Not true, Tavis. You need a good screenplay and a referral to get an agent. You do not need a spec sale. Many screenwriters have entire careers without ever having a spec sale.

There is an initial quandary though, and that is finding the time to write a really great spec script while working a full-time job. I often find myself frustrated, thinking that if I could only spend 40-hours a week focused on writing I could really put something of quality together. But as it is I only have several free hours each day and they are after a mind-numbing full day at work.

This is a real challenge. Ron Bass, who is arguably the most prolific working screenwriter in Hollywood (and at one point was the highest paid writer), used to get up at 3:00AM to do his writing before he started his day job as an attorney. It took him 17 years to get his break. It’s hard, but it’s part of making it. You might consider doing your writing before your day job, too, so the writing is sharp.

So, basically this question is about funding and grants. Is it possible if you have a story which requires a good amount of research and is rooted in some sort of historical/factual/scientific background that a grant would be available to assist a writer in developing a project?

There are many grants and fellowships designed specifically to help emerging writers who show some promise focus on their writing. Alex Epstein at Complications Ensue recently ran this list.

I never hear anyone talking about these issues and just wonder are all the writers out there independently wealthy and can just spend their time writing whenever they want, or do they have spouses supporting them or what?

Of the working screenwriters I personally know, most of them were bartenders or production assistants (another low paying Hollywood job) before getting their breaks. None of them were wealthy.