In case you’re actually trying to keep track of the various screenwriter factions, there’s John Wells’s Writers Co-Op, Christopher McQuarrie’s 1.3.9 and, now, Fox’s Writing Partners. If you want me to handicap which faction has the best opportunity to make the most coin movies, the smart money has to be on Writing Partners, which is housed at a studio desperate for new franchises and movies that don’t begin sucking in the development stage.
Writing Partners roster includes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, Michael Arndt (thought he’d been gobbled up by Pixar), John August, Stuart Beattie, Michael Brandt & Derek Haas, Tim Herlihy (does this come with a matching Adam Sandler?), Simon Kinberg, Craig Mazin and The Wibberleys (the writers who dared to ask "What is it about treasure that makes history so fascinating?"). That’s a solid lineup – not as good as the Writers Co-Op, but much better than the minor league 1.3.9. They’ve also got what sounds like a solid deal: the studio pays them an upfront $300,000 minimum for their specs, but will meet their typical quote and give them a reported 2.5% gross participation if the film gets made.
Gross participation is the El Dorado writers have been questing for years, but it could come at a price. According to Fleming’s piece, the above-mentioned screenwriters cannot be replaced without their permission, but that 2.5% could make them more amenable to getting rewritten is it means the film has a better chance of getting made (if I’m understanding the story correctly, the new writer will not be eligible for gross participation). As for the quality of the film, the extra millions will absolutely push the writers in a more commercial direction.
Not that this is a big deal for most of these writers; folks like Elliott & Rossio, The Wibberleys and Kinberg have been profitably hacking it out in the studio trenches for a long time. Writing for a mass audience is essentially all they know anymore. But I still have high hopes for a guy like John August, who sounds a fairly hopeful note in Fleming’s piece:
"There is no organizational structure here, no production company or profit-sharing, just nine writers who’ve made the same deal at the same studio. If there is a frustration with how development works right now, it would be how hard it is for A-list writers to write original material. Development budgets are limited, and studios want to spend money on movies they think they’re going to make, which tend to be adaptations and sequels. They hire writers like us for those jobs, rather than to write original scripts. Aside from bigger backend, there is a potential here to encourage better movies."
August has definitely had his share of development disappointments (I especially liked his take on Tarzan), so if an expanded development budget is what he needs to realize a dream project or two, then great! But excess spending has a way of stifling the imagination, too; it engenders a fat-and-happy mindset, which can be deadly for creative types. It’s this very mindset that’s allowed Fox to treat the nation’s megaplexes like a trash receptacle over the last few years. It’ll be interesting to see if Writing Partners can reinvigorate Fox’s development process. Temper your expectations.