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The single thing that mostly sets apart screenwriter John Jarrell’s book Tough Love Screenwriting is the more than 70 pages he spends on WGA Credit Arbitration. (With a nod to producer Joel Silver for giving him his own “Cliff Notes on Arbitration.”)

He points out that while not common, it’s not unheard of to have 50 drafts of a screenplay worked on before it goes into production and as many as 15 writers having worked on the script to one degree or another. Who are the 1-3 writers who will get credit? If contested that’s where arbitration comes into play.

(Note: Read ‘Jurassic World’ Writing Credits Dispute Goes to Another Appeal to read about an up-to-date battle.)

You can download a PDF of the WGA Screen Credits Manuel to give you an understanding of the process.

I won’t even try to compress Jarrell’s thoughts here, but he mentions in his book that he’s had three wins and zero losses over his 20 year career—and here’s why it’s so important:

“Each writer’s contract contains a credit bonus figure — the amount of additional money you’re owed above and beyond your writing fee if the project ultimately gets produced. Here’s where the plot thickens — studios and production companies only pay credit bonuses to the writers who wind up with their names officially on the film. In a nutshell, no screen credit, no bonus. Simple as that.

“These bonuses can involve mad cashish, ranging anywhere from say $5,000 to well over $1,000,000. Intense right? Keep in mind, this is ‘passive income’ — payments you get without ever having to lift a finger or write another word. The studios just fire off a fat check with your name on it.”
John Jarrell
Tough Love Screenwriting: The Real Deal from a Twenty-Year Pro

Jarrell calls those fat checks with your name on it,”Little green envelopes of love.”

P.S. If you’re in L.A. and would like to take a screenwriting class with Jarrell, check out his website howtoscreenplay.com.

Related Links:
Screen Credit Procedures PDF
Behind the Lines with DR: Writers Guild Arbitration Fight or Flight, Script Mag
Barry Levinson Quits WGA Over Sloppy Credit Arbitration, Deadline
The Bitter Script Reader: An introduction to the WGA arbitration for determining credit

Update 4/18/15: Just read the transcript from the most recent Scriptnotes podcast where screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin unpack How writing credits work.  Good stuff.

Scott W. Smith

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“I know this may sound silly but if you write something great it just gets seen. I can’t explain it but it does. If that’s not enough for you, then put yourself out there to anyone who will read it. Target your brand, who you are as a writer, and follow other writers and directors and producers’ work that’s similar to yours. Find ways to reach out to them: in this digital age people are far more accessible than, say, when I had to sneak into premieres to merely be around anyone I could. But, most importantly—I can’t stress this enough—figure out your brand, what you have to say and why, why someone would hire you over other writers, what it is you do that’s unique. In business you have a USP [unique selling point]. Well, this isn’t show fun, it’s show business, and our USP as artists is our voice, our own, unique voice.”
Screenwriter Cliff Dorfman (Warrior)
Filmmaker Magazine interview by Chris Knittel

Related post:
Screenwriter/Salesman Pete Jones
Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1) “I suggest writers write the ‘right’ script.”
Stories That Will Always Sell (Tip #89)

Scott W. Smith

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All Glory is (Still) Fleeting

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”
Gen. George C. Patton

In digging around for quotes on Gone Girl novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, I found this quote from Ben Affleck (who stars in Gone Girl):

“When I was doing The Town, I’d tour the actors around Boston. I was with Blake [Lively], and I saw Matt’s childhood home. And I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s where Matt grew up.’ And she said, ‘Who?’ And I said, ‘Matt Damon.’ And she said, ‘Oh my God! You know Jason Bourne?!’ She really didn’t know. And I thought, ‘There it is. The first age of people who are adults who missed the whole Matt-and-Ben propaganda campaign!’ Mostly, it just made me feel old.”
Producer/director/actor/writer Ben Affleck
Details 2012 interview with Mark Seliger

Yeah, Affleck knows Jason Bourne/Matt Damon. They made a little film few years ago called Good Will Hunting which they not only starred in, but won the Oscar for writing.  Granted that was way back in the 90s, but it was kind of a big deal.

Just remember that the next time you’re practicing your Oscar-acceptance speech in the shower. And remember the quote from Off-Srceen Quote #28:

“In Hollywood people are nice to you just in the first week after the [Academy Award] ceremony. Then they are like, ‘Oh, you just won an Oscar, right?’ Three weeks after the big party people are already thinking about the next year’s Oscars. Life goes on. Winning an Oscar is an honor, but, between you and me, it does not makes things easier.”
Oscar-winner Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)
1998 Interview in Veja magazine with Ruben Edwald Filho via Forbes

And Williams and Affleck had the advantage of being actors so you’d think the glory would be less fleeting, but that doesn’t appear to be so. I saw an interview with screenwriter Sheldon Turner recently where he said it’s silly for screenwriters to think they are going to be stars like the  glory positions of QB or linebacker on a pro football team, but that screenwriters are more like the right guard on the front line toiling away in anonymity.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Back in 2010, J.C. Frenan of Slant Magazine asked Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan this question, ‘You’ve worked in both television and feature films. Do you have a preference for either one?’

Vince Gilligan: I would have to say television, because once you are on a writing staff, or once you create a television show, for as long as that show exists you know that you’re writing, you know that your work will get produced. The same can’t be said for writing for features, unfortunately. Write a movie script, you can put your heart and soul into it for months, for years, and peddle it around Hollywood and ultimately it may well go nowhere. I’ve experienced more heartbreak in the movie business than in the TV business.

In the next day or two we’ll take a road trip of sorts and see how Gilligan went from Richmond, Virginia to New York City to Los Angeles to Albuquerque, New Mexico on his way to becoming a two-time Emmy winner.

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #190 (Vince Gilligan)
Writing ‘Water Cooler Moments’
Aaron Sorkin on Failure   “Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”—Vince Gilligan

Scott W. Smith

 

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“This is a business that’s based on rejection and the anticipation of rejection. It’s tough. You have to be like one of those mechanical toys that, when you knock it down, it pops back up again.”
95-year old Oscar-nominated screenwriter Walter Bernstein (The Front)
Variety article by Scott Foundas (@foundasonfilm)
H/T Christopher Lockhart, The Inside Pitch Facebook group

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #141 (Melissa Rosenburg) “Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”—Rosenburg
Jailbait, Rejection& Screenwriter Mark Boal “You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success. And once you achieve that you have to be willing to put up with a bunch of rejection before you can get anywhere.”—Two-time Oscar-winner Mark Boal
Perseverance (Werner Herzog) “Perseverance has kept me going over the years. Things rarely happen overnight. Filmmakers should be prepared for many years of hard work.”—Herzog

Scott W. Smith

 

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Filmmaking Baby Steps

“All my career–from television to today–I’ve always felt on the brink of getting something right. Anything. Thirty odd films later I look back and it’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other. And all that’s kept me going is the feeling that as long as I was improving….”
Mystery director

Before I tell you who said that let’s all read that together outloud:
“All my career–from television to today–I’ve always felt on the brink of getting something right. Anything. Thirty odd films later I look back and it’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other. And all that’s kept me going is the feeling that as long as I was improving….” 
Sidney Lumet
As quoted in a blog post by Doug Richardson
(
Richardson was one of the screenwriters on Bad Boys and early in his career sold his script Hell Bent…And Back in a $1-million deal with Disney. Read about it the New York Magazine article, Million-Dollar Babies.)

 

As in five time Oscar-nominated writer/director  Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, Prince of the City, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men). Baby steps.

It’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other.”

 

Related posts:

Sideny Lumet (1924-2011)
Sideny Lumet on Theme
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

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A nice segue from my recent Rod Serling posts (and even my golf/movie related posts from a couple of weeks ago) is the following quote by Oscar-winner screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and Sorkin went to Syracuse University.

“I have a lot of experience with failure, and I hate it. It’s going to happen again, but it’s like electroshock therapy. So combined with the pressure that you put on yourself, that’s pretty much the jet fuel for writing. You know when you’re not [writing well], when you’re slogging through it and it’s all coming like molasses, you know something’s wrong. But when you’re writing well, there’s nothing like it. It’s like the golfer who hacks his way around a golf course all day long, but then for some reason, you don’t know why, just hits a beautiful shot. That’s the reason they keep coming back to the golf course.”
Aaron Sorkin (West Wing creator)
Emmys Roundtable—The Hollywood Reporter 

Bonus failure quote from the same article:

“When I’m being really honest with myself, the only thing I ever learn from is failure. Because Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”
Vince Gilligan

Related posts:

J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Spectacular Failures
Rod Serling on Rejection
Winning. Losing and Little Miss Sunshine “From my perspective, the difference between success and failure was razor-thin…”—Oscar-winning Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (Part 3) “Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat.”—Welles

Scott W. Smith

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