Wednesday, May 23, 2007

US writers are doing it for themselves

Variety's announced a new cooperative venture by a dozen noted screenwriters. The company's called 1.3.9 and is designed to give writers more control over the creative process. Usual Suspects scribes Christopher McQuarrie is the public face of 1.3.9, but others involved include The Rookie's John Lee Hancock, Graham Yost [Speed], and Erik Jendresen [Band of Brothers]. The core concept is writers will generate spec scripts for the passion projects of major stars, other members of the company will give notes and 1.3.9 will be on board as a producer when the screenplay if offered to studios.

McQuarrie told Variety the writers would create original scripts at a discount until the film's made. When production starts, the writer get their usual fee, a gross percentage of the profits, creative input and a guarantee they won't be rewritten without their agreement. Besides being cheaper up front, the 1.3.9 deal has the added attraction of having marquee talents already attached to its screenplays. The question is whether writers will turn down lucrative studio jobs to write for next to nothing on projects that have no guarantee of ever getting made.

It's the second writers' cooperative launched in Hollywood this year. TV showrunner John Wells [ER, The West Wing] formed the Writers Co-Op with 19 other scribes, including Scott Frank and David Benioff. That group's focus is reducing the cost of developing material, while 1.3.9 is focused on briging together writers and stars at the start of the process. Directors such as Steven Soderbergh, Sam Mendes and Spike Jonze are also talking about forming a directors' cooperative, echoing the efforts of Coppola, Friedkin and others in the early 1970s.

All of which asks the question: could British writers form their own cooperative? You could argue that London is the equivalent to Los Angeles in terms of its central role to film production in the UK, but many writers live outside the capital. Britain's a much smaller country, you don't have to live in London to make a living. [Indeed, Adrian Mead's running a seminar on June 9th about how to survive as a screenwriter without living in London.] That decentralisation makes it much harder to forge the bonds necessary to make a cooperative work. However, the loose, informal network of UK screenwriting blogs and the recent growth in Power of 3 nodules suggests we might be creeping towards a laid-back, Britain version. What do you think? Could a UK writers' cooperative ever work?

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