Friday, February 3, 2012

Writers and Producers Together?

FADE IN on sheep dogs trying to corral a herd of cats.

Called the “Writers and Producers Together” an event was held in a 400-seat theatre in the posh SFU\Woodward's building in downtown Vancouver Wednesday night December 7th,  2011.  

To anyone outside the screenwriting community this event lacked the expected spark for such a glamorous business. But it was historic. Rarely do two such disparate types ever meet. I was there out of curiosity, like a lot of other writers. Throughout the evening I kept wondering “why?”

The producers ranged from small quaint indies on the Gulf Islands to fully staffed production offices who have major American network and distribution deals.  One producer brazenly established how high the bar was  by saying that they were only looking for writers with top credits in A-list films or television shows. It was enough to eliminate most writers in the room. Other producers talked about their slate and then told the crowd they were looking for writers but only if their work was “fresh, original and unique”, a bromide that was oft repeated throughout the night.

The subtext of the event is that any one of the writers would give up their first born to take any job to get their script made or get a screen credit. That’s why they were there and the producers knew it.

It was a rare evening for producers as well. By stepping out on the stage the producers finally gave writers a face to their names. The producers stood in the key light at the podium and looked out at a mass of hopeful expectations. It was like speed pitching, only it was a crowd.

That this was a first time event illustrated what a strange business filmmaking is in Vancouver. Neither writers nor producers get together much.  At core it is an unbalanced and often dysfunctional relationship. Writers need producers. Producers hire gatekeepers to keep writers in harness.  On rare occasions producers will court writers, especially if the writers have credits, have their script with "top talent" or who own "source material".  It is a one-sided relationship of unrequited romance. Producers always have the last word,  “I’m just not that into your story.”

Also it was evident that most of the producers were not prepared for so many writers to show up. More than one producer told the audience that they expected 30 or 40 writers. This alone should put to rest the idea that the two worlds are somehow in synch.

In fact, nearly every seat in the theatre was filled with a writer. It was the first gathering to my knowledge where writers as a group were actually invited to meet producers without having to pay an amount equal to a month's rent for the privilege.  This speaks volumes.

In sharp contrast to producers, writers toil in ignominy on quiet back streets for years until they have a draft. Producers, even with direct-to-video credits or cable reality shows, are sometimes seen in the limelight promoting their latest film at festivals and having their photos taken on red carpets beaming with bright winning smiles and wearing the latest fashions.  It’s not difficult to understand why writers are drawn to producers like moths to a flame. 

At the Writers and Producers event, the producers gave their talk and invited writers to put a one-sheet into a small inbox. This single sheet of paper could list their story ideas or their completed scripts with loglines, along with any credits. This would be about as close as writers would get to a producer during the evening.

Without much of an opportunity to pitch a producer face to face those fragile pieces of paper held more than loglines and pitches. They held the unrealistic hope that keeps writers writing stories they hope will one day make the big screen, but so rarely do.

Since the event in December, some production companies have been sorting through the one-pagers. For most writers they can expect to receive the inevitable email.

Thanks for your submission, but your project does not appear to be suitable for our needs at this time.  Best of luck and continued success with your writing.

This will lead writers to ask the inevitable question: “What exactly are your needs?”

Again, the refrain, “Something fresh, original and unique.”

Even for producers who are in control of the process, theirs is a fickle world. Neither party has guidelines or a paint-by-numbers plan how to succeed in such a subjective business. But somehow they were there, together. For the first time.

To be continued….

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