by Greg DePaul (@GregDePaul)
I just returned from the Austin Film Festival (the best event for screenwriters in, well, anywhere) where I spoke on panels and chatted up screenwriters both veteran and aspiring. It was a script-tastic whirlwind! If you haven’t done the AFF, it’s totally worthwhile and puts you in great screenwriting company. You should go. I insist. But if you just couldn’t make it because you had to stay home and take care of your ailing schnauzer or something, here’s a few droplets of screenwriting wisdom I picked up during my seventy-two hour journey into the storytelling labyrinth.
1. Screenwriters are some pretty nice folks, all in all.
We work like dogs on our scripts and almost never sell them. We weather constant rejection. We deal with idiotic notes from producers. And yet… we persevere. We also party like rock stars, as anybody who hung out at The Driskill Hotel Bar on Saturday night can tell you. I clicked beer steins with screenwriters from all races, creeds, genders and corners of the country (not to mention the world — Canada! Australia! Djibouti!), all of whom flew to Texas to talk screenwriting. And most of the films screened were set right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. So the American story is getting told and we are telling it – in more diverse ways and voices than ever before.
2. New Media is not replacing Old Media.
Instead, the two are co-existing. I learned this from Geoff Betts, Business Agent for the Writers Guild East. The Guild is fighting to show the money to writers of shows like Orange is the New Black, who make far less per episode – because it plays on Netflix – than do scribes writing less-watched shows on broadcast TV. And I say Go, Guild go! If the public has an insatiable appetite for content, as it apparently does, then producers should pay us what we’re worth so we can keep cooking up this feast that brings so many billions to their table.
But this doesn’t mean the times aren’t a-changin’. The HBO/cable/YouTube revolution has proven the viability of all kinds of new storytelling techniques. And in this age of ever-escalating technology screenwriting may be the only job left once drones are serving burgers and changing diapers. In fact, all that time spent doing nothing while your car drives itself will probably mean more time watching screens. And, while that may lead to insane levels of obesity, it’s great for screenwriters. Hurray! So write, scribes, write!
3. West Coast entertainment lawyers are still holding out for five percent.
I learned this while speaking on a panel when a writer, who was recently offered a deal, asked what she can expect to pay her lawyer, as in Do I really have to pay this schmuch five percent? So I answered with the truth: Legal fees and commissions are negotiable. After all, as I’ve experienced first-hand, you can sometimes bring that five percent down. Depends entirely on your leverage. If you’re offered a two thousand dollar option you’ll pay the full five (and you should probably throw in a bottle of Chianti for the poor lawyer who has to work that deal for almost nothing). But get yourself a great, big offer from a studio and attorneys from large LA firms will line up to cut their fees for you. Naturally, as soon as I said this, another attorney (Yes, I practice law, too) chimed in to claim I’m dead wrong and that never happens. And… surprise! He works at a big LA firm. Go figure.
4. Comedy is in great shape.
How do I know this? How can I take the pulse of an entire genre of expression? Here’s how — when I showed up in Austin I had plenty of copies of my book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter. I had to check bags to get them all on the plane. And when I came home — empty bags. Thank you, Austin! I appreciate the love.
5. Austin is America’s Number Two Entertainment Town.
Sorry New York, but it’s true. I know the Big Apple shoots more film and TV than Austin, but most of the creative decisions that prompt all that shooting are made in LA. I can’t give any hard stats on this, but the number of screenwriters and filmmakers with serious credits who live in Austin is rapidly expanding – and not just during the festival. I’m talking about folks who live there full time. Plus Austin has live music on par with Nashville and theater that rivals… well, OK… it doesn’t rival New York in theater. But I’ll stick with my assertion that Austin is Number Two for entertainment and see who says different.
And by the way, have I mentioned my book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter? If not, well, I just did. And I hope to see all of you at the Austin Film Festival next October!
Screenwriter Greg DePaul wrote Bride Wars and Saving Silverman. He has sold screenplays to Miramax, New Line, Sony, MGM, Disney, and Village Roadshow studios. He teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, and his book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter comes out this summer on Focal Press. You can learn more about him and his book at gregdepaul.com and bringthefunny.com. And Yes, he is available for script consultations.