It’s The Story, Not A Lot More

November 5th, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

As the world settles into a potentially long winter of reruns and very bad reality television, the role of the writer in Hollywood is gaining new attention. We all know that someone writes those words that Angelina Jolie speaks on the big screen. We are newly aware that David Letterman’s “Top Ten List” isn’t created off the top of his head. We understand that the seemingly effortless banter of Jon Stewart is the result of hard work by a writing team.

The fact that the entire motion picture industry can be brought to its knees because the writers are striking speaks volumes about the importance of writers in Hollywood. Writers — unless they are the rare celebrity writer or married to a major motion picture star — do not get covered by the gossip columns. It’s rare that InStyle considers doing a multi-page story on a writer’s cleverly decorate home. You don’t hear about the salaries of writers.

And most tellingly, the big news when the Academy Awards are announced is always who won best actor, best actress, best director, best supporting this or that. Writers are in many ways the invisible power of Hollywood. The motion picture industry cannot function without writers, and, even if you don’t know it or can’t recognize it on the page, poorly written programming will not cut it with the audience.

This year, the producers are in a bit of a funk because the new television season has been, well, lame. The viewers were slow to return from summer break, the new series simply aren’t catching fire (though, had I been asked, I would have said that a remake of The Bionic Woman was a bad idea; there are only so many Battlestar Galacticas out there). Over the past decade, consumers have discovered choice and power — this television season, they have sent a clear message: we don’t need scores of new shows as much as we need good shows.

Good programming is impossible without writing. Excellent acting is important, but unless those excellent actors are also genius ad libbers, there’s only so far dramatic expressions can take a character.

Hollywood cannot survive without good story. As this strike continues (and barring a miracle compromise, it promises to be long and acrimonious — we’re talking decades of pent-up anger on the part of the writers), there will be a string of losers. Once production stops, scores of people will be out of work. In what is truly an example of trickle down economics (tax cuts for the rich is not trickle down economics as we’ve learned twice now), landlords, grocery stores, nannies, charities, and dry cleaners will lose revenue.

Once production begins again, there will be a bounce-back effect. Movies will continue to command an interesting spot in the national entertainment psyche. Television, however, will be in a difficult place. There is so much effort focused on migrating programming to new platforms, not so much effort on creating compelling new content exclusively for these platforms.

And this is my point. There is a creative void waiting to be filled. It is very hard for the studio structure to produce content designed for the online/mobile markets. They have focused on repurposing existing content more than finding a way to fill this growing distribution stream. Stupid human tricks — as I’ve said before — reaches only a small component of the audience and people are growing bored with the same old, same old frat boy mentality.

There is much opportunity for good writing buoying good programming in the online world. The problem is that the money simply isn’t there. Yet. Part of this is because current independent online activities are done as creative exercises rather than serious business. Part of this is because the online advertising model hasn’t quite adapted to niche markets; it’s just a matter of time before someone figures out how to do advertising right. Americans are nothing if not great at marketing stuff.

The biggest part of this, in my opinion, is that writers, particularly, feel very comfortable with the current models. They’ll complain, they’ll seethe, they’ll swear this is the last time, but then they’ll go with the familiar deals. Unfair is one thing; terrifying and new is another. It’s that devil-you-know thing.

While the WGA strikes, the viewing public is changing. Writers of all types should be asking different questions. Rather than wondering how to make an old peg fit into a new hole, why not consider opportunities for new ways to express creativity and make a living while doing so?

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Curtis Macdonald // Nov 5, 2007 at 1:54 pm


    Every digital file has a Meta File embedded into the file. (Digital Fingerprint)

    In this Meta File you would have your name associated with an ID number.

    Your ID number would be recorded each time the file or Program is Streamed, Downloaded, or an Impression is placed allowing a database to accurately count the number of hits and tabulating your total.

    Every WGA, DGA, SAG, AFTRA, BMI, ASCAP member would have an ID associated to a program and would get paid for each hit. (Imagine when all union and associations including craft services will want an ID in the Meta File to get performance residuals. Lowered up front costs and a gamble on the back-end)

    You would get paid in Micro-Cents, 5 hits = 1 cent, or 20 hits = 1 cent.

    Establish this as the standardized digital embedded working model and you can negotiate a larger sum as time goes on. (Or make an impact and ask for $1.00 a hit!) © 2007

  • Hollywood » It’s The Story, Not A Lot More // Nov 5, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    […] MT Bureau wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptAnd most tellingly, the big news when the Academy Awards are announced is always who won best actor, best actress, best director, best supporting this or that. Writers are in many ways the invisible power of Hollywood. … […]